My governor’s a dick. No, not the kind of governor dads used to install on their sons’ beater engines to keep their cars from going too fast and their hormones in check. Probably would have been better off if my dick had been that kind of governor. Three marriages, two estranged ingrates, and one over-priced lawyer later, it’s likely too much to hope for now. But it wasn’t all bad, was it, Laila? Wherever you are. Bitch. You’d fuck anything that moves, Brady. Whew, those were pretty harsh parting words. Accurate I suppose, but harsh. And she did move, I’ll give her that.
No, I’m talking about my governor governor, head of my state. That’s the dick I’m talking about. I’ve got a court hearing next week. For what? Voting? Jesus Christ, for voting? State says I can vote, then I can’t vote, then I can vote. So I vote. Next thing I know there’s a knock on the door, I open it to three cops standing there, I’m swung around like a piñata, and bingo bongo I’m in cuffs. What the fuck. Citizens of this state said I could vote. Sixty-five percent of ’em did. Amendment number something or other, doesn’t matter. What matters is the people said felons can vote. “Felon”—that’s a funny word, funny sounding. Sounds more like a bird, a bird of prey—like a hawk. I like that. Sounds like a fucking hawk. ’Cept they don’t lock up hawks. Unless they’re in a zoo or one of those attractions where they fly around then land on the trainer’s outstretched arm. Anyway, those are different kinds of cages. Birds are taken care of. No power-hungry assholes with something to prove on your back all the time just looking for an excuse to write you up or beat you down. So that’s what I was. A felon. Still am, apparently.
Guess the will of the people wasn’t enough. Amendment Whatever It’s Called wasn’t enough. All those hotsy totsy senators and representatives—there’s a loaded word—must’ve got afraid all of us felons actually were gonna vote, so they did what they always do: straightened their ties and passed a bunch of shit making what they wanted to do legal. Sure, we could vote—soon as we paid off all our fines and fees and court costs and God knows what else. Like I’m really gonna do that.
So I’m at the library one day—outside of it actually—I’m not a big one for libraries. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a reader. Surprised you with that one, didn’t I? But all those tall shelves of books, row after row, it gets a little claustrophobic, like walls closing in. I do better on the outside.
So I’m at the library, sitting on the cement bench just beyond the automatic doors. I’m just people watching. This might surprise you too: a lot of pretty hot women go to libraries. Sure, there’s all the nerdy types, kind who know every Star Wars and Marvel character who ever lived—I think some of them believe these characters actually do exist—are real people, I mean. Like duh. But there are some good looking ladies. Take the mom’s bringing their little precious ones to get another armful of books. And yes, I’d sure as hell take one. These moms, they’re smart, loading their kids up with reading material. Books as babysitters. Why not? Keep ’em quiet and out of trouble. It’s a win win. I like smart. Smart can be attractive. Laila was smart. She was why I was sitting outside the library in the first place. I knew she liked to go there after her shift. To exhale she liked to say. So I figured I’d just sort of be there too, bump into to her in a Hey, what are you doing here kinda way.
So I’m sitting on this cement bench, watching the patrons go in and out while feeling my butt growing numb—is that a contradiction? Can you feel something go numb? Anyway, I’m waiting for Laila to go in or come out. It was no lock that she would even be there, but I felt good about my chances. I’d just started shifting my butt cheeks up and down, tying to get a little blood flow going, when this lady with a clip board starts toward me. She’s nothing to write home about. Don’t get me wrong, not bad, just nothing special. But what the hell? If she wants to talk, I’ll talk. See where it goes.
Turns out, yes, she wants to talk, wants to know if I’m registered to vote. I say No before I really think about it ’cause I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to explain the No, and telling a woman who it turns out has a most engaging smile, nice teeth, straight, really white—telling her you can’t vote because you’re a goddammed convicted felon is not what I’d call a great pickup line. I’d be better off telling her I was a hawk. Ha.
So I say No again, I’m not registered to vote, and she holds out the clipboard with some forms on it and asks me if I’d like to and she’s still smiling and at this point I’m thinking Damn right I’d like to, but I’m not stupid so I decide to be cool and just slide over so she can sit down beside me, but my butt’s so numb I can’t really tell if I’m moving or just twitching to the side, and from the curious look on her face I’d say twitching’s winning out. But then the smile’s back and I manage to sort of twitch-slide enough to give her space. I pat the vacated cement surface beside me, and she sort of cocks her head to the right, cute as she can be, and sits down. Not close enough to touch, but that’s OK.
I figure, what the hey, go ahead tell her I’m a felon. Some girls like the bad boy. And I need to either find out what she’s all about pretty fast or get rid of her before Laila comes out. If she’s even in there, that is. Last week they asked why I was sitting there for so long, why didn’t I come inside and check out some books or find somewhere else to be—some of the patrons were getting … concerned. As soon as I said Fuck you I knew it probably wasn’t the best response, especially when the librarian—I guess she was the librarian, print dress, a little stooped, those narrow glasses that come to a point at the corners. Anyway, she immediately turned and went back through the automatic doors like she suddenly had something really important to do, which I took as my cue to choose leaving over books.
So I said it straight: I’m a felon. And son of gun, she didn’t hesitate, didn’t even blink, just kept on that smile, looked me straight in the eye, and told me as long as I hadn’t committed murder or a sex crime I was good to vote. I told her No, nope, never been convicted of murder or a sex crime. Which is the truth and all I’ll say about that. Pretty soon I was filling out the form— and it didn’t take long before bingo bongo a voter registration card came in the mail. She stood up to leave and I asked her what her name was and she just smiled and said it was nice talking to me but she was not that into men if I knew what she meant. I told her we had something in common, that I wasn’t that into men either, but the smile was gone and soon enough so was she.
Laila never showed and I could see those narrow, pointy glasses looking at me through the glass door, so I figured it was time to check out.
Richard Downing has received awards and recognition from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (1st place), New Delta Review (1st place), New Woman (Grand Prize), Boston Review, Writecorner Press (Editor’s Award), Press 53, Colorado Review, and Solstice (Editor’s Award). His work appears in Arts & Letters, Two Thirds North, The Malahat Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds a PhD in English, co-founded the Florida Peace Action Network, and is an activist concerned with meaningful and immediate actions to keep our planet livable and equitable for all writers of fiction. Richard recommends Feeding Tampa Bay.