There were twelve people in front of her. Two of them were family. Marcelina stared at the booths along the back wall and wished Jory were here. His family’s number had been so much lower they were done and gone by now. The line shifted forward and she shuffled along the wood floor.
Siemowit had pressed his uniform the night before and stood at the front of their family. As if he were taking tata’s place. Marcelina’s eyes narrowed as she focused her gaze on his back. Laser eyes, she thought. If she had laser eyes she could burn holes in his uniform. Set the whole thing on fire. Not only would he be miserable, but they would have to evacuate.
The line moved again and Marcelina took her mama’s hand. It felt so frail. Ever since tata had died last year her mama had begun to shrink in on herself. She tried not to think about it because she could not think about it without crying. The last thing she wanted to do, especially here and now, was to cry.
Too close now. Siemowit would be next in line. The family ahead of them went to the booths and slid the sheer, plastic curtains closed. The curtains were new. His idea. Because everyone should take pride in what they did. Why hide the glorious process?
Marcelina’s stomach fluttered. This morning she’d forced herself to eat breakfast and instantly regretted it. Siemowit’s preening and puffing had not helped. There was a lot of that from him in part because Marcelina had not been bothering him. Her mama no longer had the strength to deal with their arguing.
Siemowit confused Marcelina’s filial concern with capitulation. Someday, she told Jory, Siemowit would know she had not allowed him to win. Jory worried, but he worried about everything she said. Again she wished he were here. She would be less nervous.
The family in front of them stepped from their booths and walked towards the exit. The small cubicle between them and the door would allow them to speak directly to him. Well, listen to his message. Marcelina did not think he would speak to everyone. Or anyone.
Siemowit took mama’s hand and helped her to the booth. Marcelina found herself glaring at him once more. He only helped mama because it left Marcelina on her own. Well, if he thought she couldn’t do it he was wrong.
Her feet resisted and Siemowit was closing mama’s curtain and stepping into his own booth by the time Marcelina reached hers. The curtain rings rattled as her fingers shook. Once it was closed she turned to the flat screen.
It took her five tries to enter her social security number. The screen was too bright and the noise from the people waiting behind her made her nervous. As words flashed by her eyes she felt her stomach turn over. More words and her whole body began to tremble.
“Press your palm against the glass.” The mechanical voice was followed by a beeping noise. She did not know if it would stop beeping.
Siemowit’s words from breakfast left her stomach churning. On and on about how proud she should be to get to vote. Her first vote and for the new president. Wouldn’t he be thankful?
No, she’d wanted to say. He wouldn’t care. Why would he? There were no names on the ballot screen. Only a place to lay her palm so her vote would be counted for the president.
Marcelina clutched her stomach as her head throbbed. All she had to do was lift her hand and it would be over. Not hard. Everyone else had done it. Siemowit and mama were done now and waiting for her. Except, her hand would not lift. Instead, it clutched her stomach as this morning’s sausage and porridge threatened to remove themselves.
Siemowit would smirk forever.
She couldn’t be sick. She wouldn’t be sick. Eyes squeezed closed now she lifted her hand and touched the panel with the tips of her fingers. The instant she felt the cool glass the room spun.
Unable to stop herself, Marcelina threw up her breakfast on the ballot screen. The beeping stopped. So, there was a comfort in that fact. The curtain rings shook as the plastic was pulled back. Marcelina stumbled back and closed her eyes again. Everyone stared at her. Well, why wouldn’t they? Maybe they would chalk it up to excitement? Her first vote.
It was not excitement. It was horror. Why did she have to vote? She couldn’t do it for him. The man who’d promised her death. The man who was the reason she knew she had one, two years at most before conscription and death. Her eyes opened to slits and she wondered why it was so bright. Marcelina backed away, but was stopped by a wall of flesh.
She turned and looked up into the blank stare of a guard. He grabbed her wrist and she would have sworn she heard bones crackle. A handheld ballot screen was there suddenly and he slapped her hand against it. A green light flashed and before she was sick again he whipped it out of the way and left.
Tears stung her eyes. A hand closed over her shoulder and she was pulled around to face a furious looking Siemowit. Behind him was mama. She said nothing. Not even when Siemowit hauled her across the room to the exit. He shoved her into the cubicle and slammed the door.
She said nothing.
“Thank you for your vote.”
“I have not forgotten my promise, Miss Mencher. I will collect you for conscription. No matter my uniform.”
Marcelina lost the last of her breakfast and quite possibly dinner.
The screen went black and she fumbled for the door. Let Siemowit see their mama home. He wanted to be the good son. Let him start trying. She would go clean up and be gone before they were home.