The Mayor of Buckfield
Ginny Gorham was, for the fourth time that month, brushing windswept soot from her chimney’s hearth when she decided to run for mayor. The idea came upon her suddenly, mid-broomstroke, an unanticipated solution arrived with such urgency and clarity she suspected it had been lying dormant in her head for some time.
“That would put a stop to this,” she assured herself as she dumped a pile of ash into the garbage.
“You left the damper open again,” she said to her husband Lance when he arrived in the kitchen. She considered mentioning her newly formed political ambitions. Once more Lance, and I will march right down to the election commissioner’s office, so help me. An unexpected campaign bid would be just the thing to prove to her husband that change was necessary. If I’m elected mayor, my policies will not only clean up our house, but keep it clean. In the end, she chose to remain silent, to save her electoral threat for a future grievance. But the idea remained with her, sowing intrigue in her head, laying down roots. It certainly would change things around here, she repeated to herself, if ever she did run for mayor.
That the town of Buckfield elected a mayor at all was unusual. The place was little more than a dot on a map, a tranquil swath of wilderness devoid of almost any infrastructure requiring civic administration, apart from a few winding country roads and one rustic road sign. The sign was an oddity in and of itself, enough so that passersby would stop occasionally to snap a photo, an image to be shared with the outside world before continuing on to their far-off destinations at the ski lodges or lake houses to the north. It wasn’t the sign’s weathered look that attracted attention, or Welcome to Buckfield spelled out in unassuming lettering. It was the bottom half that warranted mild forms of curiosity. Population: 2, the lower portion read, for Buckfield had only two residents. Lance Gorham, and his wife Ginny. The Mayor of Buckfield, and the Mayor’s wife.
Ginny’s husband had been serving as Buckfield’s mayor for what felt like forever. Years earlier they’d moved to the area when Lance found work as an engineer at a nearby chemical plant. Most employees lived in the adjacent resort town, they were told upon arrival, but the Gorhams were independent by nature and preferred some place a bit more removed from the quaint, overpriced shops and touristy restaurants. In the county newspaper they found a listing for an old farmhouse 40 minutes away. Upon meandering up a dirt road, through a dense collection of blue firs and white pines to a clearing atop a hill, where a white house with green shutters was framed by a picturesque view of the mountains, Lance declared instantly it would be their new home.
“There’s one more thing,” the realtor told them at the closing. The previous owner, an eccentric widower who’d moved to a nursing home upstate, had long served as the mayor of the tiny town. The role was entirely ceremonial. Buckfield was a cartographic outlier, a colonial settler’s hamlet which for some reason had never merged with nearby municipalities, even as other villages joined forces in the name of necessary progress. All civic necessities were handled by the county, and Lance and Ginny were by no means obligated, but if they did want to carry on the tradition, it would only require a few simple forms. The realtor could connect them with the appropriate people on the county election committee.
And he did. Lance took up the charge and embraced his new position, trumpeting it as a means to lay claim to this new land of theirs. He converted a spare bedroom into an office and posted a Town Hall placard on the door. He volunteered to drive his tractor down Main Street in the resort town’s annual Fourth of July parade. He enrolled in the National Conference of Mayors and put aside money each year so he and Ginny could attend conventions across the country. Men and their hobbies, Ginny would say to herself, but she humored him and played along, and for the next three decades Lance served as the democratically elected Mayor of Buckfield. That first autumn he built, out of cedar, a two-by-two wooden ballot box to be fetched from the attic and dusted off every four years. He and Ginny would situate the box atop their checkered kitchen tablecloth and, in the presence of the county election commissioner, drop in their ballots. The commissioner would then fish out the two slips of paper, count the votes aloud, and later file the necessary paperwork.
When their two daughters were born, the girls joined in the quadrennial festivities. Ginny began to ask the election commissioner to capture a family portrait on each election day, photos she would save in one of her many albums. The election photos were among those she returned to most frequently on quiet, rainy afternoons. She was always struck by how much could change in four years, and how much did not. The differences in her and her husband from one photo to the next were barely noticeable. Only when she compared the first to the last could she discern the subtle effects of time—the slow expansion of gray across Lance’s head, or the increasingly sterner lines on her own face. But when she looked at her girls, their growth from one snapshot to the next was drastic. Both girls were grown now, had permanently embarked for the outside world, registered to vote elsewhere, in new homes with new lives. It seemed pointless for Ginny to request a photo after her daughters departed Buckfield for good. Without their presence time had begun to warp and congeal, and she hardly needed a picture to remind her of how sedentary life had become.
Within days of Ginny’s mayoral daydreams first surfacing, Lance had clogged the garbage disposal, tracked mud through the house, and forgot to lower the toilet seat on four separate occasions. She didn’t even bother threatening him with an electoral challenge—instead she drove the 40 minutes to the election commissioner’s office where she filed the paperwork to run for mayor.
“This will cause a bit of a stir, don’t you think?” the bemused commissioner warned as he signed off to make her candidacy official.
“Stirs I can handle,” she replied and returned home newly invigorated. She was prepared to make a formal announcement that very evening over dinner, a major proclamation delivered between bites of roast beef, egg noodles, and homegrown green beans. She even set out their French dinnerware, retrieved from the back of the cabinet in an act of symbolic place-setting meant to accentuate her big news. But the longer she waited to broach the subject, the more hesitant she became. The Gorhams had long ago retired idle small talk from their daily conversations. Lance was a man of deep thought, careful consideration, and few words. Ginny, meanwhile, had tired of listening to herself rehash subject matter from the many magazines she subscribed to. She’d grown comfortable with this quietude over time, but now that comfort made it increasingly more difficult to break the silence and initiate a meaningful discussion. With my first act as mayor, all citizens will be required to partake in no less than twenty minutes of lively dinner conversation every evening.
It took almost the entire meal, with Ginny listening in earnest to the hum of the refrigerator and the warble of the heating ducts and the soft chewing of their mouths before she found an appropriate moment to speak up. It wasn’t until they’d finished eating and she heard the clang of Lance’s plate in the sink, followed by the creaking of wooden floorboards as he turned to depart the kitchen that she finally managed to say what she needed to say.
“Before you clean those dishes,” she called out to him. “There’s something you should know. I’ve decided to run for mayor.”
Lance stopped and turned back around.
“What’s this now?” he asked.
“The paperwork’s signed and everything,” Ginny said.
Lance stared back at his wife and began rubbing his chin, one of the many mannerisms he used as a stand-in for speech. Ginny stood and walked over to where her purse sat atop a hutch by the wall phone, reached in and produced the documents given her by the election commissioner. She handed the papers to Lance.
“So,” she said. “What do you think about that?”
Lance released the hold on his chin and raised the papers to his face, examining them thoroughly, as if searching for a typo in the fine print. He had a way of burrowing into his own world during moments of deep thought such that, even after three decades, Ginny could rarely tell what was set to emerge from his mouth.
Finally, he lowered the papers from his gaze and let out a chuckle. “The people have spoken, it seems.”
“I’m serious about this, Lance.”
Lance sighed and handed the papers back to Ginny.
“Okay,” he said. “I understand.”
“So that’s settled then?” she asked suspiciously. “You’re on board with this, are you?”
Lance smiled. “I suppose I could use a break around here. After all this time.”
“Yes, well.” Ginny pointed to the sink. “I’m sure my administration could use a good dishwasher. Don’t forget to towel dry.”
Satisfied she’d gotten her point across, Ginny let the topic of the election rest, and nothing more was said on the matter until the following Sunday. The Gorhams were not overly religious people, but they did embrace custom and routine, and Sunday trips to church were one of the handful of activities they insisted on undertaking beyond Buckfield’s borders, to ensure they did not completely isolate themselves. The weekly tradition of driving into town, of nestling themselves into the centuries-old, hard-backed pews, of joining their fellow congregants in the collective act of listening, was for Lance and Ginny an opportunity to be a part of a community larger than their own, and they fulfilled this ritual without fail, no matter how icy or muddy or impassable the journey might seem.
The Sunday following Ginny’s announcement found the Gorhams bunched in among the congregation, as ever. At the end of each service, attendees were afforded time to stand and share any personal updates. The Westwoods, for instance, had recently purchased a new foal. The Dyers were putting their antique Crosley up for sale. Gretchen McGuinn’s niece over in Albee had welcomed a baby boy. When the flurry of updates reached their row, Lance rose from his seat.
“As some of you may know,” he announced. “It’s an election year in Buckfield. Believe it or not, another term would make me the longest serving mayor in the town’s history.” Ginny’s husband had spent many a weekend at the regional library, pouring over old reference books and public records, documenting various trivialities in a thick leather-bound journal. He had always considered it his mayoral duty to chronicle the town’s history. It was a necessary undertaking, he claimed. To keep the town alive, he needed to understand the past and those who’d come before him.
“But,” he added, glancing at his wife. “It’s going to be my last. Ginny will be taking over as mayor in four years’ time. We’ve decided it’s time for a change.”
Throughout the church, Lance’s news was acknowledged with a smattering of applause.
Ginny, however, was not clapping.
“That’s not what we discussed,” she snapped when the congregation stood and began to file out.
“Isn’t it?” Lance said, looking confused.
“We decided I was going to become mayor. This year.”
“You will,” he said. “Only, after one more term. So I can break the record. I thought we agreed.”
“You thought we agreed,” Ginny repeated under her breath.
After church, when the weather allowed it, congregants typically gathered on the outdoor patio for refreshments and conversation. That day, the crisp fall air had not yet developed the full bite of winter, and nearly everyone stuck around to encircle the Gorhams and congratulate them on their political news.
“Good for you, Ginny,” Karen Dyer called out. “I’ve always advocated for term limits, myself.”
“And well done to you, Lance,” Bob Westwood added. “For doing the honorable thing and stepping aside. Let your wife have a go. It’s only right.”
“Who said anything about him stepping aside?” Ginny blurted out.
“What do you mean?” Gretchen McGuinn asked. “I thought Lance was stepping down after his next term?”
“Not quite,” Ginny said. “We’re running against one another. In this year’s election. That’s how an election works, after all. You have to have a choice.”
Laughter filled the autumn air.
“Is this true, Lance?” Bob Westwood asked.
Lance shot his wife a look of distinct displeasure. Or perhaps it was helplessness. His was a difficult face for Ginny to read, even now, after all these years.
“I suppose it is,” he replied softly.
“But then, what happens if there’s a tie?” Karen Dyer asked. “If there are only two of you, won’t the vote just be split one to one?”
“Not exactly,” Lance said. He went on to explain in his calm, measured way that per the county’s voting regulations, in the event of a tie it was the incumbent, that is, he, who would cast the tiebreaking vote. His explanation only resulted in more laughter.
“Better start cooking his favorite meals, Ginny,” Gretchen McGuinn said playfully.
“Yes, butter the old man up,” Bob Westwood said. “Maybe then you’ll stand a chance.”
Ginny was puzzled, initially, by the attention her announcement received. She wasn’t particularly interested in what the public thought of her election plans. It was Lance she’d been trying to communicate with. But the public was suddenly very interested in her. When the Gorhams returned home from church, Ginny had a voicemail waiting from Gretchen McGuinn, eager to have her over for tea as soon as possible. That afternoon, more calls followed: A request to join Sophie Westwood’s book club, an invitation to speak at an upcoming rotary club luncheon.
“We usually invite the same old speakers,” Karen Dyer explained. “But I think it’s about time we featured some fresh voices.”
The only person who didn’t seem interested in talking politics was Lance. “We need to discuss this,” he’d muttered on the car ride home from church. But once they were back in Buckfield, he remained his usual self, taciturn, puttering around, fiddling with household projects as if nothing unusual had transpired. Ginny was determined to stay patient, to wait for Lance to bring up the topic of the election. It had to be her husband who eventually broke the silence. If she could just get him to point to the damper and admit, “this was my fault,” she figured she would be satisfied, and could leave things be.
After a week passed with no further acknowledgement, Ginny called her daughters—first Katherine, who’d settled in a small coastal city and worked as a claims adjuster, and then Pam, who was far from settled but currently taught yoga in a Midwestern college town.
“It’s not just the chimney damper,” she explained to each daughter. “But I do wonder if I’m making too big a deal of this.” The departure of her girls had always seemed inevitable to Ginny. When they were children, she and Lance had done what they could to keep their daughters vested and connected with others, driving them up to two hours away for a single ballgame or recital. But by necessity, the girls had been raised to survive a life of relative hardship, brought up on a mantra of remote living: There’s no use complaining out here. You have to make do with whatever life throws at you. Ginny had known back then—once the girls got a taste for what was beyond their little hill, it would offer too many enticements to pass up. Even as she taught Katherine and Pam how to install storm windows, to weed out a blueberry patch, to properly feed a pellet stove, she felt the need to whisper in their ears: One day, you won’t have to put up with this.
But now, whenever they called to report back on their new lives, Ginny secretly regretted letting them go so easily. She was proud, certainly, each time they updated her with news of boyfriends, hiking trips, or concerts with bands she’d never heard of. But more and more, she found herself selfishly wishing they were closer. Her daughters, she’d realized as she dialed their memorized phone numbers, were the only people she could discuss her latent political plans with. Voluntary isolation afforded you only a handful of friends, and hers were local women with whom she met occasionally for a knitting club, or fellow volunteers down at the county hospital. No one she could trust with a conversation such as this. It was Lance she normally turned to in times of need. His soft-spoken platitudes were usually just about enough to put her at ease. But she could not turn to him now. Not for this.
“Maybe give him one more term,” Katherine advised after listening to her mother’s proposal. “You know how much that silly title means to him.”
But Pam disagreed. “Good for you,” she proclaimed. “It will do you both some good to change things up in that old place.”
As Ginny hung up the phone, she marveled at how different each of her daughters had become, despite both having been raised in the near-vacuum that was Buckfield. It made sense, in a way. She and Lance had always been strikingly different people. Adventurous and cautious. Uninhibited and subdued. For so long she’d embraced the polarity in their marriage, found it endearing and sweet. But over time, Buckfield seemed to have amplified those contrasts, and she wondered now if two people so dissimilar were truly meant to co-exist forever.
Ginny’s patience lasted only so long. One morning after Lance had once again departed for work with nothing more than a gentle “goodbye,” no mention of the election or a “we’ll talk tonight,” Ginny decided she’d had enough. You have to make do with whatever life throws at you. She watched from the kitchen window as the taillights of Lance’s old Subaru went bobbing along their dirt driveway until it was out of sight. She sighed, reached for the phone on the wall and called up the editor of the county newspaper.
He arrived at her doorstep that afternoon.
“It was wonderful of you to call me,” the editor said, eagerly accepting a glass of lemonade and a seat at her kitchen table. “I’d heard a rumor you were running for mayor against your husband, but I could hardly believe it. Readers will absolutely eat this up.”
The newspaper was a one-man operation. The editor—a spindly man named Mercer—had a reputation for gossip and an overreliance on prepositions. Lance had cancelled the Gorham’s subscription years ago. Still, it was the only available outlet in their tiny corner of the world. If Ginny wanted to publicly speak her mind, this was how it had to be done.
“So,” Mercer said, settling down with a paper and pen. “Tell me all about the Mayor of Buckfield.”
“Up until now it’s mostly been a ceremonial title,” she said. “A silly tradition we’ve kept up over the years. It’s been the same thing since we moved here. The parades, national conferences. Clearly, it’s time for a change.”
“But what about the incumbent mayor?” Mercer asked. “How long have the two of you been married?”
“Lance and I have been married for over 30 years,” she said. “But that’s not what this is about. I want to make that clear. It’s just—”
“—Sure,” Mercer interrupted. “But first, I’d like to get the backstory down. For instance, how did the two of you meet?”
“Well, we met at a dance,” she said. “This was ages ago, obviously. Lance was this soft-spoken gentleman who whispered in my ear, asking me to dance. I could barely hear him. But he wasn’t my only option, you know. There was even a famous mountaineer who’d asked me to marry him.” Ginny wasn’t sure why she was sharing such details. She had, to her mother’s horror, dropped out of college in her early twenties and joined an outdoors club filled with well-off socialites where she’d met a mountaineer famous for his photography. He was in his 30s, glamorous and charming, and promised her endless adventure. Within six weeks he asked her to marry him. At the time, the prospect of marriage felt rushed and confining, as if Ginny would be giving up an opportunity at the unknown. So she declined the mountaineer’s proposal. To appease the continued disappointment of her mother, she began to attend dances at their local social club, where eventually she met Lance. “I’ll dance with you,” she told him when he asked, “but only if you promise never to marry me.” He’d smiled and winked at her then, and they’d begun a long, steady courtship, growing increasingly comfortable with each other, if not madly in love. When eventually Lance did ask her to marry him, she agreed without much fuss. Six months later, they were living in Buckfield. Ginny wondered now if she should mention the mountaineer’s name to Mercer. She knew from various magazine articles that he’d gone on to help found a famous science museum, that he and his eventual wife had traveled around the continent summiting its tallest peaks together. His story had nothing to do with Buckfield or the election, but still, it might make her sound like a more interesting candidate. Farfetched as it seemed, the article might even make its way to the mountaineer, somehow. He would pick up the paper and read all about his old flame Ginny Gorham, possibly the next Mayor of Buckfield.
“So what happened to make you run against your husband?” Mercer asked.
“Nothing happened,” Ginny said with a sigh. “I just think it’s time for a change around here. You know, this all started because I grew tired of him leaving the chimney damper open.”
“I hope that doesn’t mean there are issues at home,” Mercer asked, his eyes suddenly leering mischievously. “No, shall we say, problems in the bedroom?”
Ginny managed to feign disgust, going so far as to waive a nearby rolling pin at the editor as she practically chased him out the door. But Mercer had done precisely what she’d expected. She knew that, despite her threat, he would publish his article. And she knew that, even if the mountaineer never read it, the story would almost certainly find its way to Lance.
The paper, published two days later, made its mark. Trouble in Buckfield? the front-page headline read. Mayor’s home life on the rocks as wife challenges incumbent at the polls. The article itself was filled with crass innuendos and thinly-veiled marital jokes. Lance, upon returning home from work, had slapped the crinkled paper down onto their kitchen table.
“Did you have anything to do with this?” he asked with atypical fervor.
Ginny smirked. “You’re ready to talk about the election, then?”
Lance gritted his teeth.
“Seems you’d rather chat with Louis Mercer than with me,” he growled before stomping upstairs to his Town Hall, leaving Ginny to read through the article on her own. She waited half an hour before finally sitting down to dinner alone. If he doesn’t want to eat that’s not my problem, she said to herself. It was the first time in decades, as far as Ginny could recall, that the Gorhams hadn’t eaten dinner together. She turned the radio to a classical music station, one of the only frequencies that reached them with any clarity, and let the melodic sounds accompany her as she ate.
Halfway through her meal of tuna casserole and Schubert, the phone rang.
“Hello?” she asked.
The caller said nothing but Ginny could hear deep, hostile breaths percolating on the other end of the line.
“Who is this?” she asked, but the caller hung up.
Five minutes later, they called again.
“What do you want?” she asked.
Again the caller offered no syllables, but continued with his rhythmic wheezing before abruptly ending the call once more. There was an eerie familiarity to it, as if she’d previously heard or even felt that same cadence of breath.
When the heavy breather called a third time, Ginny was prepared.
“This is very childish,” she scolded. “Just say what you want to say, already.”
She looked up then, surprised to see Lance standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Who the hell keeps calling?” he asked accusingly, as if the phone calls were Ginny’s fault, as if she were running up their phone bill in an act of spite. The heavy breathing continued to reverberate in the earpiece, sending an unexpected chill down Ginny’s spine. Her impulse was to hand the phone off to Lance, to demand that he deal with the malevolent caller. But there’s no use complaining out here.
“The calls are for me,” she said. “My campaign manager, calling to talk strategy. Nothing for you to concern yourself with.”
Lance frowned, opened his mouth to say something. Instead, he moved to the fridge and conducted a clamorous search of its shelves. Finding nothing to his liking, he turned and stomped back upstairs, his footfalls echoing throughout the house. Ginny returned her ear to the phone, newly emboldened, but the breathing was gone. The line had gone dead.
In all the time they’d lived together in Buckfield, silence had always functioned as a sort of acquaintance for the Gorhams, a companion to work alongside when they were otherwise alone. But following the newspaper article, the silence at the farmhouse had grown teeth. Even in a town of two, much of the Gorhams’ time was inevitably spent on their own. Lance would go off to work during the week, leaving Ginny to do chores or pursue hobbies around the house. On the weekends, when they were together, their activities were often solitary endeavors. She would mow the lawn, he would tinker in the tool shed. She tended the vegetable garden, he read his crime novels. Such was their routine, and it had never been a problem. They felt comfortable together in just knowing the other was in the vicinity. Now, for the first time since arriving in Buckfield, Ginny had started to feel the vastness of solitude.
She began concocting excuses to travel into the resort town. Unnecessary grocery lists. Musty linens that didn’t really require dry-cleaning. The shadow of the election still hovered over her out in public, but in a much more convivial way. She was constantly being approached by people like Bob Westwood, who would pass by her shopping cart with a wink and say things like, “You’ll never get elected if you’re caught buying the name brand over the local stuff. Imagine what a scandal that would be!” Faces which had previously paid her little mind were now stopping her in the street, like the barbershop owner who offered to put in a good word during Lance’s next haircut in exchange for $50. “He listens to me, Ginny,” the barber had said. “I could really help you out.” She didn’t particularly mind the attention. These were amusing people, she came to realize, and wondered why she’d never made the effort to spend more time with them. Like the owner of the salon who offered her free samples of conditioner if she promised to list the store as Buckfield’s exclusive provider of beauty products. Or the laundromat manager who devised a promotion promising free washes for female customers if Ginny were to win her election. Or whichever inventive soul had inserted two homemade election signs into the gravelly dirt beside Welcome to Buckfield, blue and pink placards which read HIM and HER on them. It all made Ginny feel like a minor celebrity, as if she’d suddenly been welcomed into an entirely new community.
While she grew fonder of her trips out into the world, her time at home became increasingly tense. Lance barely spoke to her, which was not in-and-of-itself out of the ordinary, but his current silence had a retaliatory feel to it. She found it disturbing, how a person could suddenly stand next to her own husband, lay beside him in bed, even, and feel no closer than she did to their nearest neighbor, who would have been at least 25 miles away. Meanwhile, try as she might to ignore it, the threat of another phone call from her respiratory antagonist had her constantly on-edge, always listening for a potential ring. To combat the unease she felt, she began to call her daughters nightly. It gave her someone to talk to, and also kept the phone line busy. She tried to avoid discussion of the election, but they soon grew suspicious at the frequency of her calls, and eventually she had to come clean about all that had transpired.
“Jesus, Mom,” Katherine said after Ginny had filled her in on Mercer’s article. “If you’re so fed up with Dad, just get a divorce like normal people. Don’t air your dirty laundry all over the world.”
“It’s nothing like that, dear,” Ginny explained. “Everyone’s making too big a fuss out of this. It will all blow over soon.”
“I hope so,” Katherine replied. “How’s Dad holding up? This can’t be great for his blood pressure.”
“Your father will be fine,” Ginny said. “He’s a tough nut to crack. You have to be, living out here.”
Pam, predictably, was far more concerned with the heavy breather.
“You need to call the police!” she insisted.
“Nonsense,” Ginny said. “Completely unnecessary. It’s nothing I can’t handle. Besides, that will only rile your father up.”
“It shouldn’t be so complicated, Mom,” Pam said. “You shouldn’t have to choose between Dad and becoming the mayor.”
It shouldn’t be so complicated, Ginny repeated as she hung up the phone. And yet, for whatever reason, it was.
Tradition was a peculiar, persistent thing for the Gorhams. Despite the weeks of tension, many of their routines remained stubbornly intact. Ginny still went about her late fall checklist: Putting the vegetable garden to bed, unpacking coats and electric blankets, canning fresh rhubarb and apples to be stowed away. Lance, who’d begun to chop and stack wood for the winter, seemed to be doing the same. Even with the threat of significant change on the horizon, neither Gorham appeared willing to prepare for it.
One Friday evening, five days before their election was scheduled to take place, Ginny stood by the front door in one of her finest woolen Pendleton sweaters waiting to see if Lance would come down from his upstairs hideaway. For years, on the first weekend of each month, the Gorhams would drive into the resort town where they would treat themselves to dinner at one of the touristy restaurants. Ginny had already been slipping into her slacks that Friday before she stopped and realized the tradition might not continue. She’d finished dressing herself, anyway, secretly hoping Lance would follow suit. If they could just spend some time together away from Buckfield, their regularly scheduled overpriced meal might force her husband to finally confront the tumult occurring between them.
Eventually Lance did appear, gussied up in one of his tweed jackets, his peppery hair slicked back in a sheen as if it were a sheet of unstable ice. He nodded slightly before leading Ginny out to the car, the only acknowledgement between them for the entirety of their forty-minute drive.
They parked on the main street and, in a sort of unspoken agreement, selected the closest restaurant, a small Italian place half a block away where they were seated in a corner booth illuminated by electronic candlelight. After their waitress guided them through the recitation of specials and their eventual order, they sat back in their seats and stared at—or more precisely, around—one another, waiting for superfluous discussion to occur, or perhaps just for their food to arrive. Ginny sipped constantly at her water, rolling the glass in her hand, letting the ice clank and swirl. She couldn’t think of a single question capable of breaking through the frost between them.
It was the restaurant owner, a garrulous local named O’Reilly, who eventually brought their dishes out himself.
“My wait staff told me a political power couple was dining with us!” O’Reilly exclaimed upon delivery of their meals. If he was put off by the utter absence of enthusiasm at the Gorham’s table, he didn’t show it.
“I’ve been kicking around an idea,” he continued. “A debate this weekend, before your election. I’ll provide the catering, you provide the entertainment. Nothing serious, just a bit of fun. Like the newlyweds game. Proceeds to charity, that sort of thing.”
The thought of Lance squirming in a seat somewhere, trying to describe for an audience his ideal weekend getaway, felt to Ginny a reasonably appropriate penance for his continued refusal to speak his mind. She nodded vigorously at the restaurant owner.
“We’d love to participate,” she said. “Wouldn’t we dear? Especially if it’s for charity.”
She glared across the table, practically demanding that Lance challenge her. “How could we say no to that?”
But Lance’s expression refused to budge.
“Whenever you have a moment,” he said to O’Reilly, “we’ll take the check.”
The restaurant owner simply grinned. “Meal’s on the house,” he said. “Think it over and get back to me.”
On the ride home, Ginny cracked the passenger side window and leaned towards the glass, allowing the nighttime chill to whip across her face. The rush of air hummed as they passed through the darkened woods, the steady sound breathing life into the outside world’s stillness. This silence has to stop, she decided.
“I really don’t understand you,” she said when they arrived home. “This wouldn’t be anything more than a silly game. And for charity, no less. It would certainly help loosen you up a bit.”
Lance shook his head as she followed him into the kitchen.
“The food at that place has gone downhill,” he said, and began rummaging through the snacks in their kitchen cabinet.
“If you think you could do better,” Ginny replied, “then why not open your own restaurant? There’s no use complaining about the food if you don’t intend to do something about it.”
Lance shut the cabinet door and turned to face his wife. “I’m simply saying we won’t be going back there. That’s what I’m doing about it.”
“Fine by me,” Ginny said. “We can always stay cooped up and eat here like we always do. As long as I don’t have to prepare the meal, I don’t care where we go or what we eat.
“In fact,” she continued. “Why don’t you start cooking our meals? That’s assuming, of course, that you can.”
“Ginny,” Lance grumbled.
“Because I have it on good authority,” she said, turning away from her husband and calling out to their otherwise empty house. “That our incumbent mayor—despite passing through this kitchen every day for over thirty years—has never once cooked a savory meal for two.”
She turned back to face her husband. “In fact, I challenge him to cook something, a simple dish, anything really, to prove to his constituents that he’s still fit for office.”
Lance stared back at his wife with a pained look on his face. “Why are you making a mockery of this?” he said. “I’ve spent thirty years devoting myself to this position, this place. To us. Why do you want to take that away from me?”
“That is not what’s going on here, Lance,” she countered. “And if you can’t see that, then you aren’t fit to be a husband, much less the Mayor of Buckfield.”
Lance closed his eyes and sighed. “I forgot to mention,” he said. “I had the phone company switch our line to an unlisted number.”
“Do you know why?” Lance asked.
Ginny scowled and said nothing.
“I answered the phone the other night,” Lance said. “And who was it? Some stranger. Asking about you. This person told me to deliver a message. ‘Stay in the kitchen,’ he said. Those exact words. ‘Stay in the kitchen or else, because if she wins the election, I’ll hunt her down and teach her a lesson.’ I reported it to the sheriff’s office. They assured me it was just a teenager pulling a prank.”
“Well,” Ginny said. “That’s a relief.”
“Imagine that,” Lance said. “Some teenager threatening to hurt you. All because you’re running for mayor.”
“I’m calling off the election,” he said. “Out of concern for your safety.”
“Lance, don’t be so dramatic.”
“This needs to stop Ginny. Please.” Lance looked pleadingly at his wife. “I’m willing to do away with the mayor, entirely. Dissolve the position.”
Ginny wondered if that was what she’d wanted all along—to avoid the election entirely, for Lance to surrender his title unconditionally without forcing her to make an unreasonable decision. Or, if it wasn’t what she’d wanted, not exactly, might it at least be enough for them to put this all behind them and get back to the way things were?
“No, Lance,” she said finally. She moved towards him and slowly wrapped her arms around his body. It had been ages since they’d been so close, so connected. She could feel the angular crowns of his shoulders poking through the top of his jacket, and the steady expansion of his chest, breath by breath. His arms remained by his side, unmoving, but he relaxed his body in a barely perceptible way in order to accept the hug. It wasn’t much, this small show of recognition, but Ginny knew it was the best she was going to get from him.
“We need to see this through,” she whispered. “At least, I need to.”
She released him from her grasp and smiled at her husband.
“It’ll all be over soon,” she said.
The morning of the election, Ginny awoke before dawn to the familiar, measured rasping of Lance’s snores. Gurgle, exhale. Gurgle, exhale. He’d always been a man of rhythm and habit. His faults and foibles were by now no less reliable than Greenwich Mean Time. Ginny had made it to the end, to the election, but that was all. She’d never had a real chance of convincing her husband to change. She slipped out of bed and made her way to the kitchen, where she brewed a cup of tea and drank it, slowly pacing around the room. Her vote, she knew, would not matter. But that didn’t mean her choice would not have lasting implications—on how she saw herself, on her marriage, on the remainder of her life in Buckfield. A stand for herself, or support for her husband. The election, it could be said, had already been decided decades earlier. But the statement she would make with her vote was yet to be determined.
At some point, the phone rang. She snatched the received from the wall with thrilling trepidation, hopeful for a new message or threat which would help solidify her decision, one way or another. Instead, it was her daughter Katherine. Calling to wish both parents good luck, and to caution both against overreaction. It was only politics, after all. Pam chimed in not long after with similar sentiments. We love you both, she insisted during her call, whatever you decide. Ginny had, over the past month, allowed a daydream or two to dance through her head, in which her daughters made a surprise return to Buckfield, carrying with them the knowledge of some esoteric bi-law which would grant them, as former residents, the right to vote in this election. But it was foolish thinking. They had moved on, had their own problems to manage. Even if the girls had dramatically appeared, their presence would not have changed the vote, Ginny was certain. They were their own women who would have cast their own ballots, regardless of what anyone, their mother included, might have wanted from them.
The election commissioner showed up promptly at 10. Ginny invited him in, offered him a glass of water, and apologized for Lance’s tardiness.
“Probably upstairs in his infernal Town Hall,” she explained.
The commissioner smiled. “Enjoying a final moment in his office,” he joked, “before someone else redecorates, perhaps?”
Ginny turned away, towards the window. She was surprised to find the ever-serene image of her front yard distorted by a row of cars maneuvering up the driveway. One by one the vehicles were parking along the gravel and the nearby grass, wherever they could find space, their occupants disembarking and making their way around the house towards the backyard.
“I heard something like this this might happen.” The commissioner had joined Ginny at the window. “It seems your election is the social event of the year. At least in this county. Nobody wanted to miss it.”
Ginny quickly migrated to the back porch, where she could gaze upon the spectacle developing in the open field behind the farmhouse. There were at least two dozen people, with more still arriving. How on Earth am I meant to accommodate them all in that tiny kitchen, she thought to herself, but they seemed quite at home where they were. There was O’Reilly, setting up catering trays on a table beside his truck, and the Westwoods, Karen Dyer, and Gretchen McGuinn. A group of children were scurrying around, while a bluegrass band had begun to tune their instruments. It was an unexpected celebration, broken out beneath the backdrop of her mountains. The Gorhams so rarely had visitors out to Buckfield, Ginny had forgotten how much she enjoyed sharing her bucolic view with others. The first time she’d stood in the backyard of the farmhouse many years ago, the first time she looked out upon the hills and peaks that seemed to roll endlessly over one another, she’d been captivated. It was a view which had offered so much possibility, as if she could set out walking in any direction and always find something new. It was a view which, when she first saw it, made her feel at home.
Eventually, the commissioner called her back to the kitchen. “Lance is here,” he explained. “Are you ready?”
Lance was waiting for them in his full mayoral regalia—a suit jacket adorned with the town crest, which he himself had designed; a ribbon he’d commissioned, honoring the town’s previous mayors; an honorary walking cane he’d carved out of authentic Buckfield wood. He smiled softly upon seeing Ginny. The same gentle smile he’d been employing from the moment they met. A reminder that being mayor really did mean the world to him. To take that away now, regardless of what had transpired between them, would be a kind of matrimonial cruelty.
“We’re ready to proceed,” the commissioner said. He was standing beside the voting box, two slips of paper in his hand.
Ginny’s mind searched for a fragment of simple logic to grab hold of. She could honor her husband’s one true passion, accept him for who he was. She could do what was best for herself after all these years, complicated as that might seem. There were also the visitors outside to consider. Would she be appeasing them or disappointing them once her vote was announced? There was her mysterious caller, her daughters and their conflicting advice, and of course the chimney hearth, which had accumulated a fresh coating of soot, as if all of this had been for nothing. It was all so very overwhelming.
Ginny walked over to the kitchen table, picked up her ballot, sighed, and wrote Lance’s name on it. She folded the paper and dropped it in the ballot box. It was done.
Lance then scrawled and deposited his own vote, thus bringing the election to its inevitable conclusion. Ginny couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze as the two of them followed the election commissioner, voting box in hand, out to the backyard. They were all three greeted with cheers from the jubilant crowd, who quickly encircled the newcomers to hear the results.
“Before we begin,” the commissioner called out. “I’d like to remind everyone of the county’s election rules. The winner shall be determined by a majority vote. In the event of a tie—”
He paused, and pockets of laughter could be heard from the crowd. “In the event of a tie, the incumbent, in this case, Lance Gorham, will be asked to determine the winner.”
“Now,” he continued, opening the ballot box. “Without further ado.”
Lance, standing beside Ginny, slowly slipped his palm into hers and squeezed it. She smiled, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply. The bite of winter air still hadn’t found its way to Buckfield, and she filled her lungs with a crisp autumn breeze.
“One vote,” the commissioner called out, “for Lance Gorham.”
Applause broke out from the crowd and Ginny, her hand still clasped in her husband’s, squeezed back. It was almost over.
The commissioner reached into the box and withdrew the second ballot.
“One vote,” he called out. “for Ginny Gorham.”
Ginny let go of her husband’s hand and turned, facing him, for an explanation. She’d voted for Lance, which meant Lance must have voted for her. He only nodded. Even with the gleeful applause ringing out around them, a comfortable silence had once again settled between the two residents of Buckfield.
The crowd continued to applaud, waiting expectantly for Lance to say something, to announce his decision and break the tie. The vote was deadlocked as anticipated, but Lance remained silent. Ginny didn’t mind one bit. His silence could continue on forever, for all she cared. Until he finally decided to speak, the Gorhams would be the only two people in the entire world who knew what he was about to say. The only ones who knew how the final vote was going to turn out.
About the Author
Nicholas Plasmati lives in South Carolina, and is originally from Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in QuipLit and Waxing & Waning. He holds degrees from William & Mary and the College of Charleston’s MFA program.