“The Candidate’s Wife” by Mary Caffrey Knapke

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week, we meet Meg who has mixed feelings about her husband’s election night success.

We present our Feature Story: “The Candidate’s Wife” by Mary Caffrey Knapke

I pull another cigarette out of the pack and dig in my purse for the lighter. It’s dark in the parking lot outside party headquarters. Party headquarters—it always sounds more fun than it really is. Like we’re dancing on the bar instead of sitting around and waiting for election results to come in.

Finally, I pull the lighter from my bag, light the cigarette, and inhale deeply. The smoke warms me against the November chill, and I remember the autumn nights Joe and I used to spend at home. Life was so much quieter before all this—the campaign, the interviews, the committee work—but I have to put that out of my mind. I can’t think about it on a night like tonight.

The noise from inside helps distract me. The party chairman is announcing the latest round of results. Before long, I’ll have to go inside and make my appearance as The Candidate’s Wife. Soon to be The Mayor’s Wife, from the way the numbers are looking. And by a landslide, too. It’s just what Joe wanted.

I’m smoking in peace when the door flies open, throwing a torrent of light out to the parking lot. I jump and gasp. A second later, Tammy—the party’s executive director—slips along the wall next to me.

“Geez, Tam, you scared me to death. I thought you were a reporter.” A year ago, we didn’t know each other very well, but hundreds of secret smoke breaks later, we’ve become as tight as sisters.

“You got another one of those?” she says, pointing to my cigarette.

“No,” I tell her, dragging on the cigarette. “You’re trying to quit.”

She raises her voice. “You give me a cigarette right now or I’ll get that lunatic Sally McKenzie from Channel 5 and tell her you’re ready to give an interview on Joe’s anti-smoking program!”

“All right!” I say, reaching into my bag for the pack. “You’re so dramatic. You act like you’ve been coordinating a dozen campaigns for the last year or something.”

She sighs when I hand her the cigarette and lighter and then, without prompting, she rattles off all the numbers so far. She’s constantly watching the results from the board of elections, and she’s got everything memorized. Fifty percent of the precincts are in, and all our candidates are winning. Even our issues are passing. And Joe is way ahead in the exit polls.

“You must be so happy,” Tammy says. “You’ve worked really hard.”

“It’s a big night for Joe, all right.”

“For both of you.”

“Yeah. Both of us. Sure, why not?” Maybe she misses my cynical tone, or maybe she ignores it—either way, she says nothing. We stand together watching the traffic on the expressway. I drag on my cigarette until only the filter is left, and I throw it down.

“You ready?” she asks, crushing her cigarette under her heel.

I take a deep breath. “Let’s go.”

We open the door and the sound of people and music envelops me. I scan the crowd and find Joe in the corner, laughing and shaking hands. I hope he didn’t notice I was gone, but he makes eye contact, and I know I’ve been caught. He excuses himself from the crowd gathered around him and makes a beeline for me.

“Meg, where in the world have you been?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, trying to sound casual. “I went outside with Tammy for some air.”

“Yeah, I can tell what kind of air you went out for. How many times do I have to ask you not to smoke?” I sigh and dig in my bag for my breath mints. “Forget it,” he says. “Here.” He hands me a stick of gum. “Try not to chomp on it like a high school cheerleader. Sally McKenzie’s been waiting for us to do an interview together.” When Joe catches Sally’s eye, she brightens and practically skips over to us. I chew the gum a few times and swallow it, straighten my hair, and smile.

We do a short interview, and Joe goes back to working the room. I slip into a crowd of volunteers and try to take it all in. Everyone who worked on the campaign this year looks tired, but also happy and relieved. Something about it makes me think of the times Joe promised he would always work behind the scenes in politics. So much for promises.

Tammy emerges from her office and approaches the podium. I see the look on her face, and I know for certain now: There’s no way I’m getting my life back. Tammy writes the results on a giant whiteboard, and before I comprehend what’s happening, everyone’s cheering, and one of the TV cameras is in my face. I smile as sincerely as possible. Joe is beside me in a flash, his arm around my waist. He’s ecstatic and eloquent, and for a moment, I see the enthusiasm and idealism I fell in love with. When the interview is over, he turns and looks me in the eye.

“I did it,” he says earnestly. “I can’t believe it, Meg. I did it.”

“You did it,” I say, thinking of the countless hours I spent going door to door to hand out campaign literature. Posing for pictures. Giving interviews. Visiting schools and nursing homes.

“You’ve been doing great tonight, Meg. It’s just the smoking … you know you can’t do that. It’s not good for our image.”

“Our image. Right. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, kissing me on the forehead. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

Another group of supporters comes up to Joe, and I get edged out by the crowd. I go to the back of the hall and slip out the door. The parking lot is still cold and quiet. I dig the pack out of my purse again, light a cigarette, and inhale deeply. The moonlight catches one of Joe’s campaign brochures lying on the ground. I pick it up and feel the weight of the paper, the rough ink. In my other hand, I hold the lighter, feeling its cool weight in my palm. I stick the corner of the brochure into the flame. As it crumples, I drop it on the ground, and I keep on smoking.

Mary Caffrey Knapke lives with her husband and son in Troy, Ohio. She works alternately as a journalist, English instructor, and independent marketing professional. She always stays up too late watching election results — but with wine and chocolate instead of cigarettes. Read some of her work at her website.


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One Comment

  1. What a shame no one has commented on this yet! What a great piece of fiction and quality short story. A glance into the life of a candidate’s wife, just a simple and straight oppertunity to see/experience something you don’t even normally wonder about.

    Wonderful work! I’ve put a link up to this article/story on my blog (http://severedlimbmovement.wordpress.com/) as well, hope you get more comments and views! You’ve earned it!

    – A fellow author

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