With a gentle whir, the automatic blinds drew slowly back across the bedroom window, allowing the 6am sunshine to bestow its light and warmth upon the peaceful face of Stanley Berserkervich. Stan squinted, mumbled, then rolled over and stretched. He laid on his back and rubbed his eyes, then stared up at the ceiling and smiled. “Good morning, Australia,” he said. In his mind, he pictured his state’s six million citizens turning to him in unison, wearing broad smiles of unwavering loyalty and eternal gratitude, and answering, “Good morning, Stan.”
Wearing a silk robe with the words Australia’s Best Premier embroidered on the back, he descended the marble staircase and walked along the arched hall to the dining room, where his butler, Alexei, had just set breakfast on the table. “Good morning, Alexei,” said Stan.
“Good morning, Sir,” said Alexei, laying the morning’s newspapers beside Stan’s cutlery. “Will Mrs Berserker be joining you for breakfast?”
“Not today. She’s at yoga again this morning. Don’t know how she does it.” Stan sat down and examined his plate of bacon and eggs, and the steaming pot of coffee. “It looks wonderful, Alexei.” He took the coffee pot and filled his favourite coffee mug, a big blue one that bore the phrase Stan is #1. All his coffee mugs had those words on them. He liked the big blue one best. “Oh, Alexei, do we have any more of that caviar from the party last night? I quite liked that.”
“I believe so, Sir,” answered Alexei. “I’ll fetch it at once.”
As Alexei departed for the kitchen, Stan sipped his coffee, smacked his lips and took a deep breath. He spread a thick chunk of butter on his toast. “Oh, Alexei!” he called. “You’ll never guess who said they love my new vaccine ads… Alexei?”
Alexei returned with a dish of Russian caviar. “Sir?”
“I said you’ll never guess who said they love my new vaccine ads.”
“I’m not familiar with the name, Sir.”
“Oh, come on, Alexei—Tim Capilano? He’s an actor. He’s on Neighbours. He plays Jake, or Jeff or something. I’m not sure. But they told me he’s very famous. Apparently, all the kids love him.”
“Well, that is an impressive admirer, Sir.”
“Isn’t it?” said Stan, watching the melting butter glisten on his toast. “I wonder if he could get me onto the show—you know, for a cameo. To promote my sixteen-point Covid action plan, obviously.”
“I’m sure it’s possible,” said Alexei.
“Hmm. I’ll get Sandra to make some calls.”
“Will there be anything else, Sir?” asked Alexei.
“Hmm? Oh, no, that will be all. Thank you.”
“Very good, Sir,” said Alexei, and he left the room.
Stan shoved the wedge of toast into his mouth and chewed contentedly as he imagined himself appearing on Australia’s most famous soap opera.
He took a sip of his coffee and set the mug down in front of him, turning it so its personalised phrase faced him. He took the first newspaper, unfolded it and scanned the front page. His shoulders slumped. Premier Parties Maskless as Citizens Suffer. Beneath the unfavourable headline, a grainy photograph of him on the dancefloor filled half the page. “Damn hacks,” he muttered. His eyes raced side-to-side, furiously inspecting the article’s opening paragraph. “VIP guest list… No social distancing… Ignoring his own rules… What a stitch-up!” He threw the paper down on the table and threw his hands in the air. “It was a Covid-safe event!” he yelled at the newspaper. “Unbelievable. All they want to know is if I wore a mask, but do they consider that I am fully vaccinated? No, of course not. Do they mention that I have quarantined more people than any other premier in the country? Oh no. Look at the people who were there, for crying out loud! It was an exclusive guest list, all high-profile individuals. Obviously, the standard of personal hygiene among that group is far superior to that of average citizens. But they don’t write about that, do they? They just want a juicy headline.” Stan sighed. He picked up a crispy strip of bacon and chewed without enjoyment. He sipped his coffee again, then reached for the next newspaper. For a fleeting moment his eyes lit up at the headline taking up the entire front page, until he realised it was sarcastic: Congratulations Stan! 400 Days of Lockdown! He huffed and flung open the paper to read the lead article. He shook his head. There was no mention of all the lives he had saved, all the sickness he had averted. There were only the usual complaints about lost jobs, closed businesses, missed cancer diagnoses, rising suicide rates and children being forbidden from playing outside. “I just can’t win,” he said, leaning back in his seat and staring at the crystal chandelier above him. He leaned forward and slapped the paper with the back of his hand. “They’re kids, they can survive a few years of online school classes. And always with the cancers! Cancer this and cancer that. If cancer was such a threat, then it would be the big election issue instead of Covid. They just don’t get it.” He cast the paper aside and picked up the last one. The front-page photograph was of a hulking police officer punching an eighty-three-year-old war veteran in the face during an anti-vaccine-passport protest. The headline read simply, Injustice. Stan stared at the picture for a minute, then shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t even know what they’re trying to say with that one.”
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