Stan headed along the corridor toward the room that had hosted the daily press conference every morning since the state’s fourteen-day lockdown began. Since then, the lockdown had been extended thirty-seven times. Gathered at the side of the room, and hidden from the cameras by a large partition, was a small group of aides and security personnel. Stan peeked out at the thirty or so members of the press awaiting him, then stepped back behind the partition while a harness was secured around his chest, and wires attached to the harness. As he stood there, Todd, the sign language interpreter, shuffled past and out into the room, taking his place off to the side of the podium. Stan heard two female reporters greet Todd in a flirty way, then he saw Todd smile and wink, with his muscular arms bulging from his tight polo shirt, his shoulder length blonde hair tied back in a neat man-bun, and the dimple in his chiselled chin—
“Belinda,” Stan called.
His assistant, tablet in one hand, phone in the other, rushed over. “What is it?”
Stan screwed up his nose and tilted his head. “You know, I was just thinking,” he whispered. “This sign language fellow, maybe… I don’t know… Do you think perhaps he’s a little distracting?”
Belinda turned and looked at Todd. “Distracting?”
“Yeah,” said Stan. “Visually, I mean. He does a great job with the sign language, don’t get me wrong, but the tight shirt and his hair like that—you don’t think it’s all a bit much?”
“Oh,” said Belinda.
“Because we’re here for public health,” Stan emphasised. “It’s about getting the Covid safety message across. And I’d hate for anyone to see this guy standing near me and think, Oh, who’s this guy with the big chest? He works out too much, and he’s trying to be cool with his hair. I mean that could distract from what I’m saying out there, and people could die.”
“Okay,” nodded Belinda, “I think I get what you’re saying. I’ll take care of it.”
“It’s nothing against him personally, you understand.”
“Of course,” said Belinda.
“I don’t have a problem with the way he looks,” said Stan, “but if you are going to look like that, then go do a modelling show or something, you know? Don’t be a sign language interpreter.”
“No, you’re absolutely right, Stan,” said Belinda. She pressed through the group and went over to Todd. “Todd, would you follow me, please. Now.”
Todd gave a puzzled look and then followed Belinda from the room, down the corridor and into the dressing room. Three minutes later, Belinda emerged and walked back up the hall. Behind her, at a much slower pace, Todd also returned to the press room. His arms were now hidden beneath a baggy green jumper, and his hair had been hacked to a short, uneven style more appropriate to a prisoner of war. His eyes were red and damp. As he took his place back out in front of the cameras, he folded his hands in front of him and stared at the floor. A few of the reporters gasped. Stan smiled and nodded to Belinda. “Much better,” he said. “It’ll help people focus on the message.”
One of the production crew, dressed in black and wearing a headset, came up to Stan, checked his harness and asked, “Are you ready, Mr Premier?”
Stan took a deep breath and shook his shoulders loosely. He nodded. “Ready.”
“All right,” said the crew member. He held his headset microphone to his lips and said, “Showtime.”
The wires attached to Stan’s harness tightened from above. He slowly lifted from the ground.
“Oh, Stan,” said Belinda, “don’t forget your mask.” She took a face mask from her pocket and handed it up to him as he rose toward the ceiling.
“Thanks,” said Stan. He took the mask and fumbled with it before finally fitting it over his mouth and nose. “I hate wearing these damn things.”
With a soft hiss, the smoke machine blanketed the front of the room in fog. Coloured lights began to swirl. A smooth, recorded voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, and all members of the non-binary community, please welcome the man whose courage has defended us, whose wisdom has preserved us, and whose goodness gives us hope against the terrifying coronavirus. Here he is, our beloved state premier… Stan Berserkervich!”
U2’s “Pride” burst over the conference room speakers, and from the ceiling above the podium, Stan descended with outstretched arms and a sparkle in his eye.
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