As Stan Berserkervich touched down behind the podium to a smattering of applause, a crew member ran out and unhooked his wires and harness, then disappeared offstage just before the smoke cleared and the music faded. Stan looked around at the small audience in front of him—reporters from major newspapers, television journalists, and four television camera operators. His heart skipped a beat as he looked at the cameras. He thought of his face being beamed to televisions across the country, and his voice travelling to millions of households. Everybody was watching him, everybody was listening. At that moment, he would not have traded places with anybody, not for all the wealth in the world.
Stan stepped up to the podium, removed his mask, adjusted the microphone and skimmed the open notebook set there, containing all the information he would need that morning. He looked out at the group seated before him and smiled. “Good morning, everyone,” he said. Feet shuffled under seats, pens clicked, recording devices extended toward him and every eye fixed on him, and then the room became still. It had begun. Stan felt like an eagle soaring. “Well, I’ll get straight to it,” he said in his most statesmanlike voice. “The state recorded three hundred and seventy-one new Covid cases yesterday—certainly not the highest we’ve seen, but still alarming. Tragically, four people died from the virus: a thirty-seven-year-old man, a thirty-four-year-old woman, an eight-year-old boy and another boy, a six-year-old. So, although we know Covid is a greater threat to the elderly and the sick, this is a timely reminder that the virus can still be lethal to anybody of any age. So, I want to encourage everyone out there to remain vigilant—mask up, practice social distancing, and above all, get vaccinated. While we adjust to life with coronavirus, and some restrictions begin to ease, we must all remember that we cannot, even for one second, afford to stop being afraid. Now, comparing testing, cases and deaths to what we’ve seen over the last few months, I don’t think you need me to go over it all again, but we’ll put the figures on the screen there for you.” Stan turned around. The lights dimmed, and on the large screen behind him, a summary of the state’s Covid statistics for the last three months appeared. The speakers screeched with the music from the shower scene in the movie Psycho.
“Right, so you can see we’ve had a dip in recorded cases there,” said Stan after a moment, as the music ceased and the lights returned, “but we’re seeing a slight increase in deaths per week. So, obviously some tough decisions have to be made, and to help us with that, I’d like to welcome at this point our Covid safety mascot, everybody’s favourite dancing koala… here she is!”
As playful, upbeat music filled the room, a woman in an oversized koala costume, complete with face mask, bounded out in front of the cameras and began dancing a jig. A few members of the press cheered and clapped along. As the song finished, the koala waved to the reporters and the cameras and pointed to her shirt, which bore a large picture of a smiling cartoon syringe.
“Well, hello there,” said Stan to the koala.
The koala turned to him and gave a big wave (she was a mute mascot).
“It’s great to see you again,” said Stan. “Now, as our Covid safety mascot, you’re very good friends with our chief health advisor. I know the two of you have been keeping a keen eye on how the virus is spreading and affecting people, haven’t you?”
The koala turned to face the cameras and nodded.
“So, I want to ask you, are you happy with the way people have been adhering to Covid safety guidelines this past week?”
A few journalists leaned forward in their seats. The koala looked down and shook her head side to side. One reporter in a red t-shirt gasped. Another sobbed.
Stan sighed loudly into the microphone. “That’s very disappointing,” he said. “I am so sorry we’ve made you sad.”
The koala stood next to Stan and pretended to whisper in his ear.
“What’s that?” said Stan. “There’s still a chance for us to defeat the virus?”
The koala nodded emphatically.
“Well, that’s great news.”
The koala whispered to Stan again.
Stan wore a grave look and nodded. “I see. So, if we want to beat Covid and make sure it doesn’t kill our mums and dads, our grandmas and our grandpas, you’re saying we need to stay in lockdown for another two weeks?”
The audience responded with a mix of groans, scoffs, cheers and sighs of relief. The koala turned to the cameras and gave two thumbs up (whether it was laziness, budget constraints, or simply an oversight, the koala costume had been made with only one thumb on each hand, instead of the anatomically correct two).
“Well, there you have it,” said Stan. “I know many people were looking forward to going back to work or school, or visiting family, but if we just work together, just for a short, two-week extension of the lockdown, we can get the upper hand against Covid, and be one step closer to freedom.” Stan lifted his elbow toward the koala, and the koala bumped her elbow against his, in the Covid safety-approved version of a handshake. “Thank you, once again, to our favourite dancing koala. Everyone wave goodbye to the Covid safety mascot!”
“Say her name,” called a reporter seated near the back of the audience.
“What?” said Stan.
“She has a name,” said the reporter. “She’s not just called ‘the covid safety mascot.’”
“I hardly think it matters,” said Stan.
“Hold on,” said the reporter. “You had an online contest for people to suggest proper names for the koala and vote for them. The winning name received a hundred and twenty thousand votes. Are you going to use her name, or was that contest a waste of time?”
Stan and the koala looked at each other, then Stan looked down and sighed. “Fine,” he said. “Everyone wave goodbye to… to Dickhead the Covid Safety Koala.”
A few reporters chuckled as Dickhead the Koala ran off camera and behind the partition at the side of the room.
“Oh yeah, real mature guys,” scolded Stan. “We’re trying to save lives here, remember? Or is this a big joke to you?” He sighed and straightened his tie. “Once again, I’d like to apologise for our mascot’s unsavoury name. I can assure you, that is the last time we’ll ever decide anything by online vote. Honestly, this whole mascot name debacle has turned me off the idea of public voting altogether.”
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