As the press briefing’s opening song concluded and the audience members took their seats, a woman wearing a lab coat over her dress and a stethoscope around her neck marched onstage and stood at the podium. The lights dimmed. Sweet violins sounded over the loudspeakers, and the woman dressed as a doctor sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. As she sang, a huge screen lowered behind her, and one by one pictures were shown on the screen of people who had died from Covid or died with Covid or probably would have died from Covid had they not died from something else first. The audience was moved to tears. The song finished, then the lights flashed harsh reds and blinding yellows, angry thrash metal blared from the speakers, and the screen showed pictures of unvaccinated people who had died from Covid. The woman in the lab coat turned to the screen, raised her arm and gave the finger to the people in the pictures. The audience stood as one and imitated the gesture. Shrieks and swearing spewed forth from five thousand furious mouths until the music stopped, the lights mellowed, and the huge screen retracted up to the ceiling.
The backstage coordinator popped her head through the makeup room door and said, “You’re on in five, Mr Premier.”
Stan stood up from his chair, straightened his jacket and looked at himself in the mirror.
“Remember,” said Belinda, “it’s the vaccinations first, then your speech. We have the teleprompter ready to go.”
“Don’t need it,” said Stan, still gazing at his reflection. He tapped his breast pocket. “I prefer to go from my notes.”
Belinda’s shoulders dropped slightly. “You will stick to your notes then, won’t you Sir? The Air Force issue has put the pressure on, and certain members of the press will pounce on anything that can be misinterpreted. So… it’s probably best not to ad-lib, don’t you think? Stan?”
“How tall do you think Jesus was?” said Stan.
Stan stood straight and brushed his collar. “Do you think Jesus was as tall as me?”
“Uh… I have no idea, Sir. Do you… want him to be as tall as you?”
“I think he would have been my height.”
“Then I’m sure he was,” said Belinda. “Now, you have to get ready Stan. It’s almost time for you to go on.”
“Yes, yes, all right.”
Belinda left the room. Stan followed but stopped at the door. He turned and looked once more in the mirror. He imagined himself with a beard and wearing a cloak and sandals. He smiled and nodded to himself, then headed for the stage.
The audience applauded as up-and-coming hip-hop artist, Badass Snitch, finished a performance of his new single, “Wear That Mask,” accompanied by his dance crew, whose members were each wearing three face masks. As he and his crew bounded off stage (aside from the two dancers who had passed out during the performance and had to be dragged off by stage hands), a dozen people walked on from the other side in single file and stood in a row. The woman who had earlier sung “What a Wonderful World” joined them on stage, along with two nurses wearing scrubs. One of the nurses carried a silver tray with twelve syringes on it.
“Are you ready?” whispered Belinda, standing next to Stan just offstage.
Stan peeked out at the audience. He took a deep breath and smiled. “I’m ready.”
“Now,” announced the woman dressed as a doctor, from the front of the stage, “we come to a very special, even holy part of today’s press briefing—the vaccinations.”
The audience murmured in reverence.
“Oh, here Stan, I forgot,” said Belinda, retrieving a face mask from her pocket. “Put a mask on.”
Stan huffed and snatched the mask from Belinda. “I hate these things,” he said. “They’re so unpleasant.”
“I know,” said Belinda, “but it’s the law.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the woman on stage, “we have an extra special treat for you today…”
“I feel like I’m wearing a muzzle,” said Stan, hooking the mask’s elastic loops behind his ears.
“It’s just for a minute, just for the cameras,” said Belinda.
“Our beloved state premier,” said the woman on stage, “Stan Berserkervich, will be vaccinating one of our lucky vaccine recipients.”
The audience cheered.
“I’m the premier,” Stan shouted over the noise of the crowd. “I shouldn’t have to wear a bloody mask!”
“Please welcome to the stage, Stan Berserkervich!”
Stan walked on stage to an eruption of adoring shouts and screams usually reserved for pop stars. He waved the big, victorious, man-of-the-people waves that only seasoned politicians can pull off. As he looked out upon the crowd of thousands, he thought of the millions more he was elected to govern and imagined himself wrapping his arms around them all as one. He imagined bringing every citizen in his state together in his embrace and squeezing them… squeezing them… harder… and tighter. With the adulation resounding in his ears, Stan whispered behind his mask, “I will save you all.”
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