The Unexpected Everything(3)

By: Morgan Matson

I let my eyes fall for just a second to a spot on the lawn where a thick cable was laid out, flattening the grass. A month ago my dad and I had shot promo photos and ads there for his fall campaign, my dad in a jacket but no tie, me in a skirt and cashmere sweater. There had been fake fall leaves scattered over the grass, turning May into October. I hadn’t asked if these had been purchased, or if some intern had had to make them, because I really hadn’t wanted to know the answer.

We’d been shooting all day, first stills, then video, my dad and I walking across the lawn together, like this was totally normal. As if we ever got dressed up to walk across the lawn and have a chat, just for fun. As we were nearing the end of the day, the director had looked at the two of us and sighed. “Don’t you guys have a dog or something?”

My dad had been on his BlackBerry as usual, not even hearing this, and it had fallen to me to give him a smile and say, “No dog. Just the two of us.” And he’d nodded and said something to the guy holding the silver disk that bounced light onto us, and we’d moved on, into the next setup, projecting the image of a small, happy family once again.

Now, though, I didn’t know if those mailers or ads, complete with my dad’s campaign slogan—“Toward the Future”—would ever be used. From where I was standing on the porch, it wasn’t looking so good.

“I will say again that I had no knowledge whatsoever of this misuse of funds,” my dad said, snapping me back to the present moment. His voice was getting low and serious, and I could practically sense the press grow still, like they knew they were getting what they’d come for. “But the fact is, this violation of campaign finance regulations originated in my office. And since it was an office under my control and my leadership, I must take responsibility. As you know, I’ve asked for an independent investigation, one that can get to the bottom of how this occurred. I’ve directed my staff to cooperate to the fullest extent. And while the investigation is ongoing—”

Here my dad drew in a breath and rubbed his wedding ring with his thumb, his nervous tic. Apparently, he’d lost four the first year he and my mother were married, and so she’d bought him a crazy-expensive one in the hope that he might hold on to it. He had, but ever since, he’d been absently checking for its existence. The press sometimes commented on the fact that he was still wearing it, five years later, but I had a feeling today that would not be one of the questions shouted at him from our lawn. There were much bigger headline-generating fish to fry.

“While the investigation is ongoing, I will be taking a leave of absence. I feel that I cannot serve my district or my state effectively while this is being investigated. I will be donating my salary to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.”

I hadn’t heard about the charity—it wasn’t in the last draft of the speech Peter read to me, and I tried not to let any surprise pass over my face. But I couldn’t help wondering if it had been a last-minute addition, or if this was just something they hadn’t thought I needed to know.

“I will be taking this time away from Congress to reflect on any actions that might have brought me here and to spend time with my family.” My father glanced over at me, and I gave him the smile that Peter had made me rehearse that morning. It was supposed to be supportive, encouraging, and kind, but couldn’t be too happy. I had no idea if it came off or not, but all I could think as my dad turned back to the press was how strange this all was—this bizarre theater we were performing for the national press on our front porch. “I will not be taking any questions at this time. Thank you very much for your attention.”

He turned away from the podium as the reporters on our lawn started yelling questions. As we’d practiced, I walked toward my dad, and he put his arm around my shoulders as someone pulled the front door open from the inside. I glanced back to see Peter stepping smoothly up to the podium, answering the shouted questions my dad had walked away from.

The second we were inside, my dad dropped his arm and I took a step away. The door was firmly shut behind us by one of the interns who’d arrived with Peter last week. The intern nodded at my dad, then hustled out of the foyer, fast. Most of the interns—I never bothered to learn their names unless they were particularly cute—had been avoiding him since the story broke, not meeting his eye, clearly not sure how to behave. Usually, they were unshakable, following his every move, trying to prove themselves invaluable, the better to get a job later. But now, it was like my dad was radioactive, and just being around him might damage their future job prospects.

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