V.V. Ganeshananthan: “Shutdown Country”

In the third year of the shutdown—on what, when we were counting, we recognized as the 1,234st day, and although that was just a coincidence, we muttered to each other, “weird,” as though announcing that would make it less so—we realized that we had to figure out some way to make it end. We had never said, please, sir, may we have some more. In fact, we would have preferred not to. And now we were the people we had been waiting for? What a disappointment. Some dream, America.

At first we tried electing someone else to take care of things, and that didn’t work because too many among us had been stricken from the voter rolls. No one would certify the results, and several people had been nominated without agreeing to run, and overall, well, democracy, a fricking mess for which there was no adequate Dyson, we all agreed.

(We all agreed! one person noticed. Maybe we’ll manage?
Well, is it socialist if we all do it? another asked.
And each of us took an equal share in telling that second person to shut up.)

We’d really been hoping for someone better (Harrison Ford yelling “not my family!” would have worked, Athena said) but maybe this was what we had, other than our pirated DVD collection, for which we apologized, although no one was currently paid to enforce antipiracy measures. Maybe if we worked out for a while? We did some bicep curls and a couple of pushups, fired up the old AbRoller. A little downward dog. Nothing doing. Maybe if we had a snack? We smushed some Twinkies into tiny little squares and said they were petit fours, as a dignity-saving measure. Mixed some milk powder and its attendant ants with water and hydrated with our eyes closed. But really, really, we still didn’t feel up to it. We craved naps. Maybe if we got out of our pajamas? We looked at ourselves in mirrors and combed our remaining hair and put on our Hostess cream-stained ties and pulled up our clown pants and tilted our caps and ruffled our bedraggled tutus just so. We flexed a little, the way some of used to flex before dates to look temporarily more awesome than we actually were. And this, after all, was what ready was. We only knew this because nobody was available to be ready but us.

Athena said that if we went to the capitol, we could find a way in to the place where the lawmakers, the lawmincers, the lawfuckers in their lawfuckery, had barricaded themselves so that they could be silent together. (We were prepared to listen to Athena, finally, because she had been the one to stash the Twinkies, which were disgusting, but remained. She said, you bunch of sexists should have paid attention earlier, and why is this like some dystopian action movie with only one girl anyway? She was basically, we were able to admit, correct. We took turns patting each other magnanimously on the back for the generosity of this admission.)

When we were listening again, she pointed out that when we got there it would be like The Breakfast Club of the Apocalypse. John Hughes meets Mad Max. We’d heard that in the early days the silence in the capitol had been aggressive. Lawfuckers biting their thumbs at each other—flicking spitballs, thrusting chins out, playing rock-paper-scissors, spelling slurs in sign language, inventing increasingly obscene variations on the finger. What does that even mean? they mouthed at each other between mime-like insults. But eventually, rumor had it, it got kind of frenemyish in there, all Do you want to play hangman? and Anyone got a Jenga set? Technically, the members of one party were holding the other party hostage, and the party that was held hostage sat genially in their rolling chairs, the ones that had been deemed appropriately ergonomic for a shutdown of this duration, and they rolled up and down the aisles and muttered to each other, “what a terrible waste,” as though announcing it would make it less so.

(They were a decent sort, but often quietly hypocritical and ineffective, and we knew that announcing business didn’t work. We’d tried it ourselves.)

We’d heard—and maybe this was just apocryphal—that the word waste blew itself up and floated around the main echo chamber of their silence, farting at appropriate intervals, and all that noise helped, because then at least the lawmakers laughed, but that was the only noise they made, and considering that, that laugh a minute, they were really overpaid.

And because they had paid hardly anybody else, when we walked up to the steps of the capitol, the remnants of the police—and their canine units, panting with hunger—grinned at us savagely. We were waiting for you, they said, and licked their lips. The park rangers were sitting up by the columns near the doors, and let us bum cigarettes, even as they reminded us that smoking was bad for us, and also at this point completely fine inside the building.

The essentials, the last lonely essentials, were inside the lobby. They didn’t say anything at all, but handed us a crowbar. They pointed in the direction of the sanctum, the unholiest of unholys, where the lawmakers were. The only national monument left their special preserve: The Grand Canyon of Nothing.

Athena readied the crowbar, and then someone else said, try the door, and she jiggled the knob, and guess what, it wasn’t even locked, and she said, WELL THEN, and the door swung open outward.

V.V. Ganeshananthan is the author of a novel, Love Marriage. She teaches in the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. This story will appear in the forthcoming anthology FLASHED: SUDDEN STORIES IN PROSE AND COMICS (Pressgang, Spring 2015).

Leave a reply