WELCOME TO THE HENRY BROOSTER CAMPAIGN

CHELSEA SUTTON

Please read and sign this form to acknowledge that everything we’re going to review in this approximately 15-minute orientation tour is strictly confidential, officially.

I’ll wait.

Your internship began at 7:34 a.m. today and will end at 9:54 p.m. the day after the election. Five-point-seven weeks. I must remind you that this job is completely unpaid, you will be required to work a minimum of six fourteen-hour days per week and there is no mileage reimbursement, no travel reimbursement, no healthcare reimbursement, no therapy reimbursement, no dry clean reimbursement, no reimbursements for lost keys, phones, post-it notes, or dreams of your youth.

Yes, there is a dead body on the table used by volunteers for mailing campaigns. Yes, that is real blood soaking the forever stamps. Today, the volunteers will be cleaning those stamps and drying them in the windows facing the Walmart parking lot, in other words, toward the western afternoon sun. We recycle here. 

Please tuck in your shirt and change into a pair of shoes with no heels. Interns should not be taller than me.

You are wearing flats? Then I suppose you’ll learn to slouch. 

The police will come soon to collect the body, so I have already removed its name badge. We are not wasteful.

The dead body was the last intern. Her name was Audrey.

Here is your name badge. Use it to cover those loose threads on your jacket pocket.

Though you are unpaid, you are not a volunteer. You are an intern, which entitles you to a handsome form letter of recommendation signed by the Senator once you have completed your internship to my satisfaction. You may also receive a photo opportunity with the Senator himself. You are vaguely young, vaguely “artistic” looking, but not attractive enough to attract the Senator’s attention in any particular way. Consider it a lucky break.

Audrey liked to attract attention.

Was your hair dyed red before? The shade is far too close to that of Audrey’s blood. I will pick a new color for your hair this afternoon.   

You are also entitled to order a latte for yourself on every other coffee run you make. That’s approximately eighteen coffee runs per week, which equals nine lattes for you, so, if you purchase the most expensive of the seasonal lattes at the largest size (which I don’t suggest you do, unless you want Diane to take it out of the budget for your welcome party and your going away party – which means oatmeal cookies instead of cupcakes, which means disappointed co-workers, which means vegetable oil in your gas tank), this means the Henry Brooster campaign is officially unofficially paying you $5.95 per every other coffee run or $53.55 per week.  

I must also remind you that you were chosen from a highly competitive group of candidates, most of whom are out-of-work campaign managers and law school graduates with immense student loan debt. This does not make you particularly special. But I urge you to enjoy the moment while you can.

Yes, that is a bright orange earmuff in the mouth of the intern-turned-dead-body named Audrey. Audrey was in charge of the Senator’s Instagram account. How do you feel about Instagram?

Before we move on, please snap a picture with your phone of Audrey’s dead body and the bloody forever stamps, and the homeless beggar weeping by her side. 

Quickly. The 15-minutes of orientation are draining away. 

You’ll meet your teammates in a minute. You’ve already met Audrey, though she’s not really herself today – a bit drained, I’d say.

That was a joke, yes.

Audrey was accepted into the internship program over more qualified candidates because Senator Brooster wanted more diversity on the staff and Audrey was the only one who interviewed that wore bright orange earmuffs. Anxiety, I think. Be glad you did not have to compete with an Audrey.

Please don’t bite your nails over a crime scene. Forensics may find your DNA and pin the whole thing on you. Ha!

You took a great picture once your hands stopped shaking. See? You have already succeeded. 

There are no data plan reimbursements.

This is my office. You are officially my assistant but are unofficially in charge of Instagram now that Audrey has departed our team. (Get it?) My job, our job, is to keep track of the Senator’s political positions. After your orientation, I will be drafting sixteen separate press releases detailing the Senator’s stance on four different topics on which he has not yet decided his stance. It is important we offer him all possible angles on a topic but never, ever use complicated verbs in sentences directly addressed to him. Use few adjectives. Stick with good and bad and American or un-American. This is how the Senator has made a name for himself. This is why the People need him – he boils down complicated topics into something the People can understand. He does not speak in high concepts or abstract thoughts. He speaks in what is real and what already is

If my office door is shut, do not knock. If the door is open, please buzz me through the intercom phone first, wait ten seconds, and if I do not answer, hang up and wait thirty minutes before trying again. If it is open at a 25-degree angle, use the call of the bluebird to signal me (you must learn how to imitate a blue bird’s voice – I will not respond to recordings). If it is open at a 45-degree angle leave a bowl of yellow Jello topped with exactly sixteen marshmallows in the doorway. I will come out eventually.

Yes, Audrey is wearing a graphic T-shirt with a depiction of Lake Arrowhead. After killing her, someone stuffed the earmuffs in her mouth and wrote #BroosterBabe in black sharpie on her right arm. Perhaps it has a meaning, perhaps not. Most things do not. Do not get lost in the details. 

This is your desk. This is your stapler. This is your desktop calendar with pithy quotes. The supply closet is around the corner. Please take only one item at a time. Prioritize. Is a pen more important than a legal pad? That’s on you. When you take supplies, please note what you take on the supply chart on the wall on the right. Senator Brooster gives a breakdown of all campaign expenses to his most valuable donors, and they are scrupulous questioners. They are retired. They have all the time in the world.

This is your phone. Do not answer the phone if the call is coming through on line two through seven. Line one you may answer, but only if it is a high-pitched ring. If it is lower pitched, let Sandra answer it. Lower pitch means the call is coming from a wealthy home. You will have to get Sandra’s attention.

The woman in the pink sweater vest is Sandra. Do not stare directly into Sandra’s eyes – direct eye contact makes her freeze up for the better part of twenty-four hours, which means that is twenty-four hours of phone donations we lose. Sandra handles all relations with wealthy benefactors. She may not be much to look at, but she has a certain way on the phone. She works around the clock and takes only six twenty-minute naps throughout the day. If you look directly into her eyes, a committee will determine how much revenue was lost and that will come out of your paycheck (i.e. lattes.)

Sandra was frozen until approximately three minutes before your arrival. She did not see Audrey’s killer. It was Senator Brooster himself who looked Sandra right in the eye yesterday morning after a particularly stern staff meeting. It was as if the Senator did it on purpose. The Senator expressed frustration with the lack of negative ads being used against his opponents. He was speaking to Oscar and Tucker more than anyone else. But we’ll get to them. Sandra insisted we get more donations for more positive ads, and he did this deep growling laugh he does only when he is very upset or very pleased with himself. He insisted that negative ads were the way to go. Make up a story if you have to. Stick someone in the gut and watch them bleed and blame it on the other guy. We thought he was speaking in metaphor. The Senator does not understand metaphor.

Do not mention metaphors to the Senator. Or Pomeranians. Or cottage cheese. 

Never ever let him see carrots or hear any song by ABBA. 

You will have to be creative to get Sandra’s attention without catching her eye. I’ve found that throwing push pins at the potted plant next to her computer usually gets her attention. But I have great aim. I pitched for the Senator’s softball team two years in a row. If you have never pitched softball before, I suggest you find a different method. Push pins go rogue. And when they go rogue, they land on the floor near Oscar’s office.

Oscar is the Senator’s graphic designer. Oscar makes the Senator look hip. Oscar makes the Senator look like the face of the future. 

Oscar walks around the office barefoot. He was treated for rage issues for many years and only recently went off his meds on the condition he stick to a strict regime of meditation, yoga, and a movement called barefoot romanticism. He does this all in order to inhale the purest spiritual air. Believe me, you do not want to see what happens when Oscar steps on a push pin and does not get his required amount of spiritual air. 

Audrey was a source of many push pins outside Oscar’s office, despite my warnings.

Oscar does not create the negative campaigns against the Senator’s opponent. That is also part of his strict regime. So Tucker creates the negative ads. 

Tucker is the Senator’s nephew. Tucker rides a scooter and does most of his research using Wikipedia.  

The Senator hired Tucker after (false) details leaked about the Senator’s (innocent) trip to Mexico last spring. The Senator also decided to stop going to Mexico for his weekend trips and now goes to Lake Arrowhead. 

Tucker is in love with Suzanne, though they have rarely spoken. That is Suzanne, at the desk by the storage closet. She wears ballet shoes but does not dance ballet, though she will twirl every once in a while, out of nowhere. Keep your distance as a general rule unless you want to be hit by an incoming twirl. Suzanne’s twirls have no tell, there is no way for you to see it coming and then bang—a hand to the face, a foot to the stomach. Suzanne handles the email marketing. She is very good at asking for money through email. This means she is very good at eliciting sympathy, guilt, and sense of duty. Even her words have a twirl to them.

Last week, Suzanne consulted with the beggars in the Instagram holding tank about how they could integrate email-based fundraising into their efforts and signed them all up for free Mail Chimp accounts.

The vagrant holding vigil by Audrey’s body made sixty dollars more last week from one email alone. 

The beggar was the first recruit for the Instagram room. Audrey was in charge of the Senator’s Instagram account and, upon seeing the need for constant photos with homeless people, babies, young Republican mothers, people in wheelchairs, and anyone vaguely “ethnic” looking, Audrey decided the most efficient thing would be to keep some of these souls on retainer.

The Instagram holding room is next to the supply closet. If you borrow a beggar, please sign them out on the form by the door. 

Suzanne is a lesbian, but we are not supposed to know that. We did not seat her by the closet on purpose for some cruel sense of irony. Since, officially, we do not know she is gay. Officially.  

Suzanne is the Senator’s illegitimate daughter. She does not know this. Tucker does not know this. For our purposes, neither do we. 

The Senator has not made an official announcement as to his official feelings on homosexual marriage, officially. It is best to be able to claim ignorance of her lesbianism in case it turns out the Senator is against gay marriage or homosexuals in general, whatever happens to be the best argument at the time. 

In the center of the office is the social media desk. Daily is Twitter and Facebook. There is an empty seat at his desk. That is where Audrey sat. She was in charge of Instagram and Snapchat. They are in charge of exciting the younger generation. They are sort of on their own with that one. Or were, in Audrey’s case.

Daily has a pet turtle named Edgar who roams around his desk. Edgar has his own Instagram account, which has almost as many followers as the Senator. Edgar was stepped on by the Senator once and died. Technically this is Edgar #2. Instagram does not know this. Daily used to date Audrey, who dumped Daily in order to have an affair with the Senator. But we don’t know this. Officially.

Audrey offered a few tidbits about the Senator to Daily that would humanize the Senator. Things for him to share on social media. Personal things. How he likes his pancakes in the morning. How he sleeps with a teddy bear. The mole in the center of his back.

These suggestions went ignored.

Over there is the bulletin board where you’re free to post personal flyers. The killer cut out a small piece of Audrey’s heart and pinned it up by the Girl Scout Cookie sign up sheet. Rather cliché, if you ask me. Nothing original being said there. Hearts breaking and the like.

The Girl Scout Cookies go fast, however, despite the boxes getting smaller and the recipes changing ever so slightly every year. So is life. Sign up soon.

You’re looking a little green. With your red hair, you know what you look like?

No. The Mexican flag. Do not, under any circumstances, remind the Senator of the Mexican flag.

If you need to vomit, the bathrooms are to the right. Please use only one paper towel to dry your hands.

I’ll wait.

Those bloody footprints from size 12 men’s dress shoes leading into the men’s room are usually not there. #BroosterBabe written in bloody childish script on the doors is usually not there. Water stations are to the left. Please cup your hands together to collect the water you need from the spout. We are on a paper cup budget thanks to Oscar who built a meditation fort out of all the paper cups in the building.

Unofficially #BroosterBabe is the title given to all women and men who sleep with the Senator. But you didn’t hear it from me. 

Oscar’s meditation fort is in the copier room. To use the fort, you will receive a daily email from Oscar with a 25-digit temporary code that you must memorize backwards.  

To review: Daily loved Audrey. Audrey loved the Senator. Tucker loves Suzanne, who is unofficially gay and unofficially his cousin. 

Tucker doesn’t have a desk. He prefers to be “migratory.” Which means he works on his scooter. Tucker confessed his feelings to Suzanne at an office party not two weeks ago. His advances were rejected, as Suzanne was also in love with Audrey. I overheard her telling Audrey this in the bathroom while I was relieving myself of the one-too-many cups of spiked fruit punch. I remember them whispering to each other. And the smacking of lips.

There are only two things that can be deduced from the smacking of lips. The second one is that a person has eaten something particularly delicious, which I know is not true. It was a potluck, after all. 

Tucker found out about the smacking of lips. I may have told him. The punch was strong.

Unofficially. 

You will have to write his condolence letters to Audrey’s family as the Senator’s handwriting is atrocious. Almost like a child.

Pull at the heartstrings. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, the troops. Even beggars.   

It will be useful for you to know how to remove blood stains from the carpet in the Senator’s office. And from his shirt. And from bathroom doors. And his size 12 shoes.

If it turns out the Senator supports gay marriage, then we will throw Suzanne a party or get her a gift basket or however you handle such things.

Diane handles such things.  

That is Diane. She wears a wig to disguise her bald head. Everyone knows it is a wig, so do not pretend like it is real hair. Many assumed she was bald because she had cancer and was going through chemotherapy. She’s in the corner near the kitchen and the portrait of the Senator with the war veterans. She wears a flag lapel pin every day.

Here is your invitation to Audrey’s wake. From Diane. Say what you want, but she is quick. There will be no discussing of Audrey’s sexuality at the wake. She was not in the bathroom with Suzanne. She was not in bed with the Senator. She helped beggars. Stick with that.

If Diane brings in baked goods to the office, be sure to eat some. Do not ignore cookies from Diane. Do not ignore cake or apple crumble. Audrey once ignored a lemon meringue. And you see how she turned out. 

Yesterday, Diane brought carrot cake to the meeting, forgetting the Senator’s sensitivity. She tapped a few bars of ABBA’s Dancing Queen on the conference table with her pencil. She was thinking of her ex-husband and was not paying attention to the Senator’s wild eyes, his call to violence, his drive to win.

His metaphorical call to violence. Of course. 

Diane did not have cancer. When her husband left her for an ex-marine, she shaved her head and took a vow of silence for three months. No one noticed the silence.

The Senator has no official stance on the war or when we should evacuate the troops. He does, however, support the troops.  

And here is Senator Brooster’s office. There is blood on the doorknob and the carpet.

You’re looking green again. Swallow it. This is your moment. Do you feel the immensity? Do you feel the pride swirling in your veins? Your life will never be as good as it is right now. 

Tucker is writing the official story, which will go to press later this morning: Audrey was killed by the Senator’s opponent, who set out to frame him as a sexual deviant, as a corrupter of the youth. Lake Arrowhead. The muff in the mouth. #BroosterBabe. A false narrative created by a violent politician who would go to any length to keep the Senator out of office because the Senator is for the People. The Senator knows what the People need. The Senator is just like you (but better). 

You will work with Tucker to craft that photo you took of Audrey’s body into the perfect Instagram post. How are you with filters? We don’t want the blood to look too gruesome.  

Something about youth being wasted to further politics. Something about silencing women or young people or earmuff enthusiasts. You went to art school, right? You got this.

Oscar is creating a new campaign image to follow up the story. A new slogan. New branding. New color scheme. Red for passion. Intensity. America. The Senator rising above the base element of his opponents. 

On second thought, maybe your red hair is perfect. 

The Senator has no official stance on Audrey’s death, except that it is sad. Losing young people is never easy. 

Senator Brooster is in his office now, staring out his window toward the used car lots. He drinks lattes only made from American-grown coffee. If you remember one thing, always remember that. It is the most useful thing for you to know.

There are many things you can say about the Senator, but the one thing no one disputes is that he is handsome and very American-looking. Especially when he perfects that tear-soaked look, that heartbroken silence in his eyes.

It just may win us the election.

Chelsea Sutton is a fiction writer, playwright, and screenwriter, and a 2016 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. Her plays have been finalists for the O’Neill Playwrights and PlayPenn Conferences, among others. She was a creative writing artist in residence at Willapa Bay AiR and Tin House Writers Conference in 2017 and a 2018 Sewanee Writers Conference Playwright Fellow. She is currently working on a short story collection, Curious Monsters, which was a Runner-Up for the 2018 Madeline P. Plonsker Emerging Writers Residency Prize, and her first novel. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. Chelseasutton.com