Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Most Precious Right of Every Citizen"

This was supposed to be posted in April of 2018, but either was forgotten or eaten by the snails.

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by the "Election Day" square of my 11-1-16 card for the Fall Festival Bingo fest. It was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Antimatter and Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"The Most Precious Right of Every Citizen"

[Tuesday, November 4, 2014]

Lawrence showed up to Stan's house
bright and early on the morning of Election Day.

One of the perks for passing Voter Education
was that students could take the day off from
school to go vote, allowing extra time for
both troubleshooting if things went wrong
or celebration if they went right.

When Stan opened the door,
they chorused, "You're wearing that?"

Lawrence looked down at himself.
He was wearing a decent pair of
slim black jeans and a black t-shirt
with a wi-fi detector that he'd made.

Stan was wearing navy dress pants,
a white shirt, and a tie diagonally striped
in varying bands of red, white, and blue.

"You didn't tell me that this was
a dress-up occasion," Lawrence said.
"I thought I could wear my usual clothes."

He had dress clothes, because he liked
to look smart for chess tournaments,
but he rarely wore them anywhere else.
Stan dressing up for the town meeting
probably should have clued Lawrence
to dress up for Election Day too.

"It's my first time," Stan said in a small voice.
"I just wanted it to be ... special."

"Okay, but now I need to go back home
and change clothes," Lawrence said.
"I thought you wanted to get an early start."

"I do," Stan said. "The early bird prizes for
voter encouragement are usually the best ones.
I'd offer to loan you something, but ... uh ..."

"I'd be swimming in your clothes, because
you are huge," Lawrence finished.

"Maybe I can help," Stuart said as the boys
stepped into the house. "We keep some clothes
back in the office for guests, in case of spills.
There should be something that fits."

Sure enough, a little rummaging turned up
a pale blue dress shirt and a tie striped in
black, sky blue, and a light silvery blue.

"These will match your jeans, which are
fine for smart casual," said Stuart.
"You can change in the den."

"I'll just go swap my trousers for
a pair of jeans," Stan said, and
trotted up the stairs to his room.

Lawrence ducked into the office
to exchange his current top for
the button-up shirt and tie. They
fit him surprisingly well for stuff
pulled out of a random stash.

Stan reappeared wearing a pair of
navy jeans so crisp they could have
come right out of the package.
Possibly they had.

Either that, or Stan was just
the kind of guy who ironed his jeans.

"Ready to go?" Stan asked,
offering Lawrence his elbow.

"Yes," Lawrence said. He took
Stan's arm, but he couldn't
help feeling nervous.

It was just voting, but it obviously
meant a lot to Stan, and he was
sharing it with Lawrence, who
wasn't sure what to do with it.

"Relax," Stan said as they went
down the front steps. "Sure I'm
excited about this, but I know that it
means more to me than it does to you.
I want to make this a good memory,
and you're in it, so that's all set."

"Okay," Lawrence said. "I'll
try not to be too embarrassing."

"I'll try not to be too stuffy," Stan said.

They walked to the bus stop, where
a quartet of old ladies were debating
fine points of the internet referendum.

"First Election Day?" one asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Stan said.

"Aww, they're so cute together,"
said another old lady whose hair
was dyed actual, electric blue.
"We should get a picture of this."

Stan looked at Lawrence.

"Sure, why not," Lawrence said.
He liked how willing Stan was
to show off their relationship,
even if people sassed them
about it occasionally.

So the old ladies took snapshots,
and shared copies with the boys,
and then they got on the bus.

The polling place was busy,
but not exactly crowded, and
the election officials had set up
the kind of line where you went
to the next open station, so
it moved at a brisk pace.

There Lawrence identified himself,
confirmed that the standard equipment
was fine and he didn't need assistance,
and that he wanted a confirmation code
in case the count was challenged later.

Then he collected his local ballot in its sleeve.

At the voting booth, he closed the curtain
and then carefully read the instructions
to make sure they hadn't changed.

He checked the ballot for flaws
and made sure the names matched
his research before sliding it into
the frame and picking up the punch.

There were candidates for various boards
and councils, some of which he had actually met
(an unexpected benefit of attending town meetings)
and others unfamiliar except from investigation
or what he'd read from voter information sites.

There were several bonds for schools,
public safety, and environmental issues
in addition to the internet expansion
that Lawrence had encouraged.

He worked his way through all of them,
carefully punching one hole at a time,
making sure he finished the whole ballot.

When he took it out of the frame,
he checked again to make certain
that all the votes were correct and
their holes perfect with no paper bits
snagged or clinging to the edges.

Finally Lawrence slid his ballot
into the manila sleeve, dropped
the ballot into the voting box, and
put the empty sleeve on top.

Voting complete, he turned around
to look for Stan, who was already done
and apparently waiting for Lawrence.

Stan was vibrating with excitement.
It was ridiculous, and also adorable.

Lawrence couldn't resist the setup.
"Was it good for you too?" he whispered.

Stan blushed a gratifying scarlet.
"How can you joke about this?"

"Because I am a miscreant with
a wicked sense of humor," said Lawrence,
"and you're an irresistible target."

"I supposed that's nothing new,"
Stan drawled. "Come on, let's go
trawling for perks and see what we find."

"Sir, wait!" called one of the officials.
"You forgot your sticker."

"That's you," Stan said, steering
Lawrence back toward the table.
"I already got mine." Sure enough,
the little I Voted flag was on his shirt.

Even the kids in tow -- because about
half the adults had one or more of them
tagging along before being dropped at school --
sported stickers with red and blue stars
that proudly proclaimed Future Voter.

"You need this, or your stub, at
most places to claim a perk,"
the lady explained as she
handed Lawrence a sticker.

"Thanks," Lawrence said,
smoothing it into place on
the pocket of his shirt.

"First time?" she asked, and
when both boys nodded, she said,
"Congratulations, and we appreciate
you taking the time to cast your votes."

Stan led Lawrence toward the door,
but paused to hold it open for a man
using an ornate brass cane, before
the they left the polling place.

"I'm hungry, are you hungry?"
Stan said, looking at Lawrence.

"You're always hungry," he replied.

"Yeah, I know," Stan said. "Look around
and help me spot some free food."

There were signs everywhere,
Lawrence suddenly realized, hawking
all kinds of perks for voters. He saw
Free Parking and Voter Discount
and Election Day Bingo Blast.

He'd always found this shit
an annoying eyesore in the past,
but for some reason it felt different today.

Maybe it was because now he could
vote, so it had personal relevance.

Maybe it was because he had
a patriotic hunk of boyfriend
firmly attached to his elbow.

"Free Donuts," Lawrence read,
pointing out a sign just ahead of them
where a coffeehouse had put out a table.

The donuts were iced with vanilla and
covered in red, white, and blue sprinkles.
"First time?" the girl asked as she put
two donuts onto napkins for them.

"Yeah, thanks," said Stan.

"Virgins get a second donut with
any purchase," she said, nodding
toward the coffeehouse door.

Stan blushed again. He was
too cute for words, really.

"My treat," Lawrence said,
towing Stan into the shop.
He could afford coffee for two.

Sure enough, the older man inside
spotted them and asked the same question,
then invited them to pick which donuts
they wanted from the display case.

Lawrence wondered if it was really that obvious,
but he asked nicely for an espresso donut
along with a white chocolate mocha.

"That's a lot of caffeine,"
Stan observed, eyeing the case.

"Why should you be the only one
vibrating?" Lawrence teased.
"Pick whatever you want."

Stan chose a jelly donut
topped with fresh fruit
and a café de olla.

They sat down at a table
so tiny that Stan's knees
made it bump up every time
he tried to shift position. Under it,
their legs tangled together in
an inevitable game of footsie.

The donuts were delicious,
the coffee rich and invigorating.

Stan got powdered sugar on his nose,
crossing his eyes as he tried to clean up.

It was all Lawrence could do
not to lean over and lick it off,
but Stan wasn't ready for too much
in the way of romantic hijinks yet.

Soon they put their dishes
on the exit rack and headed out.

There were stores giving away
free buttons and stickers, including
some No Politics ones for people
who were tired of the topic.

Wheelies offered free spoke clips in
assorted reflective colors, plus pamphlets
about the laws relating to bicycles and
other human-powered vehicles.

The shop also ran raffles all day,
starting with two of the biggest ones --
a bicycle and its matching helmet,
a skateboard and protective gear --
but you could only enter one.

Stan went for the bike, which was
tough enough for trail riding but
light enough for city use too.

Lawrence filled out a slip for
the skateboard, figuring that he
could give it to Stan if he won.

He took a packet of white clips, too.
You never knew when visibility
might come in very, very handy.

Squeedles Soda had a cart
giving out free samples of RosySo.
Lawrence waved them off -- he had
taste buds, thank you very much --
but Stan took a cup of it.

Continuing down the street,
they found that the Joybox had
put out buckets of free pinwheels
and windspinners alongside
a display of tiny tissue kites.

Stan picked out a rainbow kite,
and Lawrence got a pink triangle.

"Now what are you doing?"
Stan asked, watching Lawrence
continue poking through the box.

"These are cheap, I want to buy one
for Hefty," he said, holding up a kite
shaped like a pink pig, "and it's not fair
to get one for him and not Fiddlesticks,
so I need to find something else."

"A flying pig? Really? You're going there?"
Stan said. He shook his head, but smiled.

"Pink is Hefty's favorite color, and
he has a wacky sense of humor,"
Lawrence said. "Come on, you must
have seen the t-shirts that he wears."

When Hefty wasn't wearing
the Omaha Police Department shirt,
it was frequently something pink
or queer or even both.

"Okay, good point," Stan said,
and helped Lawrence look.
"What about this?" He held up
a kite of a black bird. "Swallows
are fast and agile, like Fiddlesticks."

"Sure," Lawrence said, and
held out his hand for the kite.

"Nah, I got this, you get Hefty's,"
Stan said, reaching for his wallet.

Lawrence noted that the toy store
was doing brisk business with
customers attracted by the free stuff.
No wonder so many shops did this.

Collecting their purchases,
the two boys walked onward.

The shoe store had free flag-colored socks
and a raffle for a pair of shoes, leftovers
from the Fourth of July stock.

"Yay, toe socks!" Lawrence exclaimed,
picking out a pair. They looked a bit silly --
one with red and white stripes, the other
blue with white stars, and black soles --
but maybe Stan was rubbing off on him
just a little with this patriotic stuff.

"Ech," Stan said with a shudder.
"I hate having anything between my toes."

Lawrence liked the extra agility it gave him,
but he knew plenty of people who were
more sensitive about toe cleavage.

"They have solid ones," he pointed out.

Stan picked up a pair of those.
"Thanks," he said.

"I do think of you," Lawrence said
as the two of them walked back outside.

Next door, the Mothers of Preschoolers club
had put out a table with election crafts
for kids, staffed by energetic ladies
with voter stickers proudly affixed
to their frowsy sweaters.

The boys came across a farmstand
piled with baskets of apples that had
names like Cox's Orange Pippin
and Rhode Island Greening.

Voters got a free apple, plus
a 10% discount on purchases.
The pippins were exquisite.

Lawrence picked out half a dozen
apples of different varieties for
the fruit bowl at home, along with
a cotton string bag to carry them in.

"Do you sell these by the bushel?"
Stan asked, poring over the baskets.

"Yes, but not at the farmstands,"
the man said. "You'll have to come
to the orchard for that." Then he
gave Stan his business card.

"Thanks, I'll show this to my mom,"
Stan said, and tucked it in his wallet.
"We like making applesauce to can."

As they strolled onward, Lawrence
had to admit that Stan had a point.
There was something special about
walking through a familiar city full of
excitement and civil fellowship, sharing
the day and making memories together
that they hoped would last a lifetime.

Stan's vidwatch chirped.

He glanced at it, then whooped.
"I won the bike!" he exclaimed.
"We'll need to double back for it."

"That's fantastic," Lawrence said.
"You really need a new one."

Stan's current bike was ancient,
because he took great care of it,
but it was getting to be too small
for his frame and he'd benefit from
something that could go off-road.

"Yeah, I can donate my old one
to the Activity Scouts, there are folks
there who don't have any," said Stan.

Lawrence's vidwatch chirped.

"Holy shit, I actually won something,"
Lawrence said. "I never win anything."

"Maybe your luck is changing," Stan said.
"Come on, let's loop around for our stuff."

"So now you've got a bike and a skateboard,"
Lawrence said, grinning at his boyfriend.

"What?" Stan said, staring at him.
"The skateboard is yours."

"Nah, I entered that to give you
a second chance," Lawrence said.
"I have no idea how to ride one."

"Then I'll teach you," Stan said firmly.
"It comes with safety gear. You are
a lot more graceful than I am, and
you already know physics."

"What does physics have to do with
a skateboard?" Lawrence said dubiously.

"Everything," Stan said with a laugh,
but it was warm and gentle and somehow
made Lawrence feel like part of the joke
instead of just being the butt of it.

Well, if push came to shove,
he could probably catch himself
by thickening the air around him
so that he wouldn't kill himself
falling off the silly thing.

Bad stuff could happen to geeks
who tried to pretend they were jocks.

Then again, Lawrence had Stan now,
and while Stan could be a tad clueless
at times, he was sincerely invested
in Lawrence's welfare and would
never do anything to hurt him.

If Stan was teaching him
how to ride a skateboard, then
Lawrence could probably learn it
without any serious injuries.

As they walked, Stan pointed out
features of the cityscape that Lawrence
had never noticed before, that could be
used by skateboards, rollerskates, bikes,
or other human-powered vehicles.

"I haven't skateboarded much since I
bulked up, but I still remember how it works,
and what to watch for," Stan said.

Viewing the city in that light
certainly made it more interesting.

They also talked about the use of
bicycles, skateboards, and other vehicles
by first responders such as police and medics
who often needed to reach out-of-the-way places
in a timely manner, sometimes through crowds.

"But we're not cops," Lawrence said.
Even if he was leaning a little more white
than black these days, and occasionally
hanging out with Hefty and Fiddlesticks,
that distinction was important to him.

"We're not cops," Stan agreed,
"but we are first responders. That
means a lot of stuff that applies to them
also applies to superheroes. Right now
we're just picking up problems we spot on
our own, but some cities make arrangements
with a specific soup or even a team that
agrees to protect the municipality."

"So they, what, hook into the central dispatch?"
Lawrence said, frowning. "You could call
a superhero just like an ambulance,
instead of calling SPOON?"

"I don't think it's gone quite that far, but
that's probably a good idea," Stan said.

"What makes you say that?" Lawrence said.

"We've already got police, medics, and
firefighters beginning to cross-train in
each other's fields so that they can
damp down small emergencies or
team up on larger ones," Stan said.
"It's good inspiration for superheroes."

"You mean the way Hefty has
all that first-aid training, even though
he's a cop," Lawrence said. He had
attracted the big officer's attention
more than once by getting hurt.

"Yeah, that's why his 'battlesuit' is
actually optimized for search and rescue,"
Stan said. "Omaha isn't a warzone, but
we get plenty of car crashes and stuff
where the mechanical assist helps."

"Then how does that relate to
what we do?" Lawrence asked.
He sat on the railing of a staircase
and slid down as Stan trotted
down the actual steps.

"There's a movement toward
certifying all-purpose first responders,
who could be deployed in any type of
emergency as surge capacity," Stan said.

"Like button men," Lawrence interrupted,
thinking of gang roles. "They may not be brilliant
at any one thing, but they can do almost everything
well enough to get by. You use them for backing
the experts as well as for running errands."

"Exactly," Stan said. "Because superheroes
can get called to all different situations, it would
help for us to have that diversity of training too.
I already know a few folks at SPOON who have
more or less patched it together from classes."

Lawrence looked around the bustling city,
his eyes picking out a few people on bikes
or skateboards gliding among the walkers,
the riders moving much faster on wheels.

Omaha had some dedicated bike lanes,
but it also had mixed-use paths shared by
pedestrians and various riders, and even
a few curbless streets shared by everyone.
For the most part, they mingled smoothly.

"We've been walking almost everywhere, or
catching a bus," Lawrence said thoughtfully.
"You think that, if we both had wheels, then
we could get around faster and better?"

"Yeah, I do," Stan said as he hopped
over a low curb. "That's especially true
for the kind of work we do -- most of it is
smaller scale, local stuff, not big fights.
We cover the parks a lot, and you can't
fit a patrol car into most of those."

"I'm willing to give it a try," Lawrence said.

"Great," Stan said with a grin. "I'll show you
the basics in my yard, and then we can go
to a skatepark together. Some of them are
specialized for one type of equipment, but a lot
of them are multipurpose so we can practice
teamwork like we'd be doing on the streets."

By the time they arrived at Wheelies,
Lawrence felt intrigued as much as daunted
by the possibilities of the skateboard.

"Hi, Mr. Wright," said Stan. "We got
your messages. I won the bike, and
Lawrence won the skateboard."

"Congratulations," said Mr. Wright.
"May I see your voter stubs
for confirmation, please?"

"Yes, sir," Stan said, and
they showed off the little slips
that the voting clerks had given them.

"All right, let's get you set up,"
said Mr. Wright. He brought out
Stan's prize first, a handsome bike
with a blue-and-white body that
matched the sleek helmet.

"Wow," Stan breathed, running
his fingertips over the frame.

"Now, this is a good solid bike, but it's
designed to be affordable," said Mr. Wright.
"Once you get used to it, if you want to boost
the performance, you can upgrade the wheels."

"Thanks," Stan said. "If I decide to do that,
I'll bring it back here and we can talk options."

Next Mr. Wright brought out the skateboard,
which was white on top with a gorgeous flag
on the underside between red and blue wheels.
The helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, and
wrist braces were white with gray straps.

The shopkeeper gave Lawrence a dubious look.
"I know Stan can ride a bike, but I haven't
seen you in here before," said Mr. Wright.
"Do you know how to handle a skateboard?
I would rather not see you get hurt."

"Not a clue in the world," Lawrence admitted.
"Stan wants to teach me to ride one. He
insists it has something to do with physics."

"He's right," the older man said with
a chuckle. "One moment, please."
He went to the rack of pamphlets
and came back with one labeled
The Physics of Skateboarding.

Lawrence flipped through it to see
the crisp diagrams and detailed equations,
checked that the $5 price tag was within
his budget, and said, "I'll take it."

He was lucky that Stan had hinted
to bring pocket money today, because
there were just so many good things
catching his eye as they explored.

Mr. Wright rang up the pamphlet, then
added free flyers on skateboard parts,
maintenance, and classes in the shop.
"Ride it in good health," he said.

"Thanks," Lawrence said. "I'll try."

"You'll fall on your rump just like
everyone else at first, but it's okay,
that's what your safety gear is for,"
Stan said, patting him on back.

They both collected their prizes
and then left the store together.

"How are we going to get this home?"
Lawrence said, looking at all of their stuff.
"You could ride the bike, but if I tried to get on
the skateboard I'd probably break my neck."

"We go home on the bus, same as
we came," Stan said. "It has bike racks."

Lawrence had forgotten about that,
but Stan was right; the bus not only had
bike racks but some rear cargo space too.
They had no trouble stowing their prizes,
and the smaller purchases fit on their laps.

It wasn't quite time to eat lunch,
which they had decided to share at
Stan's house, but Lawrence was tired
anyhow. He leaned against Stan.

"Good day?" Stan asked, draping
an arm around his shoulders.

"Yeah," Lawrence said. "I wasn't
expecting it to be so much fun, but
I guess seeing it through your eyes
helped me appreciate this more."

"Voting is the most precious right of
every citizen," Stan said seriously.
"We have a civic duty to uphold it,
but it shouldn't feel like a burden.
It should feel like a celebration."

"Yes," Lawrence said, snuggling
deeper into his boyfriend's embrace.
"You are my celebration."

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, poem, poetry, politics, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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