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Kathy sipped at a lemon, lime and double bitters, making a face as if she enjoyed it. The bags under her eyes reached almost to her chin. Her election candidateís garb of crisp natural fibre white blouse and pure cotton denim skirt was scrunched and streaked with sweat. Above the rattle of poker machines, victory celebrations blared out from the TV on the wall. Kathy glared at them, wishing that they would go away.
Emma twirled an inch of whisky in a square glass, the maroon all power to the boss business suit clashing with the beer-soaked tartan carpet. "You ran a good campaign," she said.
Kathy smiled weakly. "Itís easy when youíre a green," she said. "All your lies are sustainable, your Taj Mahals are solar passive, your ego trips are by bicycle, and if you canít see the forest for the trees thatís a plus, because they havenít been woodchipped yet."
She frowned "Itís not so much that I mind losing," she said. "I knew the footballer, the snake charmer and the Vroom Vroom Hoon party were going to do as well as me, or better. Itís the way the major parties swapped preferences. The bastards wiped us all out."
Emma nodded towards the gorilla with the ill-fitting grey suit and dazzling white work boots leaning on the bar. "Thereís a reason," she said.
The gorilla caught her eye and lumbered across, escorted by a craggy vision of after-shave whose suit fitted perfectly.
"You know Robbie?" Emma said. "And Des?"
Kathy nodded. Robbie broke three bones in her hand. Des pulled up a chair, behind her, so she couldnít see him.
"Robbieís got a new job. Heís the Central Executive of the Labural Party," Emma said. "And Des is the Marketing Manager."
"L-A-B-U-R-A-L," Robbie said.
"We put the u in so that neither Labor nor Liberal had too many consecutive letters," Des said.
"Itís a merger," Robbie said. "Economies of scale, recognition that thereís no bloody difference, ...."
"Of course, thereís a lot of brand-name loyalty in the electorate," Des said dismissively, "so the old party names still encompass validity for the purpose of campaigning ..."
"But it means, it doesnít matter who you vote for, one of our guysíll get in," Robbie added.
"You can always vote for minor parties. Or independents," Kathy said.
"Yeah. But we can handle that," Robbie said. "Got our own Independent how to vote cards, for one."
"Our booth workers have extensively counselled on the techniques of communication of the need for stable government," Des said. "And sometimes they have to explain to people who have difficulty following our ticket the more subtle features of the voting system ó like that a 4 means four votes, a 3 is three votes, and if they give us a 1, that means theyíve put us last ó that sort of thing."
"And if theyíre still so thick they donít get the message," Robbie said, "then we tell them the stories about how the greenie has it off with crocodiles, how the kids wonít learn to write because thereíll be no paper, and how theyíll open the immigration floodgates for the little green men from Mars, and how the Hoons are going to give cash prizes for running kids down on school crossings."
"It sure worked this time," Kathy said.
"You shouldnít be bitter about it," Des said. "Itís a learning experience. Maybe, next time, youíd like to be on our ticket. Iím sure that one of the factions could fit you in."
"Youíve still got factions?" Kathyís voice had a note of incredulity.
"Pollies gotta have someone to yell and scream at," Robbie said. "Keep it inside the party, they can be as nasty as they like."
"Thereís three factions," Des said. "Right dry. Damp centre unity. And wet left. Wet leftíd probably suit you best. Unless you want to grab a few wets and form a sloshy green group."
"Sort of rainforest faction," Robbie said, and laughed.
"Itís the only way youíll get elected," Des said.
Kathy glanced at Emma, who was busy watching her reflection in the whisky. Emma smiled, just slightly.
"What would I have to do?" Kathy asked.
"Join up. Youíd have to agree to the party rules, of course."
"Shut up and do what youíre told," Robbie said.
"I think Iíve got an alternative strategy," Kathy said.
"Donít bother with the Trade Practices Act," Robbie said. "Provided we donít offer goods or services, weíre clear. And nobody can accuse pollies of doing that."
Kathy smirked. "I was thinking more of your booth workersí counselling of would-be voters that I was a bankrupt lesbian mafioso who barbequed her sisterís kids for breakfast," she said.
"Whatís wrong with that?" Robbie said. "Itís all part of the game."
"Thatís what you think," Kathy said. "We got it on tape. Not just one booth. Every booth. Both parties. And we got your briefing documents. On letterhead. We passed them on ..."
The shouting and cheering on the TV suddenly changed to hisses and boos. Bodies surged, leaped, fought. Glasses smashed, tables crashed, a chair came flying at the camera.
The Chief Electoral Officer pushed to the front of the crowd, surrounded by a phalanx of police in riot gear. Blood flowed from a cut on his forehead. His shirt was torn. He raised a piece of paper containing a preprepared statement.
Emma grinned at Kathy. "Looks like you might have made it."
A victory smile appeared for an instant on Kathyís face, to be quickly lost in a look of ever-increasing gloom.
"Whatís the matter?" Emma said.
"Have you ever been in coalition with a footballer, snake-charmer and a couple of Vroom Vroom Hoons?" Kathy asked in a tone of despair.
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1995
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