I walked back to my room to check on Tim, invisible beneath the sheets, not so invisible to the outside world unfortunately. He’d have to disappear for a while, at least until this was all over.
I turned and walked out again hearing the car approach and beep its horn, yeah, yeah I’m coming, its not like anyone else can run the Labor party. I opened my door, saw my driver; I turned and spotted my elderly neighbours standing on their doorstep waving to me.
I smiled, waved back and then called out
“Hello neighbours how have you been?”
“Fine thanks, have a lovely day at work running the country!”
“Thanks, hope to see you soon”
I walked to the car acknowledged the driver with a nod, and sat in the back. I probably would see them soon, rising the pension that tiny percent would probably mean they could buy a couple of lettuces a week instead of their staple of cat food. I groaned, they’d probably be waving at me forever.
What was I thinking?
I’m usually not this cynical, it must be the stress.
The car drove to the airport and everything was silent, I thought more about my neighbours, but stopped, a stinging pain shot through my neck, so I massaged it. No, have to stop thinking about the pensioners, they’ve caused me enough problems.
We arrived and I met up with Jessica, my Chief of Staff, we walked quickly toward the private plane:
“Julia, great to see you, packed day, we have to meet up with Bill, Mark, and Karl they’re going to give you some policy ideas- you know what that means. Then we have to run straight onto a photo-shoot, tonight you’re going to the University of Queensland. Oh yes, we’ve also scheduled a briefing with the Department of Climate Change, they want a timeline on the ETS-”
I interrupted her
“-the ETS, no, can’t do it, minefield. Look we’re not even sure what the people want anymore-"
I paused and a voice unlike my own continued
“-let’s just bring in some dumb fucks from the community, lock them in a room and try to work out what Australia wants-”
She looked back confused “-but won’t people think we’re being a bit weak?”
“This isn’t the hill I’m going to die on, it’s killed Malcolm and Kevin, I’m shifting it”
“Okay” Jessica responded firmly
We kept talking all the way to Canberra, but although the plane was full of chatter it didn’t feel like we said anything.
The plane touched down and we drove to my office in Parliament House. My secretary was waiting with a message:
“Ms Gillard, Tim just called to say there are apparently rats all throughout the house”
“Yeah, I know, Parliament is full of them”
I sighed and walked back into my office, there was a time when you could just fire people as stupid as her, but then we got rid of Work Choices, I stopped myself, what was I thinking? That wasn’t me, I was an Industrial Relations lawyer for Unions, my blood ran as red as my hair as I used to joke. It was if other voices were drowning out my own and causing me to think in ways I usually couldn’t imagine.
There was a knock at the door, Penny walked in.
“Ah, Mr Arbib just the person I wanted to see”
“Mr Arbib?” I laughed “it’s Julia, Penny”
She took off her glasses rubbed them looking confused and looked again “Julia, is that you?” she asked apprehensively
I looked at her, my smile slowly dropping “Of course it is” I said, a little scared.
“Oh, it must have been a trick of the light, well, look I just wanted to know if our position’s changed on gay marriage?”
Before I had time to think, my mouth spoke for me
“Well, marriage has traditionally been between a man and woman, I’m proud to say that this Labor government...”
As I spoke I had a curious sensation. I started drifting away from my body and I watched myself speak
“....various reforms which have made it easier....”
It was startling, there I was sitting a few feet below, looking up at Penny, speaking quickly and monotonously.
So if I was here who was that?
The floating me looked into my eyes, they were glazed over and lifeless, I looked like an animated shopkeeper’s dummy. My body stopped speaking and suddenly I was back in my body looking at Penny whose head was cast down.
She looked up “I understand Prime Minister”, she turned slowly and walked out of the room robotically. I wanted to call her back and tell her that I supported her choices. I tried but my mouth wouldn’t let me, it was as if it was being forced shut, my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth.
I kept trying, going red in the face but nothing came out, something was stopping me. Penny stopped, turned back despondent but I could see that her eyes had glazed over like mine had only minutes before, an air of understanding and resignation came to fill the void of her once vibrant soul.
“I understand” she said again.
As she walked out, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, a glimmer of something. No, it can’t be I thought. I rubbed my eyes, no, it’s the stress. I laughed to myself, for a moment there it almost seemed like long strings were coming out of Penny’s back.
The phone called, breaking the silence, a bright perky woman’s voice started speaking to me quickly:
“Hi Julia, it’s Belinda from “Woman’s Day”, we’d love to do a cover story on you about women in politics, what it means to be a woman today and your relationship with Tim”
“Of course, I’d love to!”
After five minutes of organising a time to meet, I put the phone down. I wondered why I had been so quick to agree; something inside me had answered before I had time to think. Dammit, I could have made up some meeting to get out of it, and anyway I thought, what right did they have in calling me?
I hated all this women’s magazine crap, it wasn’t as if Kevin got put on the cover of “Men’s Health” to talk about men in politics and balancing home life with work life.
Who read “Woman’s Day” anyway? Wasn’t it all women in their 60s? Didn’t they live through the second wave of feminism?
I sighed again, a tiny voice inside my head appeased me though, well I suppose it’s not all bad, I can shore up a few more women voters, especially older women who might not be to pleased I tried to take away their bingo money.
I sat back satisfied and slowly reached inside my desk absent-mindedly and pulled out a bloody knife!
I hadn’t got rid of this!
I frantically reached for a tissue and wiped every inch of it. When it was finally clean I sighed a bit easier, good, no-one would be able to pin this on me. I looked back down into the drawer and spied an unwrapped package that still had a few flecks of blood on it. I looked in the card, it was signed from Kevin, but what could it be?
I opened it and remembered he’d handed it to me the day I became PM, the card was simple it read:
Rot in fucking hell,
Love Kevin XXX OOO
I smirked, and tore open the packaging. It was a play called ‘Dr Faustus’. I didn’t bother reading the blurb but after a while I remembered from high-school that it had something to do with a guy that sells his souls to the devil.
I chucked it back in my drawer and put the knife in my bag, might come in handy later.
A knock came at the door and Jessica came in:
“Mark, Bill and Karl are ready for you”
“Oh good, grab a pen and paper, we don’t want to miss anything”
I stood, left the office and walked down the corridor. Peter Garrett was walking toward me, he nodded as we passed. His eyes and body looked defeated and as I turned around to say hello I saw that vision again. Ropes were coming out of his back and pulling him along. I rubbed my eyes, said nothing and kept walking.
I opened the door to the conference room with Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar already sitting on one side of a large oak table. I sat down and Mark, with his head looking down toward a sheet of paper, started speaking quickly without looking up.
“Now some of the smaller mining companies are angry, our research suggests-”
As Mark spoke my mind drifted in and out, I heard his voice but couldn’t focus on much of what he was saying. Jessica, Bill and Karl stared at him like he was giving the Sermon on the Mount.
“-Treasury may be saying that this money is essential but think we should act pragmatically at a time of deficit-”
‘Pragmatism’, the favourite word of the NSW Right and ‘deficit’ the word that would make any Labor politician shake with fear, that was Costello’s greatest legacy.
“-that’s why I’m recommending Prime Minister that we should cut it by 10%-”
A voice from another, younger part of me called out This country is an empty shell! All fur coat no knickers, a people with an obsession with pretty numbers and comparing ourselves to the seems-to-be-crumbling rest of the industrial world. Who cares if we have a tiny deficit if the wheels start falling off? Our government services are essential and we aren’t servicing them! Wake up!
I shook myself.
“You’re right slash the budget, we spend less not more, we have to get this country back in the black”
What seemed like hours passed.
Suddenly it was over, everybody was standing up and I was shaking hands and being guided outside by Jessica.
As I walked out it was as if I was waking up from a deep sleep my mind felt clearer than it had for months, what was I doing?
Voice and body language training, policy from the party machine, one haircut for longer than a month.
My body ached more than it had all day, small spots stabbing me all over my back and neck. It was becoming unbearable.
Mark walked past for a final word, and instantly my conscious mind switched off and my pain was anaesthetised.
I felt myself talking but couldn’t hear what I was saying.
Mark looked happy enough, he nodded then turned with Bill and Karl trotting off behind him. Jessica kept guiding me, I felt my body being pulled as I walked toward somewhere, I was in a car then a plane. All the while being spoken to, phones were pushed in front of me, questions asked, questions answered, it was easy, it was automatic, I drifted and coasted, and felt painless for the first time all day.
Then there were lights. I stood in front of a crowd, a big crowd I read from sheets and spoke about climate change. The faces of the people in front of me were young, students, they looked bored as hell. I ploughed on and someone stood up and shouted.
I didn’t try to hear him.
A blur and then I was home.
How had I got here?
I walked through the door and Tim was standing in the kitchen holding a plate of something looking pleased with himself. He looked up at me and smiled.
An anger instantly welled up inside of me and I ran to the bedroom crying I was hysterical, Tim bounded in and grabbed me.
“What is it? What’s happening?”
“- you have to go underground for a month, I can’t afford to risk having you around-”
“Honey, what’s wrong? What’s happened to your accent? Sorry, where do you want me to go for the next month?”
“Shut up Tim!”
He sat prostrate on the bed silently. I’d never spoken to him like that before. I looked into the mirror and through the tears saw something.
Oh God no, tell me it isn’t true I turned away reaching toward my back fearing the worst. My mind drifted back to my days working for the unions, of left-wing social policy, of equal rights. There was that pain again, it came every time I thought about my past.
The memories were all going cloudy and indistinct around the edges. Just like a dream. I couldn’t focus. I felt myself slipping, losing control but feeling more comfortable as I did. I couldn’t get that image out of my head, I had to check.
Slowly my hands reached my neck, my heart was beating more and more quickly, brushing over skin, going higher and higher until I felt something, something taut that was coming out my neck. My mind shot back to earlier in the day when I saw that hallucination of Penny and Peter, maybe it wasn’t a hallucination after all! My hand went up this thing coming out the back of my neck, my God it’s rope.
There are ropes coming out from all over me, my God! I’m a puppet!