Not the red suit, Caroline thought, as she watched Judy speaking to Chelsea Kramer on the morning news. The blue suit. She was supposed to wear the blue suit on Election Day.
Among the many things Caroline missed about her job as Judy Roche’s campaign manager was giving her hair and makeup advice. But Judy’s hair looked fabulous today with bouncing silver curls that must have taken more than an hour to create. The blue suit would have been better.
There was a part of Caroline that was still invested in the campaign, a part that still cared whether Judy beat Ron McAllister in the race for state Senate. And then there was the practical part, glad to be done with all the histrionics and hype, not just for this year, but for good.
Todd had stared at her speechless when she told him after dinner one night last summer that she’d taken a job as a school custodian. He was taken aback and even tried to talk her out of quitting Judy’s campaign. This was after he’d complained for months about her hours, about the middle-of-the-night phone calls and the press conferences that just had to take place on Friday afternoons, while he sat in traffic phoning the daycare center.
“Todd,” she told him flatly, “I just can’t do this anymore. I’m writing speeches in my sleep, and quite frankly, I don’t care anymore that McCallister wrote a paper once saying women shouldn’t work. He says he’s changed his mind. I don’t care. If they elect him, it’s because they want someone in office who thinks we should arm teachers with automatic weapons. Maybe we should. Maybe that would be a good idea.”
“So instead of running around in a Jones New York suit playing with your cell phone all day, you want to push a mop and a bucket around a high school?” Todd asked incredulously.
“Yep,” Caroline said.
“I don’t believe it.”
“I didn’t tell you the best part,” she told him, “I’ll be home at 4 p.m. every day. I can pick Owen up from preschool.”
Caroline always referred to the daycare as ‘preschool.’ It made her feel better.
“It’s not a daycare,” she had told Todd when Owen enrolled. “They have a curriculum.”
Caroline thought Todd would be thrilled when she told him she was quitting the campaign.
“I just think if you quit, you’re going to regret it,” he said.
“I already told Judy,” she said. “Alex Rhodes is replacing me. He can’t wait. Did I mention I’m getting a raise?”
It was true. Caroline would make $6,000 a year more as a full-time school custodian than she had as Judy’s campaign manager. And she’d never have to work evenings or weekends. And she’d be enrolled in the state’s retirement program. And she’d have job security.
“I’m doing it,” she told Todd.
And it was better than Caroline had imagined. Instead of spending her every waking minute worrying about McCallister’s numbers and trying to get college kids to find people who hated McCallister enough that they would tell the press about the time he got wasted at a strip club, Caroline’s life was predictable and easy. She changed light bulbs, buffered the floors, folded up lunch tables, talked to kids about their Facebook drama.
Now she was really doing something to make the world a better place. A teenage girl thinks it’s the end of the world when someone “unfriends” her on Facebook, until you remind her that she never liked the other girl anyway, and that the other girl goes to another school, in another county, and things are really better off this way.
There would be no kids at the school today. It was Election Day. All the better, Caroline thought. Adults don’t leave smashed packages of ketchup on the floor.
At 3:30 p.m., just as Caroline was finishing up for the day, she went into the gymnasium where people were voting. She had to get into the storage closet next to the boys’ locker room where they kept the extra jugs of antibacterial soap.
A line of voters snaked around the table where people were waiting to show the election workers their identification.
“Are you in line?” one woman asked Caroline.
“No,” she said. “I’m just a custodian. I’m just trying to get through here so I can get to the closet over there.”
Just a custodian. The more she said it, the more she liked it. When she worked as Judy’s campaign manager, she had always hesitated about telling people what she did for a living. Telling someone you were a school custodian may have ended the conversation just as abruptly, but not for the same reasons.
The sun shone through the trees as Caroline left the school. The leaves were still clinging this year, unlike last year, when the branches were bare on Election Day.
Caroline really hoped Judy won the race, but she wasn’t going to stay up late to find out. As she started the car and headed toward Little Lives Learning Center, Caroline thought about how she loved arriving home to a clean house. She had used her raise to hire a housekeeper.