The Chardonnay Conspiracy – New Fiction Writing by R. L. Saunders
Every day, after she got up and had her first cup of bitter black brew, Mrs. C_ stopped the clock.
Then she turned the hands back 5 minutes.
That was why she kept the old thing. She had to bring the clock weights up every night to “wind” it, and that’s when she would then re-set it to the correct time according to her flip-phone.
This routine was one way she could turn back time, if only for a short while.
She’d done this ever since her breakdown.
She didn’t remember what that Foundation-hired psych called it. Something with “denial” in the middle of it.
Gradually, over years, she weaned herself off the drugs. They kept prescribing them, and she kept storing them daily in the toilet. Just before she flushed. They thought she had gotten better because she was taking them. Let them be happy with that thought.
She had gotten better as her revenge.
It was all their plot to keep her down and out. To keep her from speaking. They told her no one would listen to her talks any more. Didn’t want to interview her. It was all a conspiracy. She knew her adoring fans still loved her.
But she quit mentioning it to her few visitors, as it upset them. And keeping them happy meant they wouldn’t change her prescriptions. As long as she kept “getting better.”
Two can play at this game.
Her only request was to keep the Chardonnay coming. A case every week.
That was her best friend these days.
She used to have a cat, but it ran off one day.
So she would talk to the empty bottle, recording her memoirs on her phone.
An old campaign adviser, fired and rehired more than once, came by once a week to transfer her recordings and drop off a sheaf of papers with the new transcriptions. Then they’d talk over her changes to them and what she had on the recordings, how she thought the outline could improve.
That old press agent, named Ron, was a big fan of outlining and detailing the story so it would be just perfect. That was to be her legacy, he often told her. He said she just needed to take her time and get this one absolutely right. After the fiasco’s of her last two memoirs, they both agreed that time was on her side with this last one.
He also wanted her listen to motivational talks as she walked in the woods behind her big white house. But she found that when she did, she didn’t have anything to record when she got back. After a few months of nothing to write down, she decided to change things.
Ron kept leaving her new motivational recordings on her phone when he’d take her personal recordings away. That was the only electronic piece she had. Like winding the clock, everything else was manually operated.
Of course, he liked to check she was listening to them, so she would skip around just before he came and look up the titles and listen to bits and pieces. Just so he thought she was paying attention to them if he asked.
Two can play at this game. Their conspiracy would lose.
She’d take her walks in the woods in her bib overalls and a heavy cotton turtleneck sweater, thick socks and comfy boots, nothing else. Gave her a feeling of freedom. No restraint. A personal display of Resistance. On summer days, it would be a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt. Winter would add an fleece-lined jacket. Nobody saw except her security detail. And they were paid not to notice.
In Spring and Fall, she’d often feel the breezes come up those overalls and give a thrill up her leg.
Her husband hadn’t done that for years. He just kept paying the bills out of her half of the Foundation monies.
Once a year or so, someone would drive up in a big stretch limo and pick her up for some gala or something. They’d stop to pick him up a block or so before the limo had to pull up out front. He always smelled of his girl friends. As least he had quit fooling with the minors. She could tell by how the perfume would change. The more expensive varieties meant he had someone with real taste. And taste is something you have to learn over the years.
On those evenings, they carefully watched her take and swallow her pills. Too often, that left her mostly preoccupied with just keeping awake and smiling at the right moments. Her husband would squeeze her hand as a signal. (Probably like someone had just squeezed his.) And two squeezes meant applaud. Otherwise, she was just waiting for the many tedious speakers and so on. She never got on stage any more, never had a prepared speech. They didn’t trust her to walk alone with all those drugs in her. Didn’t let her near reporters.
The end had come for both of them too soon. She had carefully tended his back trail all those years so that the minors and the others he had “met” would keep their personal stories to themselves. And those that didn’t would get discredited. He kept playing the distinguished statesman. And learned to keep his fetishes private.
Finally it became too much. The spider’s web of lies she had to spin finally collapsed of its own weight. Plus, it became popular to bash womanizers as predators. Very popular.
Then came her breakdown. Really, it was that she was tired of it all. No one believed in the conspiracy any more when she brought it up. She was just running out of people to blame, they said. No one thought she was motivational any more at the rallies, they told her. They all just wanted her gone.
So she obliged.
And every year, they’d open up the closets with the pant-suits and gowns. A hairdresser and cosmetician would show up. And she’d be dolled up and readied for the press. Then the long ride into the Big City. Ron would ride with her. He always wanted to talk about her book.
When it was over, they’d let her sleep it off in the back seat.
They finally pulled up through the gates to the old white house and there was someone waiting to help her undress. To put away the expensive gowns so they were ready next year. Then drop a flannel night gown over her head and let her toddle off to her comforter-piled four-poster. Just like the one in the Lincoln bedroom, she often thought.
By the next day, the drugs were out of her system. A stout cup of coffee and she was ready for the first walk of the day.
Yes, they had cameras on her. Security, they said. Every room. And the security staff stayed mostly at the guard house, but she had seen them walking the perimeter fences now and again. That happened when she was off her regular walking schedule. They had been told (and paid) never to talk to her. It was best they avoided meeting her entirely.
Inside the house, on warm days, she wore only a cotton t-shirt. Mainly because the backs of those chairs got uncomfortable. Whoever was watching those cameras were used to this.
There was a bell that chimed when their were visitors. That gave her time enough to find her bib overalls and slip into them. And some thick socks.
It was just Ron, usually. Maybe a secretary who’d be either gay or lesbian so he wouldn’t get into some hanky-panky – or maybe so he would. That one would stay in the limo, out of her sight. You couldn’t get answers to questions you couldn’t ask. Ron was part of the conspiracy, she knew it.
Ron also brought her books. Usually classics she hadn’t read. Nothing modern and nothing political.
She knew her husband had arranged for the psych to make sure of that. In between his humping some young thing. At least he laid off the minors. Or so she was told.
She and her humping hubby had their run in the spotlights. And now she got to live in a big white house with columns out front for the rest of her days. With low maintenance shrubs all around it that didn’t really grow much.
There was a cottage out back that was her recording spot. When they painted her room annually, along with the rest of the house, she’d use that cottage couch over night. Couldn’t stand the paint fumes. Otherwise, she’d nap there when she got too tired. Or had too much Chardonnay.
The cottage had shelves that collected all those classics. And it had a pair of high-backed, padded arm chairs where she and Ron talked.
About her book. Always about her book. He’d bring her new printed transcripts and take away the ones she’d marked up.
She’d caught him in this conspiracy. Because she would repeat certain passages by heart. And always make the same grammar mistakes. Put them somewhere in the recording.
Ron never mentioned them. She knew that he knew she was doing it on purpose. And she knew he was doing something else to keep her busy and occupied. With anything except politics.
That’s why she had no news. She only had a flip-phone that wouldn’t connect to the Internet.
– – – –
Ron got back into the car and kissed his lover, once they were securely behind the dark-tinted windows. He motioned for the driver to start on. The gates opened for them and they drove through.
“How was she?”
“Fine. Same as usual. Still flushing her meds. Chardonnay is her best medicine. Good thing we’ve put her drugs in it.”
“She looks really old.”
“Always has. Used to pack the makeup on. Now she doesn’t have to care.”
“How’s her book coming?”
“It will never see the light of day.”
“But doesn’t she work on it all the time — what about those recordings and transcripts?”
“All locked away. She keeps repeating herself over and over. But that’s the point.”
“She tells me the story and then has nothing to write down. So then she starts making up stuff out of those books I bring her. Just in her own words. Still keeps talking about conspiracy, but it’s now pulled out of Macbeth and Tale of Two Cities.”
“Well, she brought it on herself. Since ‘everyone was out to get her’, soon they were. And how she earned that ‘breakdown.’ But she’s not the only one playing that game.”
“Her hubby thinks those young things are naturally attracted to him. The only attraction they have is how much they get paid. They are both being played. Just like that corporate news outlet that secretly pays you.”
They rode in silence for awhile.
Ron finally spoke again. “Don’t worry, trying to give them a story about ‘the real conspiracy behind the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. C_’ will never see the light of day. Let’s make up a story they’ll pay you for. About how you were able to get some salacious scoop. Like how she doesn’t wear underwear and flashes her security detail. I can give you some pictures of piles of empty Chardonnay bottles on the grave of her cat. Their gossip columns will love that. All from ‘off the record sources.’ Security will get a bonus to take the blame and stay quiet. Now turn over and let’s enjoy some hanky-panky on the long ride back.”
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