Amy, in her own dreams, terrified herself.
It was only in her dreams that her lips could bare her teeth as much as she wanted, her lips stretching in every direction until she was all mouth like that gross mouth monster from the end of one of the Lord of the Rings movies. She could get a lot done with a mouth like that.
That was what woke her up tonight, so she turned on her side and stared at her bedroom wall. She practiced stretching her lips and baring her teeth until her exhausted face led her exhausted brain and exhausted body into sleep.
“Amy, are you ready to come back to me?” Dan asked. “You know what’s hot right now? Asparagus, and this account has your name on it. Think of it. All the hollandaise you could eat, and it’s for work.”
“Fuck off,” Amy said as she hung up on him.
Tom James wanted her for his Chief of Staff.
“Sue, of all people, told me about your little blow up before you left Selina’s campaign,” he told her. “Quoted it word for word and it was so beautiful I damn near cried. Sue, who I’m sure would gladly slit both of our throats and make it look like a shaving accident, said I should ask you before literally anyone else.”
“Huh,” Amy said.
“Here’s the thing,” Tom James began.
Funny, she could only think of him as a full name, and only a full name—not even President Elect Tom James, but just Tom James Tom James Tom James.
“I’m an absolute fucking idiot, Amy Brookheimer,” Tom James said. “I’m an idiot and an idealist and I don’t want to make Selina’s mistakes. My god, if you see that I’m driving a car into a wall and the whole fucking car is on fire, I trust you to throw me out of the car and swerve. I want to give you free reign over the White House and, let’s face it, most of America, so we can get shit done. I want to smile and be that kind but firm, straight-talking President Dad, and I want you to lie, cheat, steal, and kill for me. Could we do that? Could you do that for me?”
“Huh,” Amy repeated. “Well, if Sue thinks I could.”
“That’s my one condition, Amy,” Tom James said. “Do the Chief of Staff thing but above all, keep Selina and her crew out of the fucking White House. Do I make myself clear?”
Amy could feel her eyes light up, very much against her poker face and her will.
“Sir,” Amy said. “That sounds fucking wonderful.”
Dan called her two days before the announcement went public.
“Amy,” he said. “Didn’t I save you when you needed saving?”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Amy said. “No, you didn’t. Fuck off.”
Here was the first thing Amy learned with her first taste of power:
She didn’t have to speak.
Objectively, working for Selina was a position of access and power over people, like roughly all 320ish million people in America, but those fuckers didn’t count. Working for Selina, as the Veep’s Chief of Staff and then as her campaign manager—those weren’t positions of power as much as they were years she spent locked in a tower with a rotating crew of Rumplestiltskins demanding she spin more of their garbage into gold.
Now here she was, back in the Veep’s office, sitting across from Selina’s desk, staring at Selina with the same cool gaze Selina had for her.
“So, Amy,” Selina said. “What does President Fuckstick McCharm have planned for me out here?”
Amy said nothing, but she tilted her head a little and smiled.
“I don’t like that,” Selina said. “Don’t do that.”
“POTUS understands that you work best when you can set your own agenda,” Amy said. “So let’s work on that.”
Mike’s various ulcers and cholesterol-encrusted arteries hadn’t killed him yet, and Kent was still about 80% cyborg under the plain grey suits he coordinated with his plain grey hair and plain grey beard. Kent sat up, slowly processing his thoughts from binary into English, but Mike was out of the gate first.
“How about education?” Mike asked. “How can we fuck up education, right? Give us education; we can’t fuck it up any worse.”
“Well, when you give it such a ringing fucking endorsement,” Selina said.
“Education wouldn’t be a bad area to focus our efforts for the first portion of this administration,” Kent said. “It’s broad enough that it’ll bring you into the fold with every other hot-button issue—immigration, violence, gun control, religion—obesity, if the numbers show that it’s still a thing. We could work with all of those, as—as POTUS requires.”
The three of them turned to Amy.
She smiled again. They had turned to her.
“Sounds great, ma’am,” Amy said. “I’ll take this back to POTUS.”
“Yes,” Selina said. “You do that.”
Amy left and closed the door behind her, and smiled when she heard Selina hiss something about how certain people weren’t made to smile without looking like cold, hardened sociopaths.
“Thanks, Sue,” Amy said as she moved from the door to Sue’s desk.
“Just keep us out of bullshit,” Sue said without looking away from her calendars. “At least for a year or two. I need a goddamn break after an election cycle.”
Amy nodded and smiled again, for real, as she left. She didn’t see Sue look up and follow her out with her eyes, almost pleased to have seen her.
“Amy,” Dan said. “One drink. You, me, and our good friend, Jonah the sad floppy dildo that was swallowed by a whale and choked it to death because a whale’s trachea is only about the diameter of a nickel.”
“Fuck off, Dan,” Amy said.
“I wish I could’ve gotten Joe Biden as my Veep,” Tom James mused one day as he scrolled on his phone. “The Onion’s built this beautiful, comprehensive mythology around him and made him so damn lovable, and his claim to fame is taking the train from Delaware every fucking day. Meanwhile, Selina was the goddamn president a minute ago and these lazy satirists named her Empress of Crows of America. Because of her crows’ feet. Who’s writing this garbage? Can’t they try? Is trying so hard?”
“The Onion’s written by 22-year-old jizz-encrusted hand towels from Target,” Amy replied. “And it doesn’t help that Selina actually does descend from the skies in a black feathered cloak with none of Maleficent’s charm or problem-solving abilities.”
Tom James chuckled, a weird dry and deep noise that Amy, after a week on the job, had realized was his actual human laugh.
“How,” Tom James said, “Do we get people to love someone who’s pathologically unable to emote anything but desperation?”
Thursday at 2 PM, like clockwork, Dan called.
“Just catching up on the sound of your breathing before you tell me to fuck off and hang up on me,” Dan said.
“Actually, could you do something for me? Something totally off the record, but something that comes straight from POTUS, for Selina?”
“Brainstorm with me,” Amy said. “How can we make Selina seem wacky and lovable, in a deeply absurdist and ironic sense that will make her beloved of morons our age who can’t actually love anything with genuine admiration?”
“You mean Biden her,” Dan said. “You can’t Biden a nightmare. You can’t Biden a 60-foot Ursula stirring the world’s oceans into a whirlpool with a stolen trident. You can’t make a cold, deeply vain and insecure sea witch into America’s fun drunk aunt, Amy. That’s just—god, my dick shriveled just thinking about the shit she would do if she ever found out.”
“Shriveled, huh?” Amy asked.
“Stop,” Dan said. “You can’t challenge-accepted me into—I don’t even know what you’re asking.”
“Lightly freelancing a new mythological Selina for deeply jaded and indebted monsters to latch adore,” Amy said. “So when she actually fucks up, like in the major way that I’m trying to put off for as long as I can, we have something to fall back on. Something besides the fucking abyss she emerged from.”
“Huh,” Dan said. “Could be fun. I have a wacky aunt. She got me drunk at my dad’s third wedding when I was six.”
“Maybe don’t borrow too much from your own deeply sad life,” Amy said.
“Yeah, I got it,” Dan said. “You doing okay, Amy?”
“I am, actually,” Amy said. “I no longer sit at my desk with my head in my hands whispering to myself please let the world end, please let the world end, so that’s a big improvement from a year ago. And you?”
“I get to pull the greatest trick the Devil never dreamed,” Dan said, “And make his bride Selina seem like a lovable woman who was once human-born. Wish me luck.”
She hung up on him, but she smiled.
Dan took it too literally and did, actually, write about Vice President Selina Meyer electing to work with her local band of Satanists on student loan debt forgiveness, volunteering to His Darkness the souls of select party members and also volunteers to join him in Hell in exchange for total forgiveness of all undergraduate loans over $100,000.
“Ma’am, honestly, I think it works,” Amy said to Selina over the phone. “For all that it has you in league with the actual devil, it’s also surprisingly clever for satire. Here’s your willingness to go to hell and back for younger constituents—who else can say that? Like an aunt who goes to three different places to find just the right gift for her niece, you know?”
“What kind of shitty fucking idiot would do something that stupid?” Selina snapped.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s the unrealistic part,” Amy said.
After three months, Amy realized she was surprised that Jonah hadn’t called her directly to manipulate her for a job or access, or shown up in the West Wing even though she put his name on the ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BANNED FOREVER EVEN FROM TOUR GROUPS list.
Then Gwyneth Paltrow ran an essay by Jonah Seafarer Ryannsonn in an issue of goop about how to release toxic influences from one’s life, his byline under the title Political Wellness Consultant, and Amy did feel much lighter, having cackled Jonah out of her life so early on a Thursday morning.
Six months in, Tom James dismissed the staff from their Oval Office morning briefing, but Amy stayed on the couch for a moment after everyone left.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her as he went back to his desk. He was the first president with an actual fucking computer in the Oval Office, a totally stripped down model that only had a word processor and a ninety-thousand-times encrypted email program that only allowed messages from three addresses in the entire world. It was pointless, but it was something and it was good for photo ops despite their admittedly weak stance on cyber-everything in this first term.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Amy said. “You—you’ve fucked up a few times, and we’ve admitted to things and handled them, and I haven’t—I haven’t had to cover up any atrocities or, say, your press secretary dyeing his mustache and hints of hair orange, and—this is working? And everyone likes you? And I don’t—understand, like, I think it’s a dream?”
“I think you work very hard to make it look like I know what I’m doing and to remind everyone that, even if they disagree with me, they like me,” Tom James said. “I appreciate the work you do every day, Amy, so if you need a minute to rest on your laurels, please, you should.”
“And you just—you just told me I work hard and I get results,” Amy said. “I might cry, sir, if I hadn’t totally broken myself of that habit years ago.”
“I’ve never found anything wrong with a good cathartic cry now and then,” Tom James said.
“Maybe I’ll hydrate and see if it happens,” Amy said.
She left the Oval Office and walked back to her own office, with her own staff, and looked around. None of it terrified her. None of it made her cry. She had work to do, and she would get it done.