I sell pins protesting the just-elected president at the holiday bazaar. Whatever you call the stage of grief where all you can do is smash bottle caps flat and glue his screaming face with a red line through it in the center and a craft store pin to the back, that’s where I am. I don’t care if buyers wear them or throw them away or in a drawer or in the washer or mail them to a Republican aunt as a spiteful stocking stuffer, all of which they promise to do, I just have to make them, and sell them alongside my other handmade junk and sourdough bread and tortillas, alongside the other housewives who want to believe we’re artists a couple times a year. Some of us are, and some of us just have a lot of kinds of glue and time on our hands. We paint and glue and ferment our hearts out for pocket change, and every time we count our cash over cocktails, we’re surprised at how much time went into this and how little we have to show for it.
The bazaar is held in the same building where we vote, the community center where, two weeks earlier, I’d sat with the rest of the election board—another gathering of underemployed local women—and watched our phones with building horror as presidential results rolled westward. Our precinct is a cliché little smattering of white greenie-commie-hippies in the woods, and between this and Alaska’s position on the globe, voting here in a national election demonstrates a commitment more to process than outcome.
Blue dot, red ocean, time zones against us, and a guaranteed cookie for every voter.
Half the year this ugly old building is the closest thing to a public place we’ve got. The community center walls are carpeted in brown, and decades-old water stains the ceiling. It’s a utilitarian room that tries to be nothing more than an enclosed heated space, nothing less. And on bazaar day, it’s hot and crowded, kids stripped down to t-shirts and sweats and darting between legs, husbands of a certain age clustered by the door with cookie crumbs in their beards. It warms my heart and makes me want to scream and I do it every year.
I display the pins in a little wooden bowl, not centered on my assigned table but not hidden. A man I don’t know asks about the bread and later I see his wife whispering to him, and maybe she points, and they don’t buy bread and I tell myself I don’t care but I’ve got the same lame want for people to like me, still. A ten year old keeps circling back to touch the pins and smile to herself, says she wants one for her dad, and finally brings money and pockets the thing like a joke between them.
People start to linger. A neighbor tells me her gay coworker just bought his first gun. She says it like she’s surprised. A woman who lives outside this little blue dot says she’s afraid to even go to the post office, because “we’ve always known, but now we know the numbers.” It starts to feel like my table is a damn confessional: “I heard the n-word in town,” they tell me, their white ears still burning. “I’ve been through two boxes of wine in ten days.” At least you can break down boxes, I offer, not like a winter’s worth of beer bottles, the caps saved up for my “art.”
A German woman I know from ladies-only dice games and her part-time job at the gas station approaches, her eyes locked with mine from a distance. She reaches across the table, grabs a fistful of pins and pushes twenty dollars into my hand. She leans in, shakes her fist. “We have our experience with people like these.”
I feel a chill. She keeps looking at me. “You do,” I say. “You do.”
I add her money to the rest, sell the last of the tortillas, a few pieces of jewelry, write her words in the margins of the paper where I’m tracking sales. Later, I’ll add up seven and ten dollar sales, count out the cash, and think of her eyes, unblinking.
Erica Watson lives and writes on the boundary of Denali National Park, Alaska. Her work has appeared most recently in terrain.org, ROAR Feminist, and Edible Alaska. Read more at ericawatson.wordpress.com.