Emily DeDakis Reading from The Yellow Nib

Emily DeDakis' contribution to The Yellow Nib was an extract from her unfinished novel How I Was Taught

The first Tuesday after the first Monday

More people are home on Sundays. It’s a known fact, according to the girl from Elko – even when you factor in church. Penny and a couple of the other Texans didn’t buy it. But the girl from Elko was the crew’s veteran – she’d even been shot at a couple of times while canvassing out in Colorado – and what she said was pretty much law. Losing a day with only two left before the election looked crazy any way they sliced it. Laundry be damned.

So by ten on the first Sunday morning in November, Penny’s crew had congregated as usual at the mom-and-pop gas station on Tenaya Street. Everyone wandered the aisles separately for their mouthwash, pears, Lunchables, soft-packs of Camel Turkish Blend, whatever else to get them through the day – Dia de los Muertos, Penny realised when she saw the shrine laid on the sidewalk by the propane tanks, and the rack of Maxol. A white balsa cross, a framed photo of a flabby Boston terrier spilling out of a young girl’s arms, dog toys, a collar with silver tags, and two teal ceramic bowls with food and water, all lay on a vinyl tablecloth edged with yellow garlands.

She sat on the curb beside the shrine with her bagel and black coffee. She wanted to pick up the photo for a closer look but it seemed disrespectful. One of the Texan boys came over and stood looking at the shrine, said it made him miss the border. El Paso would be choked with street parties and people dancing and vendors with pan de muerto. Dead bread. He said Las Vegans weren’t half as hardcore about their shrines as they were on the border; things dissolve little by little the further north you get. He wandered off to snag a cigarette and Penny finished breakfast. Before she walked back to the car she touched the surface of the water in the bow and crossed herself once for her father (dead for years) and again for Zach’s folks (dead to the world).

Once everyone had stubbed out their morning cigarettes and swigged back their daily vitamins, they popped the trunk of the campaign car and got going. Penny doled out maps, clipboards, pencils, ticksheets, REMEMBER-TO-VOTE door hangers, and sunscreen. Just five or six hours today ‘cause we’ll be hitting it so hard tomorrow,' she told them. They split up and fanned out across their quadrant of Vegas. Everyone but the Texans had been there for the past month so they’d gotten to know the neighbourhoods – were getting known in them too. The plumbers and electricians who worked the area would take around extra campaign literature on their jobs. The deli always had their sandwiches ready when they dropped in at four-ish. Things felt good, solid.

Despite the Elko girl’s decree about Sundays, a good portion of the doors stayed closed. They gave out polling location cards, extricated themselves from a heated discussion about gay marriage; Penny got down on herself for using the phrase ‘constitutionally mandated discrimination’ and resolved to be less pedantic. The girl from Elko told her not to worry – you’re an architect, she said, you door-to-door long enough and you train yourself out of the lingo. She talked about her current job (anti-logging in Idaho), asked about the buildings Penny had worked on (nothing you’ve heard of), asked if she was looking forward to getting home to LA. Penny said she couldn’t really think past Tuesday. The girl agreed. No offence to Zach, she said, but if you’re out working so hard is he planning on doing anything?