Cops are easy. All you have to do is show him your ID, explain you’re a congressman. There will be some perfunctory chit-chat, and you will make the officer feel important, for you know, like, providing the civil service that he provides, and he may or may not write you a light traffic ticket or something, which is no problem – there is no problem that your staffers can’t handle – and sure enough, when the officer approaches your Tahoe, asks for your license, registration, insurance, and you hand it over, all is going as it should go, and the officer is, like you, a young handsome white guy, and he even actually, like, looks a little bit like you, and you have no reason to imagine that anything will go wrong in the way that it’s about to go wrong until he puts both hands over the side of your door and asks you what the hell you were doing all this time on your phone.

You grin. You apologize. O you definitely know better, you sing, but you are, after all, in the middle of a reelection campaign, the officer must understand, and you are heading back home right now to tend to the numerous things that need tending, and show him your ID again.

This, for some reason, makes him angry.

‘I need to see your phone, Congressman,’ he says, and sticks out his hand.

You give it to him and become slightly nervous watching the officer scroll through your phone like that, especially when he begins telling you that there are new laws in place for Distracted Driving, and he’s been observing you ever since you made that illegal uwee, and he saw how you did not put down your phone once in ten whole minutes, and he even says it like that, like he’s a toddler exaggerating some tiny injustice: ten whole minutes.

‘Frankly, Congressman,’ he says, ‘I don’t care who you are. If you’re out here driving so recklessly, you’re putting the public in danger.’

You affirm his position. Gosh, you tell him, he is one hundred percent right. You should absolutely not be on your phone while driving, and you are grateful to him for helping you understand the new laws (even though you do feel they are stupid laws), and if he needs to write you a ticket you will understand.

From him, there is silence.

From that point on, you shut your mouth and let the officer do the talking, which, as it turns out, is a good idea because you are about to feel more than mildly impugned when the officer starts to unload on you about his wife.”

You ask him how the Boys on the Force are doing. If there’s anything the Boys on the Force need that they’re not getting from Congress, and you again gently remind him that you are a congressman and show him your ID at which point he glances at you, incredulous. He laughs out loud, and this laughing, it’s now telling you that this officer is not on your side, he’s not one of you, he’s probably a fucking Democrat and there is no talking to Democrats, and so from that point on, you shut your mouth and let the officer do the talking, which, as it turns out, is a good idea because you are about to feel more than mildly impugned when the officer starts to unload on you about his wife, how she needed an emergency abortion to save her life and how you, Representative Alexander Paine Wilson (R), were one of the congressmen who voted in favor of Virginia’s recently failed bill to ban all abortions after six weeks, who would have just let his wife die under the pretense of ‘protecting life,’ and that is why this officer – the name on his badge says ANDERSON – who lives in a shitty condo in Falls Church or someplace, is not only about to vote for Nancy Fucking Beavers, he is about to make the life of her opponent all kinds of gigantic living hell.

‘Sir, step out of the vehicle,’ Officer Anderson says.

You step out. The cop actually asks you to turn around, and he’s going to give you ‘a pat down, okay?’ he says, and so you find yourself red-faced and furious as you turn around on this brutally hot morning and place your hands on the brutally hot hood of the Tahoe as cars and trucks hurtle past, headed onto the bridge and right toward the Jefferson Memorial.

The officer’s lights are circling. Everything smells like burnt rubber and oil, and you pray no one recognizes you as Officer Anderson slaps his hands up your legs, into your groin, and you are in the midst of deciding that you are going to report him to your staffers, they will take care of this, you know, no sweat, when he tells you to go to the back of the Tahoe and open it.

You walk to the back as a long row of freighter trucks screams past. The heat of the pavement hits you, the oil, the gas, it makes you light-headed, and you are thinking only about what world of shit this dickbag Officer Anderson is going to find himself in when he’s done with you, which means you are not thinking at all about the cargo which you are carrying in the back of the Tahoe when you open the doors.

The police officer jumps back. ‘What the hell is that!’ he shouts.

Enter the aardvark, alight on its mount. Enter the aardvark, claw raised, head covered with a goddamned gourmet $22 dish towel that suddenly looks incredibly suspicious hanging over the head of an aardvark, like it’s an infidel.

‘It’s an aardvark,’ you say, and the officer yanks the flour sack off the aardvark’s head like it will bite him, and yes, a gigantic taxidermied aardvark is taking up the trunk of your Tahoe.

Officer Anderson looks at you. ‘What are you doing with a stuffed aardvark, Congressman.’

‘I’m not doing anything with it,’ you say.

‘What’s it for?’

You look like you don’t understand what he is asking because you honestly don’t understand what he’s asking.

‘Where’s the permit,’ he says.

‘The what?’

‘The permit. You need a federal permit to possess this wildlife,’ he says.

You calmly explain that ‘this wildlife’ was delivered to your house just this morning. And if Officer Anderson wants, he can follow you back to Asher Place and you can show him the box, the big-ass cardboard box it was delivered in, but Anderson shakes his head. ‘A federal taxidermy permit allows you to temporarily possess another’s legally acquired wildlife,’ he says, obvi rote from some book. ‘It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any state or foreign law. It’s called the “Lacey Act.” ’

Now you’re mad. You know the goddamned Lacey Act, you say. But you didn’t steal it, and you certainly didn’t stuff it; it was, like, given to you, for Chrissakes! It’s a goddamned gift, you insist, and you don’t even realize the trap you’ve laid for yourself until it’s too late.

Cameras are everywhere. Anderson is getting suspicious, and so you resign yourself to the glorious refuge of rich young white men everywhere: pleading dumb.”

Anderson looks at you sideways. ‘All right, Congressman,’ he says, ‘who gave you this aardvark? Whoever gave it to you should have given you the permit,’ he says, and that’s when you start imagining scenarios: like pushing Officer Anderson to the ground and jumping back into the Tahoe and speeding off; or like telling Officer Anderson to Hey, wow, look at that weird bird in the sky, and then punching Officer Anderson in his jaw and his gut and then jumping back in the Tahoe; or like, maybe, outsprinting Anderson on foot down the 14th Street Bridge, jumping over one side into the Potomac, swimming to shore, abandoning the Tahoe and aardvark and then somehow hailing an Uber; or just like going for it and grabbing Anderson’s gun from his holster and turning yourself over to fate – but none of these are viable options in the 21st century. In the 21st century, cameras are everywhere. They are in Officer Anderson’s cop car. They are on his body. They are recording you right now as you are hesitating to answer his question, and you can feel things getting bad, Anderson is getting suspicious, and so you resign yourself to the fourth option, the glorious refuge of rich young white men everywhere: pleading dumb.

The delivery box wasn’t marked with a return address, you tell Anderson. Someone, you don’t know who, sent this aardvark to you, you have no idea why, and seriously, people send congressmen, like, super bizarre gifts all the time, you say, which sends you into a long and clumsy story about Representative Rutledge once receiving a rabbit’s foot on a chain from a constituent, and you can’t really see the difference between something like this and a rabbit’s foot.

Officer Anderson, alas, does not buy it.

‘There’s a world of difference between one rabbit’s foot and an entire aardvark,’ he says, clearly not believing you about the return address. ‘The U.S. Postal Service will not deliver something without a return address,’ he says, and that’s when, with considerable relief, you remember the FedEx man with his bushy beard and his funny thick eyeglasses!

You fold your arms. You condescend to Anderson that it wasn’t the post office; it was actually FedEx.

At which point the policeman visibly brightens.

‘Great, I see,’ he says. ‘So all we need to do is get the tracking number,’ and that’s when you realize that, for now, he’s got you. That if you follow through with your story, he’s going to figure out the aardvark came from Greg Tampico, and your next move must be, can only be, to distance yourself from Greg Tampico as much as possible, and from here on out, Tampico’s a complete and total stranger, because who, after all, knew about you and Greg Tampico other than you and Tampico?

Anderson asks you again for your phone, on which you now have 603 unread text messages and 410 unread emails.

‘I think we better go down to the station,’ he says, and begins to read you your Miranda.

from Enter the Aardvark (Doubleday, £12.99)

 

Jessica Anthony is the author of The Convalescent (McSweeney’s 2009/Grove 2010), a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and Chopsticks (Razorbill, 2012), a multimedia novel created in collaboration with designer Rodrigo Corral. Chopsticks was an Amazon Book of the Month and won App of the Year. Her short stories can be found in Best New American Voices, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeney’s, The Idaho Review and elsewhere. She is the inaugural winner of McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, and has received fellowships from the Creative Capital Foundation for Innovative Literature, the Bogliasco Foundation, Italy and the Maine Arts Commission. She lives in Maine and teaches at Bates College. Enter the Aardvark is published by Doubleday and Transworld Digital in hardback and eBook.
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