Content Tagged ‘Candidate’

Introducing “Candidate” by Karen E. Bender


I came across Karen E. Bender’s “Candidate” several months after I moved to a small Southern town and began working as a local news reporter. Diane Bernstein—the protagonist of Bender’s grittily realistic tale exploring the human side of staunch ideologies—works in the remedial writing lab of a private university. Like Diane, I was a city dweller, from the North, and progressive-minded. At least, that is, compared to the undergrads Diane teaches—students who come to class bearing diatribes against terrorists, “lazy people” and the “gay agenda.”

Diane is also coming to terms with her husband’s recent desertion, and bearing all the parenting responsibility for their two children, one of whom has spells of autism-related rage that result in the regular fleeing of babysitters. The story revolves around a single loaded episode, during which a conservative state Senate candidate calls on Diane’s family at home, for what turns out to be an extended and revealing visit.

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First Paragraph from “Candidate” by Karen E. Bender

“It was four thirty in the afternoon, and Diane Bernstein knew that the phone was about to ring. She had just paid the baby-­sitter, the third one to quit this month, extremely polite when she quit, blaming it on other issues—sorority functions, heavy schoolwork—as though the boy had not unnerved her at all. When Diane had walked through the door, Liza, the baby girl, had fallen into her mother’s arms, weeping so hard she began to choke. The boy, Johnny, was curled up in his bed, rocking himself, for he had scratched the babysitter in a fury (‘I wanted to play the radio,’ she said, ‘and he just went insane’) and the young woman had shut him in his room. Why hadn’t Diane found a better babysitter? It was not a question she allowed herself anymore. She had long stopped worrying about forgiveness, of herself or others. When the therapist had told her, again, that it was not her fault, she laughed; everything was her fault; everything was everyone’s fault. ‘Even if it was his fault,’ she said, meaning her husband, to the therapist, ‘what would it matter? He’s gone.’”

—Karen E. Bender

Excerpted from “Candidate” from Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade. Copyright © 2014 by University of North Carolina Wilmington. Used by permission of Lookout Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.