Frank stared at the deer in his kitchen. He was pretty sure it shouldn’t have been there. It was dead, after all. He’d killed it himself. He recognized the white patch on its flank the .308 round pierced two falls ago, just when the trees were turning the color of an abandoned tractor. Still, here it stood, staring at him while he choked down his morning bowl of grits.
The buck’s ten-point spread nearly touched the ceiling, but somehow passed through the cheap fixture, leaving the faux chrome undisturbed. Frank glanced up to where the laminate peeled away from the white plastic. A flake fell, landing in his breakfast.
Fuck. Isn’t that always the way?
He pushed the bowl away, tossed the spoon to the side in disgust, where it clattered across the linoleum like the world’s loneliest tap dancer. Picked at a spot on the tabletop where the yellow peeled back, pushing it with his nail.
“Sanitation engineer,” Frank said, refusing to look up.
Frank sighed, looked up. The deer hadn’t moved. It stared at him from across the table.
EAT THE RICH.
Frank stood and left the room. He stripped his clothes off in the bedroom, with its cheap dresser and nightstand, and a bed propped on copies of his Psychology and Economics 101 books. The one thing he’d learned from Economics: The poor tend to stay poor. The law of financial inertia.
He stepped into the shower. The deer stood outside.
JANITOR. REMEMBER HOW DELICIOUS I WAS?
The deer was delicious. That was the last year he had time or money for a license. He’d got sick the year after, and his money went to bills, his free time to work. His boss had nearly let him go. If it hadn’t been for seniority, he’d be showering in a rain gutter by now.
JANITOR. DO YOU NOT REMEMBER?
“I remember jerky, you pain in the ass. And sausage. And steak.”
He missed venison.
EAT THE RICH, JANITOR.
Out of the shower, around the whitetail straddling his toilet. Brush his teeth while the thing stared over his shoulder.
Why can I see it in the mirror?
Was the cancer back? Eating at his brain like he’d devoured the chili he’d made with deer burger? If it was, he’d take that .308 and blow his brains out. Not in the house, though. Probably in the field. No reason to burden the next owner with cleanup.
He still had it. The rifle. Kept it out of some sort of misguided sentiment. Perhaps false hope he might wander through the woods again, climb a tall oak, and wait. But it never worked out that way. There was always more overtime, always more bills.
He buttoned up the blue chambray shirt, pulled his black belt tight. Gave another thought, and opened the closet. Inside, a jumble of trash. Old shoes. Ratty shirts. A suit he hadn’t worn since high school. Couldn’t afford a new one. Student loans had kept him in the red for so long, by the time he’d reduced those, his waistline had grown.
In the back, the .308 leaned in a corner. A spiderweb crawling from the barrel to the wall. He tugged it free of the pile of shorts and jeans and rummaged around on the rickety shelf above, a shower of tile detritus and dust greeting his probing fingers. Finally, he ran across the box of shells. Shoved them into his pocket. Deer season had started a month ago. The woods were a block away. He could probably sneak one deer. Maybe a doe if he was lucky. Hadn’t seen a game warden out this way since the Harald dust-up six years ago.
Rifle in hand, shells in pocket, he left for work.
Men are a tempest in a teacup, his grandmother used to say. Rage and sorrow and lust and weakness all balled up inside a small, fragile space. Women, on the other hand, thought Frank, are cold and concise. Surgeons. Words and actions their scalpel. Or at least his grandmother had been. And Monica. She’d cut him free the moment his pension had dried up. Left him their crumbling house, their shitty truck, and a pile of debt. The irony of it all, he didn’t think his grandmother had been completely wrong. She’d just been less right. Men were a tempest in a teacup. But fragility was relative. He’d borne it all—the illness, the debt, the loneliness with what strength he had.
None of which explained who he was and what he’d made of his life. Words were only words, after all, and Frank’s actions spoke louder. He’d tried to improve himself. He put himself through school. He’d landed a job with a modest salary and good bennies. It was just that when you get sick, the world doesn’t care how fragile or careful you are. It still smashes down your walls, takes everything you own and shits on your couch.
The deer had been delicious. It’d been late in the season when he saw the big bastard, standing at least five foot at the shoulder, head down as he nosed at a pine in the thin layer of snow. Frank had climbed the old aspen earlier that day, his little stand buckled around the trunk. It clung to the tree like a kid who’d found himself too near the sky and too far the ground, and now held on for dear life. Below, the forest lay out like a Kinkade painting, all pastel and light.
That had been the year the headaches started. The year Frank passed out twice and had to tie himself to the trunk alongside the stand so he didn’t plummet to the forest floor. The year he’d still felt some optimism. The year before the year where the center did not hold.
The buck walked into the clearing, and he remembered thinking This is it. This is the money shot.
Monica would have laughed at that. God, he’d loved her. He’d loved so many things. Then the money ran out and he learned to hate. He wished fervently that he might again have money. If only to decide for himself if it bought happiness.
He raised the rifle. A small thing. At least he didn’t miss. The shot didn’t go wide. He often thought of the cancer as that. As a shot that went wide and failed to kill him, just making him miserable instead. If only he had money. But even now, his job was in question. Too many sick days, too many bills.
Meanwhile, the men who signed his checks ate T-bones and drove Audis, paint still slick with wax.
Meanwhile, the men with money made more and those with little watched it trickle away unless they broke their backs and their lives.
Like trying to fill a leaky bucket. Like trying to staunch a bleeding wound.
The rifle kicked against his shoulder.
The deer was back. In the passenger seat, but not.
JANITOR. HAVE YOU DECIDED TO EAT THE RICH?
The rifle sat in its rack in the shitty truck, just over Frank’s shoulder.
“Sanitation engineer,” he said, staring out at the low brick supervisory building ahead.
Frank sighed. “I went to school. It’s sanitation engineer. I have a degree.”
CAN YOU EAT IT?
WHAT GOOD IS IT?
“No fucking idea.”
Silence for a long minute. Finally, “Why do I need to eat the rich?” Frank asked.
THEY HAVE WHAT YOU NEED?
“Money? Yeah. Doesn’t mean you should just take it.”
AND YET YOU TOOK MY FLESH.
Frank glanced over. “That’s different. You saved me money.”
EATING THE RICH WOULDN’T?
Supervisor Chambers exited the building. Crossed the sidewalk, stopped to light a cigarette. Frank’s grandmother always said it was a habit only the rich could afford, but the poor clung to. In Chambers’ case, he seemed to have slipped past that barrier. A rich smoker.
The man crossed to his Audi and leaned against the side of the car, staring up into the still-early morning sky. Frank thought of cancer, of the money he’s lost, and the money this man spent in complete disregard, utterly sheltered from Frank’s misery. He thought of the way this man’s insurance would likely never drop him for too many visits, too many times over the premium, too many pills.
Frank was holding the rifle. He didn’t know when he’d picked it up, or why, but here it was. He leaned from the window, sighted down the scope. Chambers’ head grew large as a pumpkin. He’d have to be blind to miss.
Dragging a full-grown man to the bed of your pickup isn’t much harder than pulling a dressed deer around. Frank would have liked to get all of him, but the man’s head decorated the side panels of the Audi.
Frank stared at the wallet in his hands. Chambers’ body was in his tub. And he held the sum financial total of the man at his kitchen table. His brain was definitely broken.
IF IT WAS BROKEN, WOULD I BE HERE?
“That’s a stupid question,” Frank said.
“A, You’re a deer. Deer can’t speak. B, You’re a construct of a sick mind. Clearly the result of a synaptic misfire or a neuronal path failure. Likely the tumor’s back, pressing on my brain like Andre the Giant sitting on Hulk Hogan.”
“Nevermind. You’re a figment.”
COULD A FIGMENT DO THIS?
The deer did a pirouette. Frank rolled his eyes.
“Clearly you’re insane,” he muttered.
The self-banter died as he opened Chambers’ wallet. Cracking open a dead man’s belongings had something of the sepulchral to it.
Inside the wallet: Driver’s license. A bank card. A Visa Black. And a couple hundred in twenties. Not the haul he’d expected. Maybe he thought Chambers made more. Maybe his scale of wealth was too small.
SMALL STEPS LEAD TO GREAT LEAPS.
“What are you, Edison now?”
HE ELECTROCUTED AN ELEPHANT.
Frank didn’t see how that was here or there.
YOU CANNOT BEGIN A REVOLUTION WITH A HEADLESS BODY IN A TUB, JANITOR.
The deer—this fucking deer—was right, of course. He’d read something once while in school: The bourgeoisie will never fear as long as the proletariat kills each other. As much as he hated to admit it, Chambers was proletariat. The real bourgeoisie were the men in charge—men who lived tax-free, men who pulled the strings of society, religion, and medicine. Men who grew fat on the backs of the poor, who were already stripped so thin they resembled the deer he certainly didn’t see in his kitchen.
“Yes?” Frank replied.
Frank sighed. Stared at the flaking linoleum. Smelled the stink of the dead man in his tub. He heaved himself to his feet. The union. He could take this to the union. He grabbed his keys, passing through the specter of the deer.
Frank chose to ignore that.
“Look, we need a two-thirds vote,” Steve said.
The deer stood behind Steve Silbernagle, the local union rep for the 945. Steve stood on a small platform, behind a podium. At Frank’s request, he’d gathered the other members—all sixty of them—for a formal vote. Frank hadn’t told him up front. But after an hour of repeating the deer’s screed back to Steve, the man was sold. Being a union, however, meant democratic rule, and as such, starting a revolution needed a two-thirds vote to pass.
JANITOR. THIS IS BULLSHIT.
“Sanitation engineer!” Frank blurted aloud, interrupting Mike, who had stood to speak.
The man had been halfway through the previous objections. He turned to Frank and nodded.
“Yes, no more humiliation! We’re sanitation engineers! We went to college, goddammit!”
NICELY DONE JANITOR.
Frank didn’t reply, and simply nodded as if he’d meant to do it. His head had begun to ache. Slowly, opinion turned in the room. One by one, hands went up. By the end, only two men abstained. John Jacobs and Henry Schlinger. John was allowed to live, as he had kids and a wife to provide for. Henry, they hung from the nearest rafter.
That done, Local 945 charged from their union hall, blood boiling, murder in their hearts. The revolution!
The night, Frank went home and disposed of Chambers’ body. What good was being a sanitation engineer if you couldn’t melt a corpse in your tub with industrial acid, anyway? While he did so, he watched the news for reports of the man’s disappearance. Only one, and it said the local police assumed it to be a kidnapping.
After, eating instant grits from a mixing bowl, the deer stared at him for some time before speaking.
THERE SHOULD BE RULES.
“For a revolution? Or how a man loses his mind?”
IT’S NOT ANARCHY, JANITOR. YOU CAN’T GO SHOOTING JUST ANYONE WILLY-NILLY. YOU KNOW, LIKE SOME DEER IN THE WOODS.
“Yes, I know. And I apologized for that.”
IT IS FORGOTTEN.
The rules were as follows: No one with a median income under $100,000. No random gunfire. Work from within. They held the keys, after all.
There were more, but those were the most important. Frank stared at the list, wondering if this might have made Monica proud, then wondering why he cared. He then wondered how big the tumor might be. An orange? A grapefruit? He trundled off to bed. Tomorrow, the bloodletting.
SLEEP TIGHT, JANITOR.
I could tell you of the Battle of Walmart, where fifteen janitors held the line against twice their number in middle managers. I could tell you of the way hospital administrators disappeared into their cafeterias, only to never be seen again. I could tell you of how Elon Musk’s rocket launched and immediately crashed into his mansion. Any of those things would be thrilling stories. Instead, children, I will tell you of my friend, Frank. At the end, we stood atop a mound of hedge fund managers, and he planted a new flag on the heap: That of the New American Commune.
He stood proud, that vein in his head throbbing like a beast its own, and I beside him. And these were the words we spoke to one another:
I AM PROUD OF YOU, JANITOR.
“I am a sanitation engineer, you fuck!”
I’m a deer, but that’s beside the point. Frank always did have a dry sense of humor.
Frank died in ’31. Not of any particular reason, like most men. It’s said he was sitting on the green of Giants Stadium when that vein in his head burst. The only witness was another janitor. Fitting, I think, that he died among his own.
Monica still visits him. I suppose you could say they reconciled. There’s a statue of Frank, where a Krispy Kreme once stood. She’s gathered a following: Brides of Frank. Every Tuesday, they stand at the base of his statue and repeat his last words, engraved there for all eternity. Narm narm narm.
It was a hell of a tumor, after all.