Sherman Alexie
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The Foot Soldiers of Capitalism

The Foot Soldiers of Capitalism

Short Fiction

The man next door built a treehouse for his kids. More like a mansion. Three rooms, four sets of stairs. A bridge from one huge tree to the next. From the north, the structure looked like a wooden ship. From the south, it looked like a wooden dragon. From my bedroom window, it looked like Jesus had built it. And how can a mortal father like me compete with Jesus?

The man worked for months on that treehouse. Meanwhile, I sat in airplanes and flew to archaic meetings in hotel conference rooms. More than once, I'd suggested to my boss that those meetings could’ve been conducted by conference call. Or by Internet streaming. Or by shouting into the wind. But the bosses wanted us minions to be collectively unhappy around conference tables in other people's cities.

One night, on the road, in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I ordered room service. I ordered all five desserts on the menu: chocolate mousse, flan, banana split, cheese cake, and apple cobbler. I'm not a fat man. And I'm not thin. I carry twenty pounds too many. I’m ordinary. So it seemed extraordinary to become the kind of man who would eat multiple desserts in one sitting.

When the room service man wheeled the cart into my room, I was shocked by the size of my shame. By my paranoia. I thought the hotel man was passing judgement on me. But he was as bored as any other professional. And it occurred to me that he must have seen far stranger things while working at a hotel.

I was wearing all of my clothes, for one. Even my socks and shoes. I was probably a relief for him. I gave him no stories to tell.

Room service included a 20% service charge, but I added another 20% as gratuity. And then I wondered how gratuity, the word, is related to gratitude. And it seemed to me that gratuity sported a pair of khakis and a button-down shirt, while gratitude wore a suit and necktie. And what about the service charge? There’s always a service charge.

After the hotel guy left, I lined the desserts in a row, taking one bite of each, moving my fork left to right like I was pounding out a letter on an old typewriter. I ate everything in perhaps fifteen minutes.

Later that night, nauseous and dizzy, I called home.

"I just ate all the desserts on the menu," I said to my wife.

"You're going to poop your pajamas," she said and laughed.

I worried that she was right. So I grabbed a pillow and blanket and slept in the tub. I didn't want to risk shitting the bed and making a nightmare mess for the housekeeper. And no gratuity or gratitude would compensate for that.

In the tub, I stared at my blurred reflection in the clean porcelain. But it wasn't really a reflection. It was more like my face was reduced to a vague brown moon.

Imagine that.

Imagine the night sky is white and the stars are black.

Imagine that my wife and I are reaching our dark hands across the space between us. Imagine that it looks like our fingertips almost touch. Imagine her as a new constellation. Imagine me as a new constellation. And then remember that every star in the sky is light years apart.

Sherman Alexie
Sherman a Alexie’s Substack Audio
Poetry, fiction, and essays by Sherman a alexie
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Sherman Alexie