BY VAL MULLER
John sat on the seawall overlooking the ocean. The moon was nearly full and reflected on the rippling water. How could the sea always be so peaceful? It seemed strange, somehow, that the ocean went on and on, the tide came and went, when the country was falling apart.
He tightened his grasp on his bottle of beer. “Did you decide?” he asked.
George shook his head. “Does it matter?” He sighed. “Do you remember elections when we were younger? I’d stay up late watching the news and rooting for my pick. And now, what is there to stay up for? Either way…”
“Either way, the people lose.” John took a long pull. “Used to be a time we didn’t fear what would happen to the country if one candidate won versus the other.”
George scoffed. “Doesn’t matter. Neither one is good news. It’s like—you’re going to Hell. How do you want to get there?”
John clinked his bottle against the stone wall. A toast. “I guess I’ll go t hird party. For what it’s worth.”
George shook his head. “I guess. For what difference it will make.”
“Which isn’t any.” The public was given no choice. The next president would either be Biff Tannen from Back to the Future 2 or else turn America into a secret dictatorship, one in which enemies of the White House disappeared in mysterious and never-spoken-of ways. Either way…
But what could they do? The system was rigged. Each party seemed to choose someone more despicable than the next, and everyone’s arguments centered on “lesser-of-two-evils” logic. But John’s was just one vote. What could he even do? “Unless…”
George turned to him. “Unless what?”
“Unless I just don’t play.”
“You mean you aren’t gonna vote?”
John shook his head. “Not only that.”
“What do you mean?”
John finished his beer and placed the bottle neatly on the seawall. “I’m just gonna leave.” He brought his foot close to him and unlaced his boot and pulled it off his foot. Then he took off the other. “You got a camera?”
George reached for his phone. “Yeah. Why?”
John set his two boots on the wall next to the bottle. “I’m leaving the system. I’m deregistering.”
“So? What good will that do?”
John bit his lip. “Okay, I’ll work for cash only. Not only that. I’ll work for trades. I’ll move out to the middle of nowhere. I’ll move off the grid. I’ll deny them my tax dollars. I’ll—”
George reached for the beer bottle. “Dude, what’s in this stuff? You on something? What you’re saying is nonsense.” John didn’t respond. George laughed. “Okay, what are you, a new revolutionary?” He thought for a minute. “Okay, a sound bite to Tweet out: this election, the people lose.”
“Every election the people lose,” John said. He looked out at the sea. Then he smiled. “Take a picture of my shoes.”
George turned on his flash and snapped the shot. “Okay, and?”
“Send it out. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter. Send it to your representative. Send it to the national committees and let them know what we think of their candidates. Let them know that John Adler is not playing the game.”
“Dude, you’re just gonna leave your shoes there?”
John stood up on the wall. “Yes. And maybe the first person to find my shoes will be confused. Maybe the second, too. But you post it on social media, and eventually, someone, somewhere, is gonna pick up on it. And pretty soon there will be another pair of shoes somewhere. Shoes from someone who’s tired of playing the game. Shoes from someone who refuses to cast a vote for one of two evils, someone who refuses to play in a system in which third parties are ridiculed and money talks and the people have no voice. And maybe by Election Day, there’ll be five pairs of shoes or ten. And maybe next time there are twenty, and then two hundred, and then two-hundred thousand. And eventually there will be so many shoes that the system has no one to stand on, and it does what it should have done decades and decades ago—and collapses.”
George took another picture. “Better make it a good shot, then.” George turned to his phone. John could see his was busy writing a narrative on Facebook. The post was going to be a long one. George, an adamant blogger, would have fun with it. “Dude, this is inspired, John. Truly inspired.”
The tide disguised John’s departure as George became more and more absorbed in his post. John went to bed, resisting the urge to read his friend’s postings.
* * *
John headed out on Election Day, walking toward the 7-Eleven where the immigrants went to find day work. He hadn’t been kidding. He was moving off the grid, and he’d find cash work until he could figure something more permanent. The elementary school where he used to vote was full of red, white, and blue signs boasting of one candidate or another. People handed out flyers to voters as if their chosen candidate had the power to rid the country of all ills. Did any of them actually believe they held any power?
John shook his head. Sheep, all of them.
Turning the corner toward the 7-Eleven, he stopped. If he still had a cell phone, he would have snapped a picture and texted George. There, on the sidewalk, a pair of expensive-looking brown loafers. Office worker shoes belonging to someone who certainly made more money than John ever would.
John didn’t allow his heart to beat too quickly, though. Probably just coincidence. Maybe someone just pulled over to change out of the uncomfortable shoes after some meeting—and then forgot and left them on the side of the road.
Don’t get your hopes up, John.
He took a few more steps. He could already see the convenience store, a gathering of workers waiting for the day’s work. Some of them brought their own shovels and pick axes, looking for a random day job. John hurried to join them until he was stopped again in his tracks.
Another pair of shoes. This time a bit more casual. Brown loafers kicked off right there in the street. One pair, maybe, but two? This had to be intentional. John squinted across the street, and he knew. Three’s a charm. A pair of athletic flip-flops, the expensive kind.
He headed toward the 7-Eleven with renewed enthusiasm. His revolution had started.
* * *
Editor’s Note: “Gone” originally appeared on the author’s webpage on 10/20/2016 as part the Spot Writer’s flash fiction project.