Five Hundred Poor

Noah Milligan

From acclaimed author, Noah Milligan, comes a short story collection, Five Hundred Poor. The title comes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, “Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions.”

These are ten stories of those five hundred poor, the jaded, the disillusioned, and the disenfranchised.

Praise for Noah Milligan

“Noah Milligan possesses a concise mastery of language and a sharp lens through which he sees the world. The characters he delivers in “Five Hundred Poor,” his engaging collection of short stories, are at once vivid and impossible to ignore. They have both heart and soul. They challenged and inspired me.” Jennifer Haupt, author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

* 2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist - Fiction (An Elegant Theory)

* 2015 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize - Shortlist (An Elegant Theory)

"An Elegant Theory is a literary Rorschach test, a mind-bending ride, in which “real” conclusions are elusive, and discovery always waits just beyond the next page." — Foreword Reviews (An Elegant Theory)


Status Zero

There was blood everywhere. It had splattered onto the yellow curtains and the new Berber carpet and dried into the little fibers so that he had to scrub with a wire brush. Skull fragments were lodged into the wall. He had to pry them out with pliers. Later he would have to smooth the wall out with plaster and paint over the cavities. He found bits of skull underneath the bed. He found brain tissue, the texture of dried beef jerky. These would be collected and then incinerated in a large furnace back at the office. Being the new guy, Max figured this would be his responsibility.

A middle-aged man, director of the local food bank and father of two, had shot himself with a recently purchased 9 mm semi-automatic Berretta. He’d left a note. Officially, the cops weren’t allowed to share that sort of information with Apex BioClean, Max’s new employer, a crime-scene / suicide cleaning agency, though his co-workers said they almost always did. This one, it was rumored, had simply said, “I’m sorry—I can’t provide for you any longer. Please contact Michael Thomas, our insurance agent, about collecting life insurance money. If they refuse to pay, hire a lawyer. There’s a two-year exclusion on suicide. Afterwards, they have to pay. I checked.”

He couldn’t imagine finding such a note, then finding his spouse with half her face missing. It made Max not feel so badly about his own circumstances. Such trauma makes your problems all of a sudden feel trivial and unimportant. To remind him of this, he pocketed a piece of molar. It was just a shard really, only distinguishable from other bone fragments because of the tiny bit of silver filling that remained.

“Excuse me,” a voice said behind him. “I didn’t realize anyone would still be here.” He looked up. The voice belonged to a teenage girl, probably fifteen or sixteen. She wore glasses much too large for her face and stood behind the half-opened door. He must’ve looked a bit frightening. He wore a hazmat suit, made of nitrile rubber and an aluminized shell.

“I’m sorry.” He really didn’t know what else to say. He was on all fours, brushing commercial-grade biodegrading soap into the stains her father had made.

“No. Don’t be. I’ll get out of your way.”

She left him to his work, which took two hours more. When he was done, he gathered his supplies and exited. He found her sitting at the kitchen bar. She didn’t watch television or eat a bowl of cereal or read a magazine. She sat staring at nothing, the blank look of someone whose vision had blurred, lost in thought. Max wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d been sitting there the entire time he’d been working. He’d never lost anyone before. His grandparents were still alive. No cousin had died in a tragic car accident. A friend didn’t pass away unexpectedly while on a ski trip, perhaps a little tipsy before flying headfirst into a fir tree. He had no idea what that was like, to mourn someone.

She smiled when she noticed him. “Finished?” she asked.

He’d taken his mask off even though he wasn’t supposed to; he still carried human remains. “Yes,” he said.

“My name’s Alice, by the way,” she said as if they’d bumped into each other twice in one day, two strangers, under normal, though improbable, circumstances.

“Max,” he said.

“You’ve been doing this long, Max?” she asked.

“My first job by myself, actually.”

“They let you do this sort of thing by yourself?”

“We’re shorthanded.”

“I see.”

An awkward silence followed.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“I’m sorry?”

She pointed to his pocket. “I saw you pocket part of my dad.” He froze. He could feel himself turn pale in embarrassment. “Don’t worry,” she repeated. “I’m not going to tell anyone.”

By Noah Milligan

9781771681001 9781771681391