Every year in the Cause, just before Fall arrives, “the March of the Ants” occurs in Building 17. The ants come for “Jesus’s cheese,” which is delivered monthly to the boiler room of the building. The residents call the cheese “Jesus’s cheese” because no one knows for sure where it comes from. The ants crawl over piles of junk and under many doors to reach the cheese, which gives off a pungent odor. Once there, they eat their fill and carry off the rest for later. This annual event began in 1951 after a factory worker accidentally transported a large number of these large red ants from Colombia.
The Cause is full of odd traditions, and this is one of them. Like nearly everything and everyone else in the Cause, the ants are outsiders, and they do what they can to survive.
For most members of the Cause, the ants are no big deal. They are little bother compared to the variety of other animals that occupy the area. However, Deems always does his best to make sure the ants don’t get into his building. While recovering from his shooting, Deems finds himself lying in bed and thinking of the ants. For the most part, his mind is foggy because he’s on painkillers. This is a first for Deems, who is only 19-years-old. While on the drugs, he struggles to remember his childhood memories and the names of people he used to know. However, the fact that he can remember the ants makes him feel good. Although the ants have always annoyed him, he has fond memories of getting rid of them with his friends. While dealing with ants, Deems always acted as the group’s leader.
Deems’s attitude of the ants is typical of who he is as a person. The ants are something that other residents of the Cause are willing to put up with, but not Deems. Deems believes that he deserves better, and he is willing to fight for it. Evidently, Deems was this way from a young age, as he always acted as the group’s leader. At the moment, Deems is completely disoriented because of the drugs he is on, and this relatively trivial memory is comforting to him, perhaps because it gets at the core of his identity.
While thinking about the ants, Deems mutters to himself, “Everything […] is falling apart,” unaware that anyone is around him. However, he is shocked out of his daydream when his friend Lightbulb, who is standing by his bedside, asks him what he said. This shocks Deems awake, and his thoughts quickly turn to Sportcoat. Deems is understandably angry at Sportcoat and cannot fathom why the old man would shoot him. Deems always let Sportcoat get away with way more than anyone else in the Cause because Sportcoat was his baseball coach. Yet, Sportcoat shot him anyway.
Although he acts strong, it is important to remember that Deems is only a teenager who is in way over his head. Deems is surprised and perhaps embarrassed by Lightbulb’s presence because he catches Deems in a vulnerable moment. Additionally, Deems is upset because one of the few people who he had a positive relationship with is now his enemy. Sportcoat’s decision to shoot Deems is evidently as much a mystery to Deems as it is to everyone else.
Deems always liked Sportcoat because he wasn’t like the other members of the Five Ends Church. Deems thinks that the other members of the church spent too much of their time “complaining about nothing” and waiting for God to solve their problems. But Sportcoat rarely complained and had something that the others did not: happiness. Happiness is incredibly rare in the Cause, and Sportcoat was the only figure in Deems’s life that had it. Growing up, Deems’s grandfather was miserable, and Deems’s mother saved all of her love for Jesus and the Bible rather than Deems. Deems’s mother didn’t even come and visit him when he went to prison. Because of this, Sportcoat became the primary light in Deems’s childhood. Deems has plenty of fond memories of playing baseball with Sportcoat and going on trips with him.
There is a fundamental optimism about Sportcoat that Deems enjoys, although it is fair to wonder if Sportcoat’s positivity is at least, in part, the result of his alcoholism. Regardless, Sportcoat was always there for Deems in ways that his parents and grandparents were not. Additionally, Deems’s mother’s relationship with religion explains why Deems would turn away from the church. However, his turn away from baseball is more puzzling and can really only be explained by a desire for money and power.
However, despite all of Deems’s positive memories of Sportcoat, he is still furious with him. He begins talking out loud with Lightbulb about the status of their business and about Sportcoat. Although he doesn’t want to see Sportcoat hurt or killed, Deems knows he cannot simply let the incident go. He agrees that they should send Earl after Sportcoat to teach Sportcoat a lesson. However, Deems makes it clear that he does not like Earl. He thinks Bunch and Earl cost him too much money for the services they provide. Deems believes it might be best to ask Joe Peck to find him better men. However, for now, Deems decides to wait and see how the situation with Sportcoat plays out.
Once again, it appears that the drug dealers are not quite as cruel as the residents of the Cause think. Deems also isn’t letting Sportcoat off the hook completely, but he doesn’t want to see the old deacon dead either. Also, this scene sets up a stark contrast between Deems and Bunch. While Bunch is impatient and bullheaded, Deems is willing to wait for the right opportunity to strike.