There’s a lady already on about her damn therapeutic hairless cats when I get in. Trying to catch my breath, I make it almost to the back row, but of course all 10 or 12 of them are drawn to the smell of what snuck in with me—the lovely, sultry, slightly burned aroma of a running vacuum cleaner needing a good empty.
“…Bea?” someone whispers from my new audience.
“It wasn’t my fault!” Even so, there’s Lenny, lumbering up from the tiny folding chair under him and approaching like he’s just seen me break the most expensive floor model. I shake my head, clutching my right fist tight.
“Did you do it again?” Lenny asks when he gets to me.
“You would have done the same!” And he would have, I mean, we all had different ails – Lenny was convinced he could suck up the biggest stuff, and I had something of a fraternization thing– but we both knew how good it felt to finally have control of the dust.
“Chip,” he says, gesturing with an open hand, referring to the purple 30 Day chip clenched in mine.
“Never!” I rush around him to the ‘stage’ area at the front and grab the mic, though not so fast that I don’t see the look he’s giving me, as if I’m some tangled string clogging up his brush bar.
“This,” I say, tapping my chip on a podium to make sure everyone’s listening, “is a right I have earned. Should I be punished for needing to clean? No!” The cat lady whispers a small “no” to support mine. I suppose her cats aren’t so bad after all.
“We suffer day in, and day out, around dirty people who don’t feel the need to clean up after themselves. And this program,” I make eyes at Lenny, “has tried to help by making us live alongside those… those… suction-haters all the days of our lives!”
“Yeah!” says Ugly Sue. I nod to her before collecting myself.
“It was after a long night of infomercials,” a collective gasp rises from the group, “I know, I know, but to be fair, none of the deals were any good. I mean, an upright Electrolux for $500.00? That certainly wasn’t doing anything for me. And what should I expect after this long, restless night, but for Dena to step out and start making breakfast. Not just any bacon and eggs mind you, she was making…” it almost hurts to say it, “…Toast.”
“And already they were there. The crumbs. But I’m thinking, I haven’t vacuumed in 30 days! It’s beneath me! So I don’t say anything, right? I just take my food and go to the table to focus on my morning paper…until…until she walks straight past me – no consideration at all – into the living room with her food. And following her every footstep was, yes, a trail of crumbs!”
“I knew I had to say something, that I had to stand up for us and our disability, you know? I said to her, I said ‘What are you doing? You’re getting stuff in the carpet!’”
As I’m deciding whether to tell everyone about the ‘other’ feelings, the door at the back of the room opens, letting in the clamour of carts and hangers. I catch a glimpse of someone in a blue, collared t-shirt slipping into the room. Everyone’s noses perk up, but they don’t stop looking at me.
“Do you know what she had the nerve to say back? That it was only crumbs. That she would clean it up later. Well, it was my last straw. If she wasn’t going to hold up her end of the bargain, I was going to have to deal with her my way. Right then I knew I was going to go buy one. And I was going to show her only bread crumbs!”
I raise my fist, waving it at the blue-shirt who’s mumbling to Lenny, who’s pointing at me. Sweat starts pooling behind my ears.
“You guys… you all know I can’t go into Sears, or Wal-mart, or Max’s Cleaners anymore, right? I didn’t have any other choice, I had to come here. Macie’s Thrift is the only other shop with vacuums, and it’s basically our only safe space left. Can’t I claim sanctuary?”
Suddenly Lenny is beside me.
“Did you do what this young man is saying you’ve done?” I give the kid a cold stare for selling me out only to realize he’s looking at me, not with upset, but with something like… admiration.
“Ma’am,” he says, polite, “I’ve watched you walk in here every Wednesday morning for these last two months. I see the way you look at those old dirt-bags, and I know Macie always lets people rent out these rooms and such, so I put two and two together and knew you musta been coming here for help. So when I saw you today Ma’am, walk straight to those vacuums with such strength, and pardon my saying so, but force, I couldn’t help but think a miracle musta happened; that you’d been cured.”
“But then, well you started one of them up Ma’am, and I knew, I knew there was a demon in the woodwork. Something came over you like I’ve never seen. You just kept, turning them on and on until they all were, I swear it. Soon it was like you had sixteen or more hands Ma’am. You managed to outsmart this old carpet in under a minute. But you didn’t stop…you went for the racks and the hats and the drapes… you even passed me over a couple times with the old hose.”
“So, well, basically what I was sent in here to ask you is…”
Then, nervous like a dog scared of a Roomba he stutters,
“Well, w-what we’re wondering is… would you like a job?”
Header Image Copyright Jessica Barratt. Story also available in the EIA’s Short Story Dispenser.
Want to read another comedy? Check out the other story in my “Back-to-Back Comedy Series”, Narcotic.