Vaccuum

They were already running late for their friend’s wedding and in the midst of yet another screaming match, following another long period of indifferent, mutual silence. It was the only forms of communication they had.

Marriage counseling had run its course for Jimmy and Julia spiraling out of control down a dead end street. Even though it was the last thing either one of them wanted, it had become abundantly clear that there was only one possible outcome.

Perhaps if they both knew that following every fight, they would both retreat into their own private corner of the house to cry and pray that things would somehow get better between them. But they were too wrapped up in their own misery to notice one another.

“The world isn’t going to stop just so you can finish getting ready,” Jimmy finally said, boiling over with frustration.

“Shut the fuck up!” Julia replied back from upstairs. This had become her stock response to just about everything he said. In fact, it got to the point that even a sincere “I love you” warranted a sincere “Shut the fuck up.” The saddest thing of all is that it no longer fazed him.

With the way things were, the last thing either one of them wanted to do was go to a wedding together – a blatant reminder of how far they had fallen. They were simply too far past the point and too exhausted to even consider the notion that attending a wedding could somehow rekindle what had been lost between them. Life had become nothing more than a stale loaf of bread, covered in dried-up mold.

And then the doorbell rang. Just what they needed: an unexpected visitor.

“Are you going to get it?” Julia demanded from upstairs.

“I don’t know who it is,” Jimmy said, hoping the uninvited guest would simply disappear before he had to open the door.

The doorbell rang again.

“Get it!” Julia demanded.

“It’s probably Jehovah’s Witnesses again,” Jimmy said.

“Just tell them we’re not interested.”

As he always did, Jimmy gave in. Lately, however, he had started to give in less so. However, his resistance only worsened their condition. Perhaps, had he tried to nip this problem in the bud from the start, perhaps things would have been different. But now, it was too late.

Jimmy looked out the front window and noticed an old, rusted-out Econoline van parked in the driveway with a decal that simply read: “Mr. Sucks.”

            Sound about right.

Jimmy headed to the door and opened it, revealing a short, sad-looking mustachioed man of presumably eastern European descent. He could have been anywhere from his late 50’s to early 70’s, wearing tight brown dress pants and a yellowed, short-sleeved dress shirt with a hint of body odor. In his hand was a hard suitcase or carrying case of some sort. He appeared like a salesman who had just somehow stumbled out of the 1950’s and landed on their porch. The threat of rain hung in the air.

“Hello,” the man said in an undetectable Euro accent. “I am a representative from Mr. Sucks and I would love to demonstrate our new and exciting product.”

“Mr. Sucks?” Jimmy said, struggling to keep a straight face.

“Yes, sir. Mr Sucks,” the salesman said. “Can I please come in and show you our revolutionary new product that has everyone talking?”

“We aren’t in the market for a vacuum right now, but thank you.”

“Please,” the salesman said, dripping with desperation. “Five minutes. That’s all I ask. Five minutes.”

“We’re kind of in a rush right now. We have somewhere we need to be.”

“Please, sir. Five minutes. I can change your life.”

Assuming that Julia probably needed more than five minutes to finish getting ready, he relented and allowed the sad man in.

“Thank you, sir,” the salesman said. “You will not regret this.”

The salesman struggled to drag the suitcase through the door, presumably trying everything in his power to avoid nicking the doorframe, or – worse – the hardwood floor (which Julia recently dented after throwing a high-heeled shoe at him for some forgotten reason). The salesman gently set the case down on the floor, until his labored breathing forced him to put his hands to his knees for a moment, waiting to catch his breath.

“Are you okay?” Jimmy asked. The man appeared to be on the verge of vomiting.

“Yes. Thank you, sir,” the salesman said, still clasping his knees.

“Can I get you some water?” Jimmy offered.

“No, no no. I don’t want to trouble,” the salesman said, finally regaining his breath. “I’m here to show you Mr. Sucks’ revolutionary new product. It is bound to change your life … forever.”

The pitiful salesman proceeded to open the faux-velvet-lined case, revealing five pieces made of cheap-looking plastic neatly nestled inside. Somehow, these pieces were designed to form a working, functional vacuum cleaner. Jimmy had his doubts, but decided to give the salesman the benefit of the doubt.

“With five easy snaps, you will be ready to clean up any mess. Dry, wet, and everything in-between!” the salesman proclaimed.

Jimmy feigned interest, wishing that he never answered his door at all. Once again, she led him astray. Now, he was forced to deal with this awkward intrusion. Then again, the salesman’s presence was a welcome distraction from his wife.

As Mr. Sucks slowly pulled out each piece to his vacuum puzzle, Jimmy was surprised to feel a dollop of guilt for misleading this man into having hope. He knew well more what it felt like to be led astray by false hope. Then again, hope of any kind was a good thing. In the moment, at least. So he let him do his job. It would make him feel better if the salesman didn’t work strictly on commission; that he still got paid, whether he sold his product or not. But deep down, he knew otherwise.

Slowly, the salesman laid out each piece in front of him.

“Now, we assemble,” he said with a prideful glint in his eye, as though this was the precise moment everyone was waiting for. “Easy does it.”

Jimmy could only wonder what Julia was thinking upstairs. She was probably going to let him have it for not having the balls to turn the intruder away, even though she was the one who insisted he answer the door. He simply couldn’t win.

As the salesman struggled to snap each piece together, Julia came downstairs. She looked beautiful, as always, but he didn’t bother to comment, or even flash a complimentary glance. She had the salesman for that:

“Oh, this must be your beautiful wife, yes?”

“Yes, it is,” Jimmy said.

“Hello, Miss. You are just in time to see a demonstration of Mr. Sucks’ revolutionary new vacuum cleaner. Be sure not to miss your chance to own one today!”

She ignored him, sternly addressing her husband. “We need to go.”

Agreeing with her, Jimmy realized what he had to do.

“Sir, I’m very sorry,” Jimmy began. “But we need to go. We’re running very late.”

“Please, I beg of you,” salesman said, even dropping to his knees, clasping his hands in a desperate plea. “Two minutes. Two minutes and your life will be changed forever.”

The salesman refused to take no for an answer. As he continued to struggle and fumble to assemble his boasted “easy-assemble” vacuum, Julia grew more impatient. A small piece of plastic snapped off, but the salesman didn’t seem to notice.

“Sir, we have to go. We have no interest in buying a vacuum.”

“Please, Miss,” the salesman said. “It will change your life.”

By now, beads of sweat were formed on the hapless salesman’s forehead. Somehow, despite a prolonged struggle, the last piece refused to snap into place. Frustrated, the salesman uttered what was presumably a curse word in his own language. The tone was universal.

“I’m so sorry,” he pleaded. “This is not normal. Just one moment, please.” He was now sweating profusely. Sweat even dripped onto the vacuum itself.

At this point, Jimmy and Julia’s impatience blossomed into stifled laughter. Neither one realized that they were on the same page until their eyes met, at which point the dam broke and for the first time they shared a laugh in weeks … possibly even months.

The salesman was so determined to get the final piece to snap into place, he either ignored their laughter, or was indifferent to it. Perhaps, he was used to it.

The salesman finally got the final piece assembled and looked up with pride.

“Now, I will show you magic. Yes?”

He proceeded to plug the vacuum in, then grabbed a handful of foam peanuts and dramatically threw them onto the floor. He flipped the switch to the vacuum. But it didn’t turn on. He swore again in a language that only he could understand and jiggled the switch, back and forth until the vacuum finally roared to life. It sounded more like a dying weasel.

He attempted to vacuum up the foam peanuts, but it was no use. The vacuum rode over the foam peanuts over and over again, but Mr. Sucks simply refused to live up to its name. Then again, it did exactly that.

“Well, the name of the vacuum couldn’t be more appropriate,” Jimmy said.

Julia let out a hysterical laugh. For once, she laughed at something her husband said. Old times were here again: a time when she used to laugh at all of his jokes – even when they weren’t that funny. A time when he thought she was the best thing that ever happened to him. A time when all the parts of their relationship were easily assembled and functioned like a world-class vacuum cleaner. Unlike the cheap, used one they had become.

“Please, sir,” the salesman said. “Give me one more chance to make magic and change your life.”

“I really think you should go,” Julia demanded. “We are running late.”

“Please, Miss,” the salesman begged.

“We need to go,” Jimmy finally said in step with Julia – a functioning team once more.

For old time’s sake.

Meanwhile the salesman continued to pour his heart and soul into his newfangled gadget, still feverishly attempting to vacuum up the foam peanuts, which continued to hold their ground. Each time he ran over his self-made mess to no avail, he muttered what seemed to be a different cuss word in his native tongue.

“Please, Mister. And Miss,” the salesman said, looking up from his task at hand. “Please, two more minutes.”

“Sir. One last time. You need to go!” Julia said in a demanding tone that Jimmy knew all too well.

And like Jimmy had so many times throughout the course of their marriage, the salesman relented, perhaps realizing there was no negotiating with this woman. In fact, he didn’t even take the time to pack up the vacuum. Defeated, he closed his carrying case and clumsily scooped up it and the vacuum, before he headed toward the door.

Once he reached the porch, the salesman turned around, struggling to remove a business card from his dress shirt pocket, still juggling the vacuum cleaner and case in his arms. It didn’t stop him from attempting one final sales pitch.

“If you decide you are ready to change your life,” the salesman began, out of breath. “You can call Mr. Sucks. You will not regret it.”

“Thank you,” Jimmy said, taking the card.

“Have a good day,” the salesman said in a cheerful manner that served as a thin mask beneath a thick layer of sadness.

And with that, the salesman stepped out the door. It was now raining.

Together, Jimmy and Julia watched the hapless salesman make a clumsy attempt at loading the vacuum and carrying case into the back of the van. He dropped the vacuum onto the wet, hard concrete.

“Fuck!” he shouted in plain English as he continued to struggle to lift his failure off the ground. When he finally got the vacuum loaded in, he struggled to climb into his van, which appeared to take every last ounce of energy from him.

The salesman pulled out of the driveway, only to stall out in the street – not once, but twice. On the third attempt, he finally got the van to start up again, before sputtering away, propelled by an ear-shattering backfire.

Jimmy turned to Julia. “I guess things could always be worse.”

“Yeah. That’s for sure,” she agreed. “That’s for sure.”

They then headed out the door themselves, en route to their friend’s wedding.

“I’m sorry I made us late,” Julia said as they drove off.

“It’s okay,” Jimmy said, offering her a reassuring smile. “It’s not the end of the world.”

He gave her a reassuring smile, before adding:

“You look very beautiful.”

She didn’t respond … but he noticed that a layer of tear had formed in her eyes. That’s when he knew that somehow … someway they were going to be okay.

 

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