It was dark outside, but Momma let the man in the door. It was almost time for wrestling, I said. But Momma let the man in the door. Why don’t you come in, she said, looking angry as sin that she’d said it, but knowing she’d done it because it was dark and no man should be out so late. She even said that. No man should be out so late.
Not a mean bone in her.
He said, how y’all doing this evening, but it was dark outside and wrestling was about to start so I didn’t say nothing back, just glared at that thing he brought in with him. He dragged it behind him like a dog that don’t like people. Look here, he said to Momma, he said, look at this here wonder of innovation. The hunk of plastic wasn’t anything new. Purple in two places and a long tube connecting them.
Momma pushed her fists into her waist. She scowled and ignored her wet apron and the dirty dishes still waiting behind her, piled up next to the sink.
He said, I was wondering if you could show me what you have in your closet. Momma looked between the man and his companion for a few seconds like she was struggling with her emotions and then said, why don’t you go down and bring that ole vacuum cleaner up from the cellar. By you she meant me. She threw me a look. It said, don’t you say nothing, we got guests. So I didn’t.
But I had some of my father’s bones in me, enough to be rebellious and dramatic, but not enough to be mean. I rolled my head and jerked my body, shaking with every step like I’d been dropped to the end of the line by the hangman himself. She knew wrestling was about to start, I thought.
I heard his pitch through the floorboards as I searched the dank and dust of our basement. He said, now when’s last time you vacuumed up this carpet, would it be a’right if I do it now. She told him Tammie Mae don’t come ‘round but every other Thursday. Last time she been here was Thursday ‘fore last. He said, there’s a good amount of dust and gunk then in this here carpet. She said she supposed so, upset that he hadn’t heard that she don’t use the thing herself, that he was selling the wrong person. Can’t help stupid, I thought.
Our vacuum looked a half-century old like something from an ad where the housewife wears a dress, an apron, and a smile. It stood upright, alone in a corner. The metal handle felt cold. I lifted it with both hands, pulling it above my head as high as I could go. It wasn’t near high enough. The yellow base of the thing, branded with a red stamp that said Hoover, grazed the ground with each step, knocking the front of each stair as I climbed one foot at a time.
Momma heard me climb the stairs—BANG BANG BANG—and yelled at me after the third step, you be careful with that thing.
When I turned the corner at the top of the steps, breathing fresh above-ground air, the man gave me a smile like I’d been his partner in crime. Maybe he thought I’d been trying to break the thing to help him out. Truth was it was heavy and awkward to carry. I hated him more for his confusion.
When’s he leaving, I thought and wondered if I would still catch the tag team match, which was the best. The Nasty Boys or the Natural Disasters or High Energy. Were they all still around? Momma didn’t always let me watch wrestling, didn’t like the violence or that it was on so late. Might have to catch it on Sunday when we’re back from church and she’s upstairs on the phone with grannie.
Lemme show you sumthin’ else, he said. He took the metal beast from me and plugged it in. The vacuum’s light glowed and it gave a shriek like a jet gearing up for take-off. But it was just a vacuum, plain and old. The man took a flashlight that he’d had lying around somewhere and shined it behind our vacuum.
You see this here, he shouted, this is dust that’s going into your air.
Momma and I saw what he said was true. I was a little impressed and held my breath for a moment, afraid it’d all choke me. But Momma just stared like it was a trick from the fair or something.
The man flicked the old thing off and then turned to his poor plastic animal. He said, this here don’t have a bag. It’s new tek-naaw-low-gee. That’s how he said it, he did. Like a dying rodent that couldn’t finish a simple syllable.
I can’t forget the sound of that word in his voice, the thing that cemented that he didn’t know the first thing about vacuums or the future or what was good for us.
I don’t think so, Momma said when he asked her if she was interested.
He gave a sigh and then slammed his new vacuum toward the door. He said, I don’t understand why you had me come in if you wasn’t int’rested. Why’d you have me show you all this?
It was dark and you shouldn’t be out, Momma said and led him to the door.
I feel like you really might want this though, he persisted. Man doesn’t know when he’s lost.
Wish I did, she said keeping the screen door open long enough for him to make it through with his things.
He shook his head and muttered, I don’t understand some people, and pulled himself back to his Chevy, half broken in our driveway, the rust spots spreading up and around the base. He was still shaking his head when he closed the trunk, moved to the driver’s seat, turned on the car, the dashboard illuminating his displeasure, and turned around to guide his way back onto the road.
It was only ten after and I knew I’d get wrestling now. Thank God.