Vacuum


by R.J. Fox Jr.

They were already running late for their friend’s wedding in the midst of yet another screaming match. It was the only way they really knew how to communicate now, with the exception of long periods of indifferent, mutual silence.
After marriage counseling had run its course, Jimmy and Julia were spiraling out of control and heading on a collision course to the end, which was the last thing either one of them wanted. However, no matter how hard they tried, nothing seemed to work.
Sadly, little did Jimmy and Julia know, that following every fight, they each retreated to their own private corner and cried and prayed that things would somehow get better between them. Maybe if they were both aware of this, things could be different, and somehow, things could be fixed. But they were too wrapped up in their own misery to notice.
“The world isn’t going to stop just so you can finish getting ready,” Jimmy finally said, boiling over with frustration.
“Shut up!” Julia replied back from upstairs. This had become her stock response to just about everything he said lately. In fact, it had gotten to the point that even a sincere “I love you” warranted a sincere “Shut up.” The saddest thing of all is that it didn’t even faze him anymore. Nothing she said did. She might as well have been speaking gibberish to 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. 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.
Ding-dong!
            “Are you going to get it?” Julia demanded from upstairs. He was hoping to just ignore it until the person went away.
            “I don’t know who it is,” Jimmy said, hoping the uninvited guest would simply disappear.
DING-DONG!
            “Get it!” Julia demanded.
            “It’s probably Jehovah’s Witnesses again,” Jimmy huffed.
            “Just tell them we’re not interested.”
            As he always did, Jimmy gave in. Yet, lately, he’d slowly started giving in less so. However, his resistance only worsened their condition. With their inevitable end in sight, he had to start looking out for himself since he was all that he was likely to end up with. Of course, if he had tried to nip this problem in the bud from the start, perhaps things would have been different. 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.” That about sums it up, Jimmy thought to himself.
            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, wore 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 seemed like a salesman who had just somehow stumbled out of the 1950s and landed on their porch. The threat of rain hung in the air.
            “Hello,” the man said in an undeniably 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. In happier times, he wouldn’t have been able to.
            “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 door frame, 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, worried that the man was about to puke.
            “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 eagerly proclaimed.
Jimmy feigned interest, wishing he just initially turned the salesman away to avoid this awkward intrusion. On one hand, the salesman’s presence was a welcome distraction from his wife. On the other hand, he was too riled up to have the patience to deal with an increasingly incompetent solicitor.
As the salesman slowly pulled out each piece to his vacuum puzzle, Jimmy was surprised to feel slightly guilty, as though he misled this man into having hope. On one hand, the last thing he wanted was to give the salesman false hope. Yet, on the other hand, he wondered if hope (of any kind) was what the salesman needed more than anything. So he let him do his job. At the very least, he hoped 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, but surely, 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. Of course, he didn’t want to answer the door to begin with. 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. Apparently, that was what the salesman was for:
            “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 late.”
            “Please, I beg of you,” salesman said, even dropping town 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 his 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; no matter the language, the tone of cursing is universal.
            “I’m so sorry. This is not normal. Just one moment, please,” the salesman begged, 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 in weeks--possibly even months--they shared a laugh.
            The salesman was so determined to get the final piece to snap into place, he either ignored their laughter, or was indifferent to it. More than likely, he was used to it.
            With sheer determination, the salesman finally got the final piece assembled and looked up with pride.
            “Now, I will show you magic. Yes?”
            The salesman 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, a sound which, remarkably, resembled that of a dying weasel.
            The salesman then attempted to vacuum up the foam peanuts, but it was no use. The vacuum rode over the foam peanuts again and again, but Mr. Sucks simply refused to suck.
            “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 again.
            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 both the vacuum and case, before heading 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 still wrangling in his arms. He then attempted 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 serving 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 clumsily attempt to load the vacuum and carrying case into the back of the van. He dropped the vacuum onto the wet, hard concrete and swore loudly in that tell-tale language, struggling to pick up 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 tears had formed in her eyes. That’s when he knew that somehow …  someway they were going to be okay.  

R.J. Fox is the award-winning writer of several short stories, plays, poems, a novel and 15 feature length screenplays. Two of his screenplays have been optioned to Hollywood.

His works have been published in the The Naked Feather, The Medulla Review, Lap Top Lit Mag, The Path, Contemporary Literary Review India, Yareah Magazine, One Title Magazine, The Knotted Beard Review, Bareback, The Zodiac Review, Fortunates, Randomly Accessed Poetics, Wordsmiths, Toska, Enhance, Common Line Journal, Cold Noon, Miracle e-Zine, Shadows Express, The Rusty Nail, Airplane Reading, Untapped Cities, The Lyceum, Detroit News, Dearborn Times-Herald, TravelMag and inTravel Magazine.

He is also the writer/director/editor of several award-winning short films. His recent stage directing debut led to an Audience Choice Award at the Canton One-Acts Festival in Canton, MI.

Fox graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and a minor in Communications and received a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Wayne State University.

In addition to moonlighting as a writer, independent filmmaker and saxophonist, Fox teaches English and video production in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, where he uses his own dream of making movies to inspire his students to follow their own dreams. He has also worked in public relations at Ford Motor Company and as a newspaper reporter. He resides in Ypsilanti, MI.


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Belle Rêve Literary Journal is a southern literary experience. Our mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature we can find. We publish new works weekly.