By Warren Brown

            Rebecca trundled her ancient vacuum cleaner back and forth across the living room rug, the un-swept parts looking cleaner to her than the ones she’d already cleaned. The knock came as a welcome relief. She shut off the vacuum, which wound down with a squeal.

            When she opened the front door, she found a dapper looking young man in a checked sport coat and shiny Florsheims, one hand gripping the handle of a black leather sales case, the other resting on the handle of a sleek shape of aluminum and shining enamel.

            "Good morning, ma'am," said the young man, "I wonder if you might spare a few minutes of your time?" He handed her a card,


Jimmy Sims

Sales Representative

Kirby Vacuum Cleaners


            Rebecca’s French-Canadian heritage said time and money were not to be wasted. Buy what you need, not what someone tries to sell you.    But there was something about this young man that appealed to the grandmother in her, and, even more, there was something about the gleaming implement standing next to him that interested her, so she invited him in.

            "I see you've been doing some cleaning," Jimmy said, nodding at the ancient device Rebecca had been using for decades. "Those were good machines in their day."

            Jimmy went on to explain how in-depth studies of air flow, suction, and their application to common house dust and dirt particles led to improved vacuum cleaner design incorporated into the Kirby vacuum cleaner.  Rebecca was captivated. She looked with disdain at her old machine, with its chipped paint and unlovely black bag, its loose wheels and common brand name.

            Jimmy offered her the sleek handle of the Kirby. The powerful electric motor whirred into action when Rebecca pressed the switch, and she was off and vacuuming.

            True, the machine was a little heavier than her old one, but its wheels turned smoothly, and its bright headlight shone into places she had previously had trouble seeing. It was obviously superior to anything she had ever cleaned with. It was love at first vacuuming.

            Her husband Fred and Taft, her son-in-law, entered the living room holding beers. Her grandson Andy followed with a coke. Introductions were made.

            “That’s a good looking machine,” Fred said from the depths of his recliner and Taft and Andy agreed.

            “It’s really nice,” Rebecca said carefully, not wanting to appear as if some salesman had convinced her of the value of a thing.

            “It’s the last vacuum you would ever need to buy,” Jimmy Sims said cheerfully. “Kirby’s run forever,” he added, smoothly over the suggestion of pending mortality that might be implied by his first comment.

            “Nothing runs forever, Bud,” Fred offered in a tone designed to settle the matter.

            Jimmy Sims moved smoothly into describing the various attachments: the carpet cleaner, the sprayer, the power takeoff, the atomic pile . . .

            Taft rose from the couch, took the handle of the machine, and lifted the vacuum off the floor.

            “It’s pretty heavy. I’d hate to have to carry this around.”

            Rebecca, concerned that the men in the family were coming between herself and the Kirby, said, “I don’t pick up my vacuum. I roll it on its wheels. This vacuum is very easy to push.”

            Sensing an ally, and a sale in the works, Jimmy Sims added, “My wife has one just like this and she’s very frail. She had scarlet fever when she was young.” Jimmy, who was single, hoped that scarlet fever was something that would make a woman frail as an adult.

            “So, what does this machine cost?” Taft asked. “It looks expensive.”

            “It’s hard to put a price on quality, sir. This machine will give top of the line service for a long time, and there’s an easy payment plan.”

            “Payment plan,” Andy jumped in. “Who ever heard of a payment plan for a vacuum cleaner? It’s not a car or a house.”

            “Well, ordinarily I can’t sell this machine for less than,” he gave an outrageous price, “but I’ve met my sales quota for this month, and you seem like nice folks, so I can offer this to you, with attachments, for,” he gave a less outrageous price, but one that could have bought several Hoovers.

            The room was silent.

            “And a lifetime warranty on parts.”

            Rebecca looked Fred straight in the eye. “I really like this vacuum cleaner. The one we have now is old and hard to push and doesn’t clean the carpet like it should. You don’t have to push it,” she added.

            Fred rubbed his chin with a big hand. He had been born into a family of Scots Canadians and was never one to part with a dollar unless it was for something he really needed, like a new shotgun or hound or the big color TV crouching against the living room wall, one of the first color TVs in town. Rebecca sure seemed to like that machine, though, and she wasn’t one to ask for a lot. On the other hand, it wasn’t in his nature to buy something right off the bat.

            “How about you leave me your card, bud? We’ll talk about this a little and let you know what we want to do.”

            “Well, sir, that’s fair. But I need to tell you that I can’t offer this deal past this coming Monday.”

            Fred nodded. “Don’t worry about that. It won’t take us that long to decide.” And by us, Fred meant himself, with maybe a little advice from Taft and Andy. It was a machine, after all, and what did women know about machines, other than sewing machines that is.



“It’s awfully expensive,” Taft observed as the three men conferred later that day, seated at the picnic table in Fred’s back yard. Taft had brought over his Consumer Reports magazine, and the three men had their heads together over the vacuum rating pages, peering at the series of partly filled circles that indicated the quality of various test results.

“Looks to me like this Hoover picks up nearly as good as that Kirby,” Fred observed.

“That’s what I thought,” Taft said. “And the money difference is huge.”

“But grandma really likes that Kirby,” Andy said. “I think she’s going to be disappointed with anything else.”

Rebecca watched them from the kitchen window. Men. Stooped over their stupid magazine, figuring out what I want. Stupid is right. She blew on her tea, examining the cup with its pink roses and green vines all intricately enameled. It was one of the many beautifully decorated tea cups in her cupboard. People tended to gift them to her on birthdays and Christmases. She couldn’t understand why or how that had gotten started. Now she was almost out of cupboard space for them, yet they kept arriving. She didn’t have the heart to tell people that she had no interest in or desire for decorative tea cups.  But she had made it clear that she wanted that Kirby. There was no misinterpreting that. Yet here were these men discussing it as if it were the Treaty of Versailles.  Merde, she muttered.



            The Monday of Jimmy Sims’ deadline came and went. There was no sign of the Kirby. Rebecca had decided not to press Fred about it. She had made her desires clear, and as bookkeeper and banker for the family, she knew to the penny what their cash position was. There was no doubt they were in a position to buy that machine.

            It would soon be deer hunting season, and weeks would be taken up at the cabin up North, with no opportunity to do anything concerning household appliances. Something needed to happen this week. She was sure of it.

            The week dragged by. Every day Rebecca answered knocks at the front door expecting to see Jimmy Sims and the gleaming Kirby, but it was always Fuller Brush or Driggs Dairy or the cleaners or the Monroe Evening News kid coming to collect. By Saturday, she was losing hope. Next weekend they would be leaving for the cabin in St. Helen, and if she wanted to give the house a good vacuuming before heading up North, she wanted to do it with that shiny new Kirby.

            The Beagle hounds began barking in the back yard. She looked out the window above the kitchen sink and saw a panel truck pulling up the driveway. The large printing on the side of the truck read House Of Vacuums, Sales and Service, All Brands. As Rebecca dried her hands on a dishcloth, she noticed they were shaking. Bughouse, she thought. I’m bughouse. It’s just a vacuum cleaner.

            Minutes later the truck pulled away and before long, she heard Fred’s boots on the stairs up from the back door. The kitchen door opened and he ducked his head inside.

            “Hey, Ma. Can you come out to the back yard and help me with something.”

            Rebecca put down the dish towel she’d been holding ever since she saw the truck pull in and anxiously followed Fred to the back yard patio.

            “I got this for you.”

            Rebecca stared at the gleaming machine that Fred had unboxed and assembled.  

            “I talked it over with Taft and Andy. Taft and I thought the Kirby was awfully expensive for a vacuum cleaner. Andy thought we ought to get the Kirby ‘cause you wanted it so much, but kids, what do they know about spending money? I mean a new vacuum is what you needed . . . “

            Fred didn’t usually talk so much, but Rebecca wasn’t listening to him anyway. She was staring at the new vacuum, a coral-colored Hoover.


            That evening, when Fred went out to run his Beagles, Rebecca sat at the kitchen table, drinking tea and considering the Hoover where it sat in the corner of the kitchen.

             She went to the cabinet where all the fancy tea cups were stored. Birthdays, Christmases, Mother’s Days, Easters. One by one, she arced them gently through the air until the kitchen floor was a sharp jigsaw of broken China.

            Then she plugged in the Hoover, turned it on, and rolled it back and forth across the debris, listening to the clangs and clicks as pieces of broken cups hit the impeller again and again before finally being pushed into the bag.

            The odor of overloaded, burning, dying motor windings filled the air. It picks up pretty good, Rebecca thought as she guided the tortured machine back and forth across the kitchen floor.