“Would you kids please be quiet so I can hear the vacuum cleaner?!”
There is a moment’s pause to their raucous playing and yelling as they process the absurdity of her request, followed by shrieks of laughter.
They cluster around, trying to figure out what she’s listening for. She doesn’t know either. Something didn’t sound right. In the relative calm she can now hear it clearly—a squealy-grindy noise from the motor.
“Crud, crud, crud.”
“What? What’s wrong?” Everyone wants answers.
“Oh, the vacuum cleaner is dying,” she responds irritably, shutting it off and pulling the plug out of the outlet.
“Well, I sure don’t think it sounded right!” one of the boys spouts importantly.
“Of course you didn’t.” How can they possibly manage to make it sound so much like proving her wrong when they’re agreeing with her? Supper. She needs to get started on supper.
They see her heading for the kitchen, and they follow.
“I’n hundry.” Her daughter sticks her sucking-finger back into her mouth.
“Do you want an apple?”
Pop. She pulls her finger out.
“No.” Puts it back in her mouth.
“Want a piece of toast?”
“Want a cracker?”
“Well, then I guess you’ll just have to wait until supper.”
“But I’n hundry!”
She starts opening cupboards. “Hooray for you. Wanna help me make supper?”
There is a thoughtful pause. “Uhn. . . no. I anna ice cweam.”
“Well, tough, deary. You can have an apple, a piece of toast, a cracker or wait until supper.” She stares blankly at the cupboards.
“No! I don’t anna!” Her daughter sulks off into a corner, faking a whimper and pretending to be persecuted.
“What is for supper, anyhow?” The boys always want answers.
“I don’t know. Something with ground beef.”
“Bisghetti!!” they yell. She sighs.
“Can’t. I forgot to check before we went to the store; we’re out of spaghetti.” She looks over to the corner. Her daughter has her finger back in her mouth and her blanket clutched to her chest. Her eyes are only half opened as she thumps the wall, gently and rhythmically, with her foot. She’ll be out in another five minutes and sleep until supper.
“How ’bout we just have meatballs, plain, and no sketti?” Giggles all around.
“Yeah, let’s just have meatballs!”
“Guys, we can’t have just meatballs. How about meatballs and mashed potatoes?” Lo, she is a genius. They think she’s brilliant, anyhow, and of course express their delight by making more noise.
“OK, we’ll have meatballs and mashed potatoes and gravy. How about you guys help me peel the potatoes?”
“I get the best peeler!”
“You always get the best peeler!”
“I can’t hardly peel at all ‘less I get the good peeler!”
She closes her eyes and shuts the cupboard doors.
* * *
Her husband came home while she was mashing the potatoes and Miss Finger-Sucker was very grumpily waking up. He was late, but early for him. The cry “Daddy’s home!” triggered the stampede to the door.
“Hi, Squirts.” He closed the door and ruffled their hair. She glanced over. He wasn’t smiling. As usual.
“Hi, Hon; how was your day?” She asked him.
“Fine.” Liar. He leaned over the counter to give her the ritual I’m-Home kiss. “How was yours? Anything happen today?”
The kids can always beat her to the punch.
“The vacuum cleaner broke!” They announce it like it’s good news. She cringes. He looks over to her for confirmation.
“The motor’s dying,” she admits. Blabbermouths. Tattletales.
He sighs and sits down, muttering something under his breath she is sure he didn’t think she or the children would be able to hear. He possibly didn’t even realize he’d said it. This was dumb. He shouldn’t have to worry about a stupid broken vacuum cleaner.
“You know, I’ve been thinking.” She plopped the potatoes onto their plates. “How about we just rip all the carpeting up? It’s a pain to have to vacuum it all the time anyway.”
“Fine.” He began eating mechanically. She wondered if he was even tasting it.
“Daddy, we helped make it!”
“Yep! Me ‘n him ‘n him an all of us helped to do it mostly!”
“No wonder it’s so good.” No, he probably wasn’t tasting it. He caught her watching him. “It’s going to look awful under the carpets, you know.”
“Oh, so what. We’ll paint the floors bright green or something.” Hys-ter-ic-al. The kids erupted into laughter. The idea of bright green floors kept them going the whole meal long, which was good because it helped cover some of the silence. He finished eating and stood up.
“I’m going to bed.”
He must have caught something in her voice, because he stopped, turned around and looked at her.
“Want some help with the dishes, babe?” he asked gently.
“Nah, the kids’ll help me. You’re tired; go to bed.”
“Are you sure?”
He hesitated. Please don’t go to bed. Please don’t go to bed.
He went to bed.
* * *
Everyone else was in bed now, and the lights were all off. She had just finished taking a shower, and was getting a drink from the kitchen sink. She stood in the darkness looking out into the moon-lit yard. A tear welled up in her eye, and that was the real reason she’d stayed up to take a shower. She’d hoped to get in a good cry with no witnesses, while everyone else slept.
A few tears grew fatter and fatter and finally rolled down her cheeks, but that was all. She just felt too tired to really cry. The glass felt cold in her hands. Everything looked still and lifeless in the harsh moonlight.
If only he’d smile. If only he’d want to do something, anything besides go to bed. If only he was here, if only he didn’t have to have such long hours, if only. . .
The kids really, really need new shoes.
She scowled out into the night, put her glass down abruptly, and went to bed.
Yay, bravo, encore and all of that.
You know how people always say to writers “How do you come up with this stuff?!” Like they think that everything is oh-so-carefully planned out and built, like a house. Well, it’s not. Well, I don’t know, maybe for other people it is. Not for me. I was up in the my sewing room, and I could hear the kids making a racket, and suddenly into my subconcious pops “Will you kids please be quiet so I can hear the vacuum cleaner?!” This is, of course, hysterical, because most people yell at you to shut the vacuum cleaner off so they can hear the people, not ask the people to shut up so they can hear the vacuum cleaner. However, if you’ve ever spent the winter with a bunch of little kids, you might perhaps have some sympathy to the idea that the rather regular noise of the vacuum cleaner might be the noise you’d prefer listen to for a while. But really, who in their right mind would want to listen to a vacuum cleaner? So I had to find a home for that absurd thought that popped into my head.
Yes, I wrote the entire story just so I could have someone yell “Will you kids please be quiet so I can hear the vacuum cleaner?!”