With his chin nearly touching his chest, Bob stood in the dark cubbyhole, sorting through the tools: a dull hatchet, several hammerheads with no wooden grips, of course, an assortment of wrenches, two warped saws and several broken screwdrivers seemed to be the best of the bunch. A hand-painted sign on the side of the box read, ‘CHEAP’ but any price was too much. Nothing sharp and everything oxidized to the point of breakage with very little torque; Bob thought, the sign should read, ‘TRASH.’
Still he looked, carefully flipping the contents with a gloved hand; after all, the local hospital had run out of tetanus shots years and years ago. Even the pine box that housed the antiques had water stains on it. He tilted his head back and noted the gray ripples on the ceiling. The whole store showed a general lack of care. The owners were probably some left-wing malcontents.
“Damn waste,” he said, speaking to no one in particular, except the swirling dust motes. Still he kept sorting; half hoping that he’d find some forgotten treasure and one-hundred percent certain that there wasn’t anything else in the shop of any interest to him. His wife, on the other hand, was always mesmerized by anything from the 21st century.
“Bob,” his wife called. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just looking at these tools,” he said, tossing a hammerhead back into the rotting crate.
His wife sighed with relief. “Good,” she said. “For a moment, I thought you were peeing.”
He pivoted away from the closet, sweeping the sawdust on the floor into dirty, brown drifts that piled up against his boots and frowned at her. Sometimes Martha acted like he didn’t have any civilization about him.
Martha stood on the far side of the store in the Electrical Department. Something had cocked her interest; he could tell. She had that sparkle in her eyes and she was bent over some gizmo, rubbing it, checking the price tag and talking to herself.
He moseyed across the floor and stood beside his wife.
“Oh, Bob,” she said, “do you remember these things?”
He did not, but he wasn’t going to admit it. He lifted the tag and pause for a moment, struggling with the word. “Sure,” he said. “It’s a vac-u-ma. And the owners want five whole dollars for it.” He blew out a breath of air that sounded a lot like, ‘pifft.’
“It’s a vacuum, dear,” she corrected. “And the tag says that it’s in good working order.”
“Well, obviously they don’t use a vacuum around this place or a stiff broom for that matter.”
“When I was a child, Momma would let me vacuum the entire house,” she said. Her hand glided over the rubber hose, which had seen better days. Dry rot, he thought. Rubber just did not hold-up over the years. No doubt, she intended to plug the holes with his precious resin, as if that would work.
He grunted, noncommittally.
“A vacuum sucks up the dust and dirt, like nobody’s business,” she said. “It made everything so neat and tidy, back in the good ole days. Vacuums kill fleas too, you know.”
Clearly, his woman was infatuated with the electrical doodad, and that meant it was time to insert some practicality into her dream world. He stooped down and lifted the butt of the oval canister, as if checking for its sex organs.
“Aha,” he said. “It says right here: 12.0 AMP. That’s point-one-two kilowatt hours of electricity. Outrageous! Do you think I’m made of money, woman?”
“Oh, but I wouldn’t use it everyday,” Martha said. “Just once a week.”
“Still too much,” he said. “You’ll drain the batteries, and you know what happens when the batteries are completely drained. No, Martha. It’s not the five dollars for the machine; it’s the cost of running it.”
“Next thing you know, you’ll be wanting to pour some toxic cleanser down the toilet to make it all shiny white.”
“I’d never,” she said, hushing him. “I’m a good citizen. I’d never pollute the water table.”
People were beginning to stare, but he smiled as Martha moved away from the barmy machine.