This flash fiction piece was published by *thick jam in April of 2014. A couple years after this publication, the site closed. Read about the closed magazine here.

Santa-Seeming, Hook-Having, Vacuum Man

by Grady Jane Woodfin

There is a knock on my door.

It is the vacuum cleaner guy again.

I open the door, glancing at where his left hand would be, and in its place, there is a flesh-colored metal hook.

“I have your vacuum ready,” he says.

 

“I just made some tea,” I say.  I open the door a little wider.

He rolls in my vacuum with his good hand.  His eyes search my living room that hasn’t been vacuumed in two years.

“I’ll grab the tea,” I say, going to the kitchen.  I want to see how he holds the cup with his hook.

When I get back, the hook-hand, vacuum-fixer guy is sitting on my couch.  One of his legs is resting on the other.  I hand him his cup.

He takes and holds it with his good hand, but his hook stirs the warm tea.

“Thank you for fixing my vacuum,” I say.

“Your kids are beautiful,” he goes.

He is staring at the pictures on my fireplace.

I sip my tea.  “They were lovely,” I say.

“Were?”

 

I go, “Yes, were.”

There is silence as we sip our tea.

 

“Do you have any kids?” I ask

“Once.”

“Significant other?”

“Once,” he says.

Once, so did I.

“They have your eyes,” he says.

 

I glance at Jackson and Liz on the mantle, but I all I see is him.  I’m not sure which is more painful: my children being in the ground or that the love of my life isn’t around to help me deal with it.

“This is good tea,” he says.

“What happened to your hand?” I ask.

He laughs.  “It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

“But the vacuum fixing industry makes me a busy man.”

I smile.  He has rosy cheeks and a button nose.  His early fifties features remind me of Santa, but he’s not round.  Just in his face, I see Santa.

“I lost it at a factory job,” he says.  He takes a sip of tea.  “I was young and working the assembly line.  I wasn’t paying attention and the chopper sliced my hand clean off.”

I hold my left hand in my right.

“Do you live here alone?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

 

“I live alone, too, but it’s not so bad.”

There’s a scar on my left hand from a kitchen knife.  I was making dinner for him back before I got pregnant.  We were drinking wine after work.  Our apartment kitchen was small.  So small, it was hard for two people to stand, so he would just watch me cook from the counter.  We would laugh and talk.  I’d sliced my finger while hearing him talk of his day.  He ran cool water over the cut and bandaged it up.  He was almost a little angry with me for being so clumsy.  But I could see his face in my mind.  His furrowed, angry brow—his concerned face for me.

“I’ve gotten used to living alone,” I say.

“Shall we see if the vacuum works?” he asks.

I nod.

He plugs it into the wall and scratches his head.

“Is it supposed to do something?”

“Yes,” he says, “It’s supposed to suck up the dirt.”

“It doesn’t seem to be sucking,” I say.

“Do you have tools?” he goes.

“In the garage,” I say.  He follows me, pulling the vacuum with his good hand.

In the garage, the Santa-seeming, hook-having, vacuum man picks up a hammer from my poor assortment of tools.

He bangs the hammer against the plastic frame of my vacuum, leaving a crack.

“I think it’s broken,” he goes.

He hands me the hammer.

In my reflection of my face in the vacuum’s plastic body, I see my children’s eyes.

I slam the hammer into the vacuum, and plastic pieces fall to the floor.

“Again,” he says.

I think of Jackson and Liz and hit the vacuum again.

Then him.

I hit the vacuum again.

My eyes swell with tears as I continue to destroy my vacuum.

The man places his hook on my shoulder.

 

“I have more,” he says.

We cry together.