The doorbell rang at 9:15 Saturday morning. The man opened it to find his next door neighbor. She wore rubber garden boots stained with mud and matching mud stained gloves. Leaves clung to the sleeves of her red, flannel shirt.
“Looks like you used some confetti the other night,” she said.
The “other night” had been New Year’s Eve, and had culminated in a drunken round of karaoke followed by nearly one-hundred dollars worth of various confetti poppers. Since that night, colored strips of paper had blown around the street, lodging themselves amongst the rocks and fallen leaves. Tiny plastic bottle shaped poppers lay in the grass and gutters; the wind carrying much of it into the neighboring yards.
“Oh,” the man said, vaguely recalling the midnight festivities, as scraps of colored paper blew across his front lawn and got caught up in a tangle of Morning Glory, “I guess we did.”
“Yes, well I’ve been attempting to vacuum it up all morning.” On her shoulder she wore a leaf blower converted into a type of garden vacuum. It had a big white bag and a long, black tube with a large round opening for sucking up leaves, and apparently confetti.
“I see,” said the man. Five minutes earlier he’d been in bed contemplating trying to wake his sleeping wife with a gentle nudge from his stiff morning solider. All thoughts of pleasure vanished in the face of his neighbor’s scowl.
“Well how about if I send my son out to help you? How would that be?”
“I’d appreciate that,” the woman answered. “The wind has carried quite a bit of it into our yard, and you know with Fred’s back he’s not able to take care of it.” Not waiting for a response she turned and readjusted her vacuum as she walked down the drive-way.
The man closed the front door and sighed. He walked into the kitchen and opened the pantry door. He selected a filter from the stack sitting a wire basket that hung from a nail and set about making himself a pot of coffee. He rinsed out the pot and filled it with cold water from the refrigerator. Once the coffee was brewing he went into the family room where his 14-year old son was absorbed in an episode of Sponge Bob.
“That was Sandy at the door,” the man said. “In case you were wondering.”
The boy grunted in response, not taking his eyes from Sponge Bob and Patrick’s latest misfortune.
“Yes, well I told her that you’d go out and help her clean up the confetti from New Year’s Eve.”
“Why did you tell her that?” the boy asked, his attention suddenly drawn from the TV.
“Because it’s our confetti, and it was you and your friends that shot off most of that stuff.”
“Well you’re the one who bought it,” the boy said defiantly.
“Fine,” the man said. “I’ll remember that for next year and not get anything.”
The boy grumbled and slowly hoisted himself off the couch.
“Fine,” he said. He slipped on his sneakers over his bare feet and threw on a sweatshirt, leaving the room without shutting off the TV.
When the front door closed the man returned to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. He stood at the kitchen window watching as the neighbor lady showed the boy how to use the vacuum. She was pointing at something on the ground while she spoke. The boy’s disinterested gaze followed her finger around the yard. The man turned away and set about making himself a fried egg and an English muffin.
As he was pouring himself a second cup of coffee he heard a terrible grinding noise from out front. Looking out the window he saw his neighbor pulling the vacuum from his son’s hands. He could hear her yelling something but could not make out what it was. With a sigh he threw on a coat and some slippers and went out front.
“I told you not to run it at full power,” the woman was saying. “Now you’ve gone and sucked up a rock, just like I warned you about.”
The man reluctantly approached.
“What’s the problem?”
“Your son just sucked a big rock into my vacuum and likely broke the mulching blade,” she answered. “I specifically told him not to turn it on so high.”
“It wasn’t working on the low speed,” the boy protested. “That thing sucks.” The boy smirked at his own witticism.
“If this is broken I’m going to expect you to replace it,” the woman said.
“Unbelievable,” the man thought. “You practically demand our help, and then give your vacuum thing to a kid, and you’re surprised when he breaks it?” He held his tongue. All he could do was hope it wasn’t broken. The boy had already gone back inside, probably already back to watching Sponge Bob too.
“I think my blower has a similar vacuum feature,” the man said. “I’ll see if I can find it.”
“You might have considered that before-hand,” the neighbor replied.
Gritting his teeth, the man navigated his garage and found the leaf blower hanging on a nail from a piece of rope. He located the vacuum bag up on a shelf behind an old typewriter. He took a tangled, orange extension cord patched with black tape from another nail, and carried all of it to the drive-way. His son opened the door leading from the kitchen to the garage.
“Can I eat this?” He held a plate containing a fried egg and a toasted English muffin. “And we’re out of milk,” he informed the man before shutting the door.
The man sighed and went about untangling the extension cord. His neighbor fired up her own machine, now converted back to a leaf blower, and went to work.
The man stood in his drive-way, eyes closed, his grip strong on the vacuum as confetti filled the air around him.
Joseph A. Romano