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Drama Fiction Funny

I hesitate, dangling the robotic vacuum over the gaping mouth of my thirteen gallon garbage bin.  As a homesteader and self professed crunchy mom, I detest the wastefulness of discarding an entire small appliance, yet that’s not it.


I’ve already removed the lithium battery for recycling.  The motor, which smells faintly of burnt hair, is beyond repair.  Bits of gummy raisins have fossilized in the treads.  It’s so old the company stopped manufacturing replacement parts ages ago; I checked. So why can’t I bring myself to throw the damn thing away?


“Feels a bit like saying goodbye to an old pet, huh?” Keith puts an arm around my shoulder. 


“She’s eighty four in dog years,” I reply nonchalantly.  I release the bin’s foot pedal, delaying the vacuum’s fate. 


Keith cracks a half smile. “We’ve been married eighty four dog years?”  He lets out a low whistle.  “Remember when you unwrapped it? I  hadn’t seen you that offended since Nancy Mitchell beat out your chili in the county fair.”


“She pinned the blue ribbon to her barn coat for a month afterwards!  Who does that?”


“Nancy’s always been a bit of a gloat, hasn’t she?”


“At least she always pays cash.”


The robotic vacuum cleaner was a birthday gift from Keith during our first year of marriage.  In Keith’s defense, it wasn’t my only gift.  We had already lived together for several years, and though I was a utilitarian gal with no need for jewelry or chocolates, I still liked to be romanced. 


I had raised my eyebrows at the box’s gaudy “as seen on TV” proclamation.


“What’s this?” I had asked, trying to conceal my disappointment with curiosity.


“A Roomba,” Keith had offered helpfully.  He excitedly pointed out all the new and improved features. “Customers are always tracking the farm muck into the house.  And once the baby’s here, I figure this might save you some time. One less thing to do.”


“But,” I protested, “we grow almost all of our own food.  I butcher animals.  I dip candles.  I knit all of our winter mittens, hats, and tops.  I help run a small business from our home.”


“Good point.  Maybe it’s a tax write off!”


“Keith!” I scolded.


“What?” He gave me a boyish grin.  “I don’t see what you’re getting at, Liz.”


“I’m saying, we’re very self sufficient. Don’t you think I can keep on top of the sweeping?”  A Roomba seemed like the ultimate cop-out to me. A device marketed for the wealthy and lazy.  I felt insulted.


“Yeah, but growing our food, raising animals, knitting clothing, doesn’t that give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day?”


“Of course it does.”


“And sweeping?” Keith exaggerated a frown. “Does it spark joy?”


I rolled my eyes but smiled at the Marie Kondo reference. “I suppose not.”


“Then don’t!” I had watched him unpack the box and uncoil the charging cradle.  “It will give us more time with Lilli.”


I smoothed a hand over my round belly.  Keith’s heart was always in the right place. “I guess we can try it.”


“That’s the spirit!” Keith gave me a giddy embrace and kissed our Lilli bump.


“What do you think we should tell our customers?  I’m going to feel a little self conscious about a robot zooming through Ye Olde Country Store.”


Keith shrugged.  “I say we get a second one zipping around here and tell Nancy Mitchell she can have her pick of the litter in the spring.”


                                ******


The first week we had the Roomba, I threatened to ring it’s neck, if it indeed had one. And if that didn’t work, I promised to turn it into a goat toy.  “It’s a good thing Keith likes you,” I had warned.  


The first incident,  Keith insisted, wasn’t Roomba’s fault.  Old Man Hayes must have forgotten to latch our screen door that morning after buying his eggs. Somehow, Roomba managed to push it open during one of it’s haphazard whirring arcs, and out it went.  Our best guess after that, was it made a beeline for the pig sty before somehow returning to the house.


When I came in from morning chores in the barn, the smell of rotting food and animal droppings was so overwhelming my eyes watered.  I shrieked when I saw the smears of brown muck painted like brush strokes throughout the store, into the kitchen, on the carpet and spattered on walls and upholstery.


Keith came running from the front yard where he had been chopping firewood, then stood in the doorway with a mixture of horror and amusement on his face.


“I thought you said this thing only had a two hundred foot radius from the charging base!”


Keith rocked back on his heels, a hand in his pocket, perplexed.  “I’m sure that’s what the manual said.  Guess we have a wild one.  Maybe I should sign it up for puppy school?”  He scooped the Roomba up with his leather glove, and held it in the crook of his arm like an orphan lamb.  How I loved and hated Keith for that sense of humor.


And you said it couldn’t transition over anything taller than half an inch!  How did it make it through the muck of the pig sty?”


“Puppy school and agility school?”


“Ugh.”


“I’ll clean it up.” Keith offered.  “And see if I can tweak the settings.”


“I don’t think that thing is going to work out.”


“I still think it’s going to make our lives easier in the end, Liz.”   Then, he added, “come on Roomba, let’s get you a bath.”


Two days later, when Keith was sure Roomba had completely dried out, he admonished it to be on it’s best behavior before releasing it from the charging dock like a rehabbed animal. It tentatively clicked onto the safety of our kitchen tile, away from me and our country store.  


“Last chance Roomba!” I had called over my shoulder.


It replied with a whir, and picked up something large.  Probably a cheerio. 


“Good boy,” Keith called before heading out to cut more firewood.


That evening, when Keith came in for supper, he kissed me and asked how Roomba had behaved.


“Good, I think.  It buzzed around for a few hours, went to take a nap on it’s charger, and came back out about an hour ago.”


Keith pulled a handful of broken dog biscuit from his barn coat pocket.  They were home made treats for our sheep dogs,  Bilbo and Took.  “Good boy, Roomba,” Keith said as he tossed a bit of cookie into the vacuum’s path.


“Keith, you’re ridiculous.” I chuckled.  


Whir. Whir.  Whir.


“What? I think he like’s it.”


Suddenly, a red light flashed on the top of Roomba.  


“Uh oh, what’s that mean?” I had asked. 


“I think it means it needs to be emptied.”


“You want to change it’s first diaper?” I grinned.


“Sure.” Keith smiled.  “May as well

practice.”


“Well, let me watch how you do it, so I know for next time.”  I inched my face closer to Roomba. 


“Here, see that latch?”


“Uh huh.”


“You just flip it forward like that, and it should release the collection chamber.”  Keith depressed the tab with his thumb, and then replaced it. 


“I’m terrible with gadgets.  Here, let me have a try.”  I attempted to replicate Keith’s movements, and after a few tries, I heard a click.  “Got it!” I untwisted the little garbage chamber proudly, when I saw something moving.  Something gray crawled, then jumped onto my sweater.  I had screamed and dropped the canister of garbage.  I swatted wildly at my chest, then squished the furry mass beneath my boot.  I shuddered.  A giant wolf spider.


I wasn’t normally afraid of spiders, but it felt like this one conspired with Roomba to attack me.


“That’s it!” I yelled.  “I’m done!”  I swatted the other half of Roomba away with my foot. It skittered to the far side of the room.


“Hey that spider could still be roaming the halls if it wasn’t for Roomba.”


“At least I would be none the wiser!”


“I’ll empty it.” Keith promised.


“Stupid machine.  Now I still have to sweep.”  I grabbed the broom and dustpan from the cupboard and started forcefully pushing bristles against tile.  Keith tried to take over but I childishly refused.  That’s when I heard a heavy clink into the dustpan, and caught a glint of gold.  


I pushed aside a dust bunny, some clods of dirt, and a few cheerios.  A thin, worn, out-of-round golden band sat in the corner of the pan.  I picked it up, reverently, and placed it in the palm of my hand.  


“Nanny Lil’s ring!” Keith exclaimed.  “Where in the world did it find that?!”


Nanny’s ring had been missing for close to five years, and she had been gone now for almost three.  She always thought it had come off in the gardens, but Roomba found it somewhere in the house.  I ached for her so often these past six months, wishing she was still here to be promoted to Great Nan. I undid the clasp of my own necklace and carefully slipped the wisp of gold onto my chain.  Keith reassembled Roomba that night and placed it back on the charging cradle.  I hadn’t protested.  I suppose I thought we were even.


*******


I buzz Nanny’s ring back and forth along my chain.  Keith must realize I’m daydreaming because he takes the vacuum from me now and sets it down on the counter.   We study it for a moment; the way tourists might scrutinize an unfamiliar piece of artwork in search of it’s deeper meaning. 


“Remember when Nancy Mitchell gave it that big dent?”


I grin and touch the divot left on the top of the smooth black metal.  A streak of transferred white paint remains. 


“Like it was yesterday.”


“What did she hit it with? I just remember her shrieking bloody murder and then something about blood pressure pills and she made me pull her up a rocking chair.”


“Don’t you remember?  Lilli was going through a craft phase.  Well, more like a google-y eye phase.  She snuck some of my raw angora and glued it, along with about twenty eye balls, to the top.  Nancy thought it was ‘a beast from hell’ when it started whizzing circles around her.  She grabbed one of the broomcorn brooms off the sale rack and started bludgeoning.”


Keith lets out a hearty laugh.  “Oh God, I do remember that. I think she demanded a twenty percent discount that day too for her mental anguish.”


“Yeah, that sounds like Nancy.”


We settle into silence for a long moment. Keith’s face has turned somber, older in the shadows of warm lamplight. The reflection of a kerosene wick quivers in his eyes; threatening to spill over and consume him. “I remember her google-y eye phase too.” 


I paw for Keith’s hand and squeeze it urgently in both of mine.  I can’t linger in this moment with him.  He can’t cry.  Not with me.  He knows though, that I’m fragile.  Brittle like the eggshell of an old hen that can bear no weight but it’s own.  


“You know, I think that’s when I first really started liking her.”


“Who, Nancy?” Keith blinks the sorrow from his eyes, and looks genuinely surprised. 


“No, the vacuum.”


He gives me a forced smile and a shake of his head.  


“Well, she was already a decent vacuum.  But I didn’t know she felt the same way about Nancy as I did.  And she didn’t break.  She was a survivor. That’s the day I decided she was earning her keep.”


 “Oh, so now the vacuum is a she?” Keith says in jest.


“Naturally.”


“I always thought Zumba the Roomba had an androgynous ring to it.”


I can’t help but giggle.  “You are the only one who called her that!”


“But you were my inspiration.”


“I don’t even know how that vacuum got into our bedroom in the first place.  It can’t climb stairs.”


“All I know is you were upstairs looking cute in your jeggings-“


“Yoga pants.” I correct.


“And you were doing that Zumba workout video-“


“Yoga, Keith.  I was doing yoga in my yoga pants.”


Keith playfully dismisses me.  “And somehow you tripped over Roomba and next thing I know we’re in the ER and you’re getting a short arm cast. You were pretty out of it with the pain meds when the ortho doc asked what happened.”


“And?”


“I told him you zumba-ed over a Roomba  and went kaboom-a.”


I smile wide and feel the warm blush of embarrassment on my cheeks. Somehow, he’s never told me this part of the story before. I slap the back of my hand on Keith’s bicep.  “Oh my God, you did not!”


Keith raises his right hand in feigned seriousness.  “Scout’s honor, I did.”


“But Doctor Fiske’s wife Sandra is in the PTA with me.  And she’s one of the third grade home room moms!  No wonder she asked me about my fitness goals at the Mother’s Day Tea.  She was teasing -“


Without warning, a sob catches in my throat. 


“Lizzie?” 


I take a step backwards. Blink back tears, shake my head no. Keith envelops me in a warm bear hug.  I don’t refuse it, but I don’t dare let myself sink into it like I want to.  I’m a statue, teetering on the edge of eroding numbness, trying desperately to stay there.  I breath in the scent of sawdust and hay on his shoulder.


“What does it matter anyway,” I mumble into wool.  “I don’t have a third grader anymore.”


“Oh Lizzie,” he breaths.


He strokes my hair, then holds me at arm’s  length.  I feel him searching my face tenderly, but I won’t meet his eyes.  I look at my shoes, the garbage bin, the dancing kerosene flame through a film of tears. I can’t stay numb if I look. Finally, he pulls me back in to safety. His lips tickle my ear lobe, soft stubble bristles my cheek when he speaks.


“We will always have a third grader.”


I nod and nod and nod at my feet until I feel silly, but it’s better than falling apart. I can’t stay numb if I look.


“I can’t throw it out.”


“It’s okay.” Keith whispers.


“It reminds me of her. I should have been there.”


“Lizzie you can’t- it’s just the way things happened.  It’s no ones fault.”


“But I broke it!  That’s why I can’t throw it away.  You were there, and the stupid vacuum was there, and I wasn’t.”


The last time I saw Lilli, she was building castles of kinetic sand.  I has tousled her hair, told her I would see her for dinner.  Had I even kissed her goodbye? Said I love you? I hate myself for being unable to remember.


 Then came Keith’s frantic phone call.  I had never heard desperation in his voice like I did that day.


“Lilli choked. At lunch.”


He tried the Heimlich and called 911 and she was blue, she was blue.


“The paramedics started CPR. Meet us at Claremont Children’s.”


I remember coming home. The wretched quiet. She was everywhere. And no where to be found. I would turn her bedroom into a shrine. Or burn the whole place to the ground.


A steady “whir whir whir“ had cut through my agony. Roomba was in Lilli’s corner, crashing over her spires and reclaiming them like the sea.


“Whir, whir, whir.”


”No!” I had screamed in desperation. You’re erasing her! I snatched the vacuum and hurled it at the wall. It fell to the floor, permanently silenced. Keith carried me up to bed after that. Held me until the black empty sleep of exhaustion finally came.


I awoke with the numbness. A temporary stage of grief I chose to clothe myself in like armor. If I couldn’t have Lilli back, I wanted to be numb for the rest of my life. I hadn’t considered what that meant for Keith. That I was leaving him to grieve alone. That he still loved me in my selfishness.


“Liz, please, just look at me.” He’s pleading with me now.


”I can’t stay numb if I look.”


”We’ll never heal if you don’t.”




February 27, 2021 04:57

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9 comments

14:11 Jun 21, 2021

When I started in on this story, I think that I was expecting anything but what I got. And that is a very good thing--this was amazing! The flow was natural, the story felt authentic, and I was invested in your characters from...if not the first line, then maybe the second. The ending was gut-wrenching, and if I was a crier, I would have cried. One small critique: 1) "The first week we had the Roomba, I threatened to ring it’s neck, if it indeed had one." In this case, "ring" would be spelled "wring", and no apostrophe is needed in "it...

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Dhwani Jain
14:51 Jun 21, 2021

Hey Edits & Feedback Account! I saw that you followed me. Please do review my stories too...

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Vivek Sehgal
16:26 Jun 21, 2021

Hello! I want to submit my story 'tree and grandmother' to some publisher for anthology. Kindly review it and help me make a good decision. Please reply ASAP

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Isla Wren
20:32 Jun 21, 2021

Thank you so much for your thoughtful critique! I also think your account is a great idea, and much appreciated by beginners such as myself. Thank you for pointing out the grammar, I also need to brush up on all things commas and quotation marks hehe.

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21:25 Jun 21, 2021

Commas and quotation marks... *sighs* They are tricky little things, aren't they? They're so small...yet they carry so much weight. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/extended_rules_for_commas.html https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/quotation_marks/index.html These might help! :)

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Lily Kingston
13:50 Mar 04, 2021

I love Lizzie's and Keith's relationship. It's so cute and funny, though the ending is really sad :( Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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Izzie Q.
17:49 Mar 01, 2021

Hi isla!! wow, I loved this story so so much! There were parts of it that made me actually smile, like the part talking about the "gummy raisins" hehe I can't wait to see more from you!! how has your day been?

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Isla Wren
18:14 Mar 01, 2021

Thanks so much for reading! I’ve missed a few weeks - glad to get back on the bandwagon with this prompt! Makes me feel like I’ve done something just for me 😀 I enjoyed your Android submission this week 😀 My favorite line was The woman in the elevator. “I don’t like when people are in a hurry. Or when you smoke. It reminds me of your mortality.” That’s the moment the character felt human to me.

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Izzie Q.
18:50 Mar 01, 2021

Wow, yes! Thanks for the high praise!

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