It was slim and green, stylish. A shell stretched out into a fan at one end. It looked right sitting in our entryway– propped beneath the mirror topped with fake fruits and felt branches — as if part of the decor. Our entry is quiet, only large enough for three people to stand back to chest, and too hot to do so for long.
There was no note attached, but I knew what it meant:
Manuela had lent us the vacuum at last.
We are only moderately clean people. Jason perhaps a few notches toward neat, Tim and I happily toeing the line between sentimental and cluttered. But it had been bothering all of us that in the six months we had lived in our apartment, we hadn’t vacuumed once.
Vacuums, to the twenty-something, are too single purpose to be worth a hefty cut of an entry-level pay check. A chambray button-up can be made dressy or worn with jeans. A towel for showering, picnicking, and bullfighting. A flat screen for movies and television. A vacuum? Only for vacuuming.
Tim, his room covered in feathers from a microscopic rip in his down comforter, called our landlady at last. She didn’t pick up. He sent an email, which was only responded to after a few days, and with only a few terse sentences: You can borrow the vacuum. I’ll leave it in the entryway.
So there it was. Sleek and green and leaning gracefully enough that I ran a hand across my sweaty forehead, wished I had worn proper dress shoes to walk home instead of tennies.
I carried it upstairs gingerly, taking care not scrape the wall or clunk a tread where Manuela could hear. She was sitting in her round living room, I imagined, reading House Beautiful–copies were in our entryway, sometimes– and listening for the vacuum. She sat there for a long time, I imagined, listening for the electric hum, the twenty-three-year-old squeals of delight. For Tim and Jason, buzzed and plump, to come home and exclaim over the smooth hallway, the couch laid bare.
The sun went down, and still Manuela sat in her dim living room. Darkness slanted in between yellowish blinds, and she listened to us clean each bedroom in turn. We emptied the dust from the vacuum–Look, a Pomeranian! Said Tim— and I tried to write a charming thank you:
Thank you for letting us use your vacuum.
Our spring cleaning is now complete.
I was frustrated, unable to tell her what a great gift it had been. How large our rooms felt now. How old we had grown.
Still, she knew.