Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Powder Burn # 53 - Adam McFarlane


He stepped over empty milk bottles onto the welcome mat.

Knock, knock.

A woman opened the door. Blonde curls spiraled down her white T-shirt and spools held rolls of hair against her head. Smoke scattered off the tip of her cigarette into the wind.

“Good afternoon!” He brushed a hat from his scalp. “Is your husband home?”

“Not yet. Can I help you?”

“My name’s Wallace. And I’m going around the neighborhood to show families how they can save hours every day with a simple little gizmo from the Midwestern Machine Company. Want to see a free demonstration?”

She backed away from the door. Reaching behind her head to pull out a curler, she said, “Why not?”

Inside, an oatmeal davenport faced the picture window. Pewter lampshades stood on glass end tables. A cream sideboard sat against an empty stucco walls.

He unrobed the vacuum from its canvas bag, found an electrical outlet, then plugged it in. She stood beside him, removing her last curlers.

When he stomped on the button, the vacuum gave a loud, buzzing whine.

She jolted and grabbed his arm.

“Sorry.” He shouted. “The contraption’s a little loud, but that’s because of all the sucking power. I should have warned you.”

Nodding, she unclenched her grip on him. Then smiled.

He pulled the vacuum back and forth a couple times then turned it off. “See? It’s all right. Now, say you got a real mess on the floor?”


“In my hand I’ve got a can of coffee grounds and if it’s okay, I’m going to sprinkle a little on your carpet?”


“You’ll see: the Midwestern Machine Company vacuum takes it all away. You have the company guarantee on that.”

He cast a cloud of black grains onto the carpet. After it settled, he turned on the vacuum and ran it over the dark shape. Each sweep with the vacuum left a clean swath. “Good as new.”

She nodded. “I see that.”

“You like to give it a try?”

She shook her head. “No thanks.”

He smiled. “No, go on. It’s easy.”

When she held the handle, he saw her wedding ring. Its diamond looked like a square drop of water clung between metal pins.

“Okay?” He tapped the power button with his toe and when she jumped from the noise, he touched her arm and smiled.

She stretched her arm out and flexed back, drawing the vacuum over a patch of carpet.

“There you go,” he said, giving her shoulder a light squeeze with his hand then resting it there. “You got it.”

He watched her push and pull the vacuum again, his hand on her shoulder. She drew the vacuum upright and stood still. His toe tapped the vacuum off.

“Can I get you a drink?” She nodded to the sideboard.

“I’d love one.”

She walked to the sideboard and she stirred together two mai tais. Tropical juices seeped into rum, melting the ice cubes in the glass. Handing one to him she said, “Please. Call me Myrna. “

“Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.” He took a sip and winced.

“Where you from? Skokie? Cedar Rapids?” she asked, sitting beside him and touching his arm.

“Midwestern Machine Company. Don’t really have a home if the closest thing is my car or the nearest general delivery window.”

“Oh, you must be lonely.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “A little.”

He reached over and hugged her. He smelled her soap and talcum powder scents.

Rubbing his cheek against hers, his lips brushed hers. Her lips pressed back.

“Do you want to go somewhere more comfortable?”

He nodded.

She took his hand and lead him down the hall to the bedroom. Once inside, she took his head in her hands and kissed him hard. Then she pulled his jacket off and started unbuttoning his shirt.

He pulled at her T-shirt, untucking it and lifting it away.

They were still undressing when they slid onto the bed.

Later, they rested in a snarl of blankets.

She rolled over, curving her spine to bend away from him and wrapping her arms and legs against her stomach.

“I’m a whore.”

“Please. Don’t say that.”

She flinched when he put his hand on her shoulder.

When she started to cry silently, the bed shook. The room was quiet except for her panting breath. “I was just so lonely, I took you in here.”

She stopped crying. Then she uncurled and snuggled up to him. “I’m sorry.”

“Where’s your husband?”

“At work.”

“Do you have kids?”

“She’s at Girl Scout camp.” She let him comb her hair with his fingers and dot her face with his kisses. “I should be cleaning the house while it’s empty. Instead, I want to just hold onto you.”

He touched her neck. A strawberry-speckled mark slashed her skin. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I’d leave a mark.”

She giggled. “Just like teenagers.”

“Will makeup hide it? Or maybe, could you cover it up with a bandage and say you cut yourself?”

“Don’t worry. Who’s going to notice?” She reached for her cigarette case and matches, then lit up. The match dropped into a teacup on the carpet. The cup was filled with blackheaded matchsticks. “What are you looking at?”

He smiled. “You.”

Rolling her eyes, she shook her head,

“You’re beautiful.”

She covered her eyes with a hand. “No, I’m not.”

“Your skin, it’s so beautiful.”

He reached out to touch her cheek, but she knocked his hand away.

“Stop,” she said then rolled over, turning her back to him. “This can’t be the first time you’ve done this. I’m not anything special to you.”

He looked out the bedroom window. Flowers wilted in the backyard garden and socks hung pinned halfway across a clothesline.

“When does your husband get home?”

“Tomorrow, probably late.”

“Tomorrow? Where is he?”

She bunched the sheet tightly around herself. “Working. He’s a traveling salesman.”

BIO: Last year, Adam was a judge for the PWA's Shamus award for best short story. This year, he was a panelist at Bouchercon. He eats, drinks, and is merry in the Twin Cities. Check out his website at www.adammcfarlane.com

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