She is vacuuming again. She vacuumed last night, and also the might before. It’s a beautiful late-summer day and the breeze is blowing just gently, gentle lulling gusts. The house should be open, open to the season while it’s friendly. Instead she has all the windows closed and she is vacuuming. It’s an old chrome canister vacuum, we’ve had it forever, and it screams like a jet-engine. Sometimes I think I can tell the state of her mental health by how often she drags that thing out of the closet. Last night it was the whole first floor, even the front parlor where no one goes anymore, where no one ever has gone, The day before that it was the whole goddam house.
I’m sitting out on the old swing under the ash tree. It’s a perfect summer afternoon. The fields around the house are in wheat this year, and they’re rustling in the light breeze, little ripples that swirl and circle like water in a pond. The most gentle rustling on the light pulse of the breeze. It would be almost peaceful, if there weren’t the groans and growls of that damned vacuum going off from time to time.
I don’t remember her being so relentless with it when I was younger. I said, “What are you doing? You just vacuumed yesterday!” She said, “It’s dusty in here.” The place is spotless, but she thinks there must be some dust somewhere. And she’s gonna get it. She lives on the prairie where the wind blows all the time and it’s summer and the windows should be open. It’s a beautiful day. And it’s not dusty. You want to see dusty, I’ll take you to Afghanistan and you can see dusty.
On the bad days, when I first got back, I’d be up in my room, feeling like I was going to blow over if I had to talk to anyone, and she’d come bursting in with that thing, jabbing and thrusting at the dust in the room with that grinding nozzle. I screamed at her and she couldn’t even hear me over that thing. One day it was really bad, I had the windows shut, I didn’t even want any daylight, and she blew in there with that thing. I threw her out, screaming. I don’t think she knew I was in there, the look she had on her face, like a frightened cat. But the next minute she had her composure. “Finn Tillary! I need to vacuum in there! This house is a mess!” I don’t know, the scream of that thing, it really got to me. I was hiding in the corner. I had the door lock. I thought, ‘If she busts in here, we’re really in trouble.’
So now I sit outside. It’s better out here, since I can’t get her to stop. The house is immaculate. I’m not sure what dust she thinks she hasn’t gotten yet, but there’s no machine is going to get it. My grandmother, she lived with us for a little while. She spoke Norwegian to herself sometimes, when she was muttering. She called the old vacuum a stobe-suger. I don’t know what that meant. I was just little, I used to think it meant “stab-sucker.” That’s how my mother uses it, vacuuming back and forth, day after day, jabbing with the nozzle into dark corners. I don’t know what she’s stabbing at but she sure can’t seem to kill it.