Hail pounded on to my head, forcing me to duck under an awning at the flea market. Luckily, I’d been walking between a row of stationary shops that peddle indistinguishable t-shirts, sunglasses and junky kids toys in every other unit. This store was different though. A hodgepodge of off-brand appliances ranging from can openers to sewing machines. No shelves in the place, only box stacked upon box and in no particular order.
At the back of the shop an Asian man, maybe Chinese and possibly a hundred and fifty years old, shuffled at a snails pace toward me carrying a box. He paused and smiled. “You need vacuum cleaner?”
“No thanks.” I turned my back to him, looked up at the sky to gauge the movement of the storm and thought maybe I should head home.
The man nudged me in the back with the corner of the box. “Only fifty buck. Guarantee.”
I turned my head and saw he held one of those robot vacuums. “You can’t be serious. I know for a fact they’re hundreds of dollars, even in discount stores.”
“You take.” He shoved it again and let go so I had to catch it or risk the box crashing to the pavement.
“Seriously,” I said and shoved it back at him, “I don’t want it.”
“You buy. Guarantee one year.” He then held out his hand. “Cash only.”
Sure, I thought, buy it now and when it breaks in a week the shop will be gone. But if it doesn’t break? Hell, fifty bucks is worth automatic pizza crumb removal after at least one football game with my friend Tyler. I pulled out my wallet and payed the man.
* * *
“Dude, I got another flat tire,” Tyler said on the other end of the phone.
“Uh huh,” my tone unbelieving. Tyler’s one of those friends who has more excuses than a tree has leaves.
“Go ahead and order the pizza without me,” He added. “I’ll be there when I get there.”
“Sure,” I said, but he’d already hung up.
Ten minutes into the first quarter the pizza arrived. Ten minutes later Tyler walked in with his usual excuse that he’d forgot his wallet. He flopped on the couch, shoved half a piece of pizza in his mouth and announced, “I need a beer.”
“Broncos are kicking ass.” I flung a paper plate at him like a frisbee.
I needed another one anyways, so I momentarily disappeared through the doorway into the kitchen. On the way back, I thought I should have bought a mini-fridge for the living room from the Chinaman instead of the vacuum.
And speaking of vacuums, by the time I got back, Tyler had not only found my new one, but had removed it from the box. Plastic bags and styrofoam were scattered across the coffee table and floor. “Dude, you got a Room Rover.”
My eyes opened wide at the sight of the mess as well as in amazement that Tyler recognized a vacuum cleaner let alone a robot version.
“My Grandma has one of these. She won’t let me touch it though.”
“Put it back in the box,” I said. “It needs charging.”
“So charge it. We can play with it after the game.”
“It’s not a toy.” I pulled the device away from Tyler then yanked the charger cord up off the floor. The bulky end that plugs into the outlet hit Tyler in the head and I couldn’t help but laugh.
In mid-gulp of beer, Tyler choked and bubbles shot out his nose. “Fuck you,” he burp spoke while he brushed liquid off his t-shirt.
“Hope that doesn’t stain.” As if he’d ever done a load of laundry in his life.
“Consider it paid for in pizza.” Tyler shoved a second piece of pizza in his mouth.
I shook my head and plugged in the robot vac to charge.
* * *
While the roar of the Broncos’ fans resonated from the television, I picked at cheese crusted on an empty pizza box. “Damn, I’m still hungry.”
“Broncos rock!” Tyler made a victory fist and ignored my passive comment that he’d eaten all the pizza and left me starving. He then picked up the robot vacuum, still plugged in and charging. He examined its round exterior. “How you supposed to get in corners with this thing.”
“It’s not a replacement vacuum. It’s used to clean up after pigs like you.” I pointed at the crumbs that covered the floor where he had been sitting.
Tyler indignantly turned up his lip and groaned then leaned over to unplugged the thing. “How you turn this on?” He examined the exterior for a power switch.
“Let me see.” I reached out to take the robot from Tyler, but he yanked it back.
“Got it.” Tyler flipped a switch on the side and placed the appliance on the floor. With his right foot he stepped on the edge and tilted one end upward. “Too bad this thing isn’t remote controlled like a car. I could make it do wheelies.”
A spark snapped beneath Tyler’s foot. He stiffened from the jolt and his body convulsed. I kicked Tyler’s leg to the side and off the robot. The wheels engaged with the floor and it zipped to the corner of the room where it bounced repeatedly off the wall.
Tyler writhed for several seconds trying to shake off the traumatic shock.
“You okay?” I asked and stared into his dilated eyes.
“Dude, you got a lemon. Look at the little fucker. It keeps smashing into the wall.”
“If it weren’t a machine I’d say you pissed it off.” I approached it and crouched down, keeping a watchful eye as it continued to beat itself against the wall. I knew I had to turn it off, but I didn’t like the the prospect of being lit up like Tyler. Still the damn thing was leaving black skid marks on the wall. Cautiously, I reached out.
“Don’t touch it!” Tyler stumbled backward.
I retracted my hand and turned to Tyler. “Get me the silicone oven mitts in the kitchen and get yourself another beer to calm down.”
Tyler went for a beer first and when he returned, threw the mitts across the room. They hit me in the head. “I think you’d be better off with a baseball bat, Dude.”
“Once it’s off—”
“You’ll be dead first.”
“Shut up.” I slipped the oven mitts over my hands knowing my logic for protection was flawed. Regardless, I went at it, quickly and flipped it upside down.
No shock. And the wheels stopped. Still, I slid the switch to off and the power light went out. Not an easy task without fingers.
Tyler slowly approached but froze when the wheels raced again. “It’s possessed.”
“I’m sure it’s just a mechanical issue,” I told him while removing the oven mitts. I decided to take my chances and cautiously slid open the battery compartment. Again I was safe, but now more confused by the thing’s malfunction.
“What the fuck?” Tyler said. “There’s no battery in there.”