Along for the Rye’d
The Very Expensive Vacuum: A Holiday Story
By Annabel Monaghan
I love a good holiday story, one with a flawed protagonist who faces a challenge, decides to act, and then goes on a journey of ups and downs until she finally arrives at an I-never-saw-that-coming happy ending. I recently lived one of those stories, banal in every way and yet possibly ripe for the silver screen. Here’s my pitch.
The Setup: Our heroine (okay, me) finds herself at the onset of a global pandemic and, due to circumstances related to quarantine, learns for the first time just how inadequate her vacuum cleaner is. Her back is sore from carrying it, and she begins to have mixed feelings about her long–haired, shedding dog. With no end in sight, she decides to buy a Very Expensive Vacuum.
The Middle: Her new vacuum arrives, and it’s everything she’d ever hoped for and more. It’s lightweight, cordless, bagless. Its see–through chamber allows her to see just how prolific her little dog is shedding his unwanted hair. She is suddenly proud of this dog and looks forward to his shedding so that she might have another excuse to vacuum. “Cinderella” music might work here.
Life is good, and frankly the story is starting to drag, until one day she wakes up and her Very Expensive Vacuum is dead. It hadn’t been sick, not even a sniffle, but here it is lifelessly hanging in its once vibrant charging station. She tries to call the Very Expensive Vacuum company, but it’s Sunday, and there’s no one there. She marvels at how appliances never break during regular business hours as she watches her dog, with a single shake, discharge a cubic foot of hair onto her bedroom rug.
The following day, she sits on hold until she can troubleshoot with customer service. When they agree that dead means dead, they offer to send her a new battery. She is delighted and sits by the window waiting for the UPS man. There’s a bit of cinematography here, soft focus on the image of her hand on the windowpane with the weather changing in the background. After four days, it arrives. The reader feels her glee as she opens the small box. The reader feels her pain as the old Very Expensive Vacuum with the new battery continues to be dead. All is lost.
The Very Expensive Vacuum people are baffled by the turn of events. They troubleshoot some more until they give up and offer our heroine a new vacuum. They put her on hold and return with a plot twist: the Very Expensive Vacuum she’d bought was no longer in stock; they’d have to replace it with a Very, Very Expensive Vacuum. Suddenly, sunbeams are shining through her windows. The air is crisp, and the smell of pine is everywhere. Our heroine feels the warmth of vindication that can only come from free stuff, and she knows that the world is kind and just.
Our now jubilant heroine returns to her perch by the window to await her package. Days go by. It’s promised on Tuesday. It’s rescheduled for Wednesday. The package has been rerouted and might arrive Thursday. By Friday she is despondent. She places one hand on the window, while rolling adhesive over the dog hair that covers her trousers with the other.
Finale: At this point, we need an epic resolution to the story. Ideally, our heroine would act boldly in her own defense, but in this lazy story we resort to a little <deus ex machina>, or as they say this time of year: Holiday Magic. Out of nowhere, a black SUV pulls up in front of her house. A woman and her father get out of the car, open the trunk, and pull out a vacuum cleaner–shaped box from their trunk. The stranger carries it up the front walk and hands it to our heroine, who says, “That is a Very, Very Expensive Vacuum cleaner!”
The stranger explains that she and her father were driving down Theodore Fremd Avenue and saw it sitting in the middle of the street. It had escaped from the UPS truck, presumably knowing what was ahead of it at our heroine’s house. Read: dog hair and sudden death. The stranger pulled over, saved it from oncoming traffic, and decided to deliver it herself.
The End. It’s got all the makings of an Oscar winner – grief, joy, suspense, and proof that, in the end, people are so very, very good. This stranger had so many choices, including swerving around the box or keeping this Very, Very Expensive Vacuum for herself. (It said what it was right on the box, after all.) All this script needs is an unlikely love interest and light snow fall, and I’m sending it straight to Hollywood.