Picking Things Up

by Eric Kraft

Matthew Barber is sitting outdoors at a charming little cafe that I will call Annette's, in charming little old East Hampton. He is eating a veggie burger, for the sake of his heart.

An elderly couple is sitting at the table to his right. She is eating a salad, and he is eating a bowl of soup. Two girls are to Matthew's left. Both are eating sandwiches and french- fried potato cubes. An enormous stainless steel van is parked at the curb. There is a sign on the side of the van:

Harriman & Sons
Duct Cleaning Company

In the van, two guys are eating heroes.

The elderly woman says to the elderly man, "Do you mind if I taste your soup?"

"No," he says. "I don't mind. Why should I mind?" He sighs and pushes the bowl toward her.

"What's that for?"she asks.

"What's what for?"

"The sigh."

"I can't sigh? Go on - taste the soup."

Girl one nods at the van and says, "My mom got those guys in."

"Who?" asks girl two.

"The guys with the truck."

"What do they do?"

"They suck your ducts."

The woman tastes the soup. "Oh, that's delicious!" she says. "That's just wonderful!" She takes another spoonful, then pushes the bowl back toward the man. "Wonderful!"

A BMW convertible is parked in front of the duct suckers' van. A fortyish woman gets into it on the passenger's side, opens a small white box, removes a chocolate truffle in brown fluted paper, puts the truffle into her mouth, and tosses the fluted paper on the ground.

Girl two asks, "What does that mean, 'They suck your ducts'?"

"They put like a big vacuum cleaner onto the ducts? Where the hot air goes? You know, to heat the house? Then they suck out all the dust and shit that's in there."

"Oh," says girl two. She sucks on her iced tea, makes it slurp, and giggles.

"Such delicious soup," says the woman. She is silent for a moment, and then she says,

"I'm surprised you didn't want some pepper in it."

The man sighs again. "It was fine," he says.

"A little pepper -" says the woman.

"Look," he says. "I'm done already."

Girl one says, "It helps with allergies. That's why my mom wanted to get them in."

"I thought she did get them in," says girl two.

"Nah. She was going to. They came for an estimate, but my father didn't want it. He was like, "It's my house. I'll take care of it."

The elderly man pays the check. He stands and offers his arm to the elderly woman. She takes it, and he supports her as she rises from her chair. They begin walking, slowly, away.

Girl one says, "My mom never really had a house. That's the way she felt, anyway."

Girl two says, "Yeah?"

"It was like she was always living in somebody else's house? Her parents house, and then living with roommates, and then my dad's house? Because the house was like everything my dad represents, all that fake rich stuff."

Girl two says, "Yeah."

A fortyish man jumps into the driver's seat of the BMW. "What's that?" he asks the paper- tosser. "Candy? Jesus, what is it with the candy? You spend a week at Canyon Ranch and finally lose some weight, and then you're back on the candy diet?"

"Oh, shut up," says the paper-tosser. She puts another truffle into her mouth and tosses its fluted paper on the ground.

The fluted paper lands in front of the elderly woman. "Did you really have to do that?" she asks the paper-tosser.

"Huh?" says the paper-tosser.

"Would it kill you to get out of the car and walk to the trash can?" asks the elderly woman.

"Fuck you, lady," says the paper-tosser. "If it bothers you so much, you pick it up!

The driver leans across paper-tosser, grabs the box, shakes the truffles onto the ground, throws the box after them, shouts, "Pick 'em all up!" and accelerates away from the curb.

Girl one asks, "So what did she do?"

"Who?" asks girl two.

"Your mom. Did she make your dad get the duct suckers?"

"No. She hung herself."

"What?" says girl one. "What?"

"Hung herself," says girl two. "In the garden. From the pergola."

The elderly man bends stiffly and begins picking up the truffles. The duct suckers get out of their van to give him a hand.

Other Short Stories by Eric Kraft

Big Chowder

Crab Cakes

Flavor of the Past

Have You Ever Wondered Why Microphones Don't Resemble Ears?

Masters of the Arts