Image by Christine Renney
‘Door-to-door sales is a dying art,’ he says.
I don’t want to answer, to be pulled into this again but the others around the table are looking at me, waiting.
‘It’s just a job,’ I say at last.
‘A trade,’ he muses, ‘a dying trade.’
The woman sitting beside him, I think she’s his wife, sniggers and the others are now watching me even more intently.
‘Maybe,’ I mumble, then more forcefully, ‘but…I don’t know, maybe not.’
‘Oh, come on,’ he is almost shouting, rearing back a little in his seat, ‘shopping is so easy now, almost instant. The idea of buying from a little man on the doorstep with his samples and brochures in his little suitcase, it just seems, I don’t know, so……..’
‘Anachronistic,’ the woman, who may be his wife or mistress, says.
‘Yes, exactly,’ he laughs.
‘So, you sell vacuum cleaners?’ he continues, ‘and other “Electrical Goods and Appliances” – am I right?’
‘I sell a vacuum cleaner.’
‘Just vacuum cleaners?’
‘A vacuum cleaner.’
‘Just the one make and model?’
‘You don’t offer any choice or variety?’
‘Wow, it must be something special this vacuum.’
‘It is very efficient and has proved to be reliable.’
‘Okay, so how does this work? What exactly do you do? Obviously you drive around from town to town?’
‘I drive, of course I drive, but mostly I walk. I walk from house to house, street to street.’
‘Okay, so you knock on the doors and people invite you into their homes? They are taken in by your spiel – I suppose it’s as simple as that. You show them the glossy brochures and they make an order.’
‘There aren’t any brochures.’
‘Then how do they know what they are buying?’
‘I show it to them.’
‘You show them the vacuum cleaner?’
‘You carry it with you?’
‘Isn’t it heavy?’
‘No. Is your vacuum cleaner heavy?’
‘No, I suppose not. So, you show them how it works?’
‘No, not really. Everyone knows how a vacuum cleaner works.’
‘So what do you do? How do you make them believe that they want, that they need it, that it’s better than the one they already have?’
‘I can’t tell you that. Tricks of the trade, I’m sure you understand.’
‘Tricks of a dying trade,’ says another woman to my left, but she doesn’t snigger.
‘Okay, I’m intrigued. You must have it in your car, show me this vacuum cleaner and make your pitch.’
‘No, I can’t do that.’
‘I don’t sell to friends,’ I pause, just momentarily, ‘or to people I meet like this, outside of work.’
‘You don’t mix business with pleasure?’
‘Okay, I’ll buy one on-line. You can give me the details.’
‘There is no website.’
Incredulous, he glances around the table and realises that all the heads have turned and the focus has now shifted on to him.
‘The shop then,’ he says, ‘there must be a shop or showroom somewhere?’
‘Okay, the factory then, I’ll visit the factory.’
‘You can’t buy direct.’
‘And I can’t buy from you?’
‘Of course you can buy from me or from any one of the other Salesmen but only if and when we knock on your door.’
Image by Christine Renney
The sun was directly overhead and it beat down on them. Tom squinted at it and craved the cool of his room. It was early, just twelve, midday, the halfway mark and he couldn’t pretend any longer that his hopes for today were not lost and he wondered how long he would have to sit and listen to his dad. Listen to his drivel, that’s what his mum always said; ‘Don’t listen to your dad, don’t pay any attention to his drivel.’ But drivel didn’t feel like the correct word to describe his dad’s ranting. ‘Drivel’ sounded like something that was harmless and when his dad got like this the words that escaped him were hard and misshapen and they didn‘t sound harmless. Tom wondered could drivel be harmful and he wanted to talk about this, to ask someone, but who?
Tom studied the man on the bank opposite. He was from Bosnia or Poland or Romania; it really didn’t matter which. Tom had recognised him straight away as one of those who would set his dad going. He was a trigger and Tom wanted to tell him this, to shout it across the river:
‘YOU ARE A TRIGGER AND NOT A DISPLACED PERSON.’
He had learned about them in history at school but his dad had told him that the Second World War had been a long, long time ago and that things were different now.
When they arrived the river had been almost deserted and they had had the pick of the swims but his dad had decided to settle here and, as they set up, he had started with his ranting. By the time he sat on his basket and cast his line he was already so tightly wound there would be no stopping him.
Tom was all too aware that it would be society’s ills and the state of the country for the rest of the day. He wondered if the man on the opposite bank could hear his dad, if he could understand English well enough to be able to make sense of his dad’s barely contained monotonous drawl. Tom hoped that he could but, looking across the river and studying him, he had to admit the man appeared entirely at ease and completely unperturbed by his dad. And Tom realised that this made him feel angry.
The man was sitting on the ground, he didn’t even have a stool. No basket and no tackle box but just a rod and reel and he had fashioned a rest from an old branch. His dad now focused on this.
‘Desecrating our countryside,’ he mumbled, ‘I should wrap it round his neck.’
‘Why don’t you?’ Tom asked.
‘Looks like he picked it up off the ground,’ his dad replied. ‘Doesn’t look like its been ripped or cut from a tree but you get my point.’
‘Why don’t you?’ Tom repeated.
Ignoring him, his dad reached into the keep net and pulled out one of the six cans of Special Brew he had sunk into the river earlier. Tom let it drop. At least he had started drinking and when he had drunk all six cans his dad would be ready to make a move. Tom tried to work out how long he would now have to wait. If it took his dad half an hour to drink each can then they would be here for another three hours. But judging from past experience Tom reckoned that he would finish the beer much quicker than this. In half the time and that, in just one and a half hours, two at most, he would back home in his room.
His dad tipped back his head and sucked desperately at the can. He then crushed it, discarding it, and reached for another. Watching him, Tom realised that his dad was annoyed, that his words had got through. He had touched a nerve and Tom decided to nudge him a little more, to push him a little further.
‘You should do it.’ he goaded.
His dad glanced across at him.
‘You what?’ he mumbled.
‘Why don’t you do it? What you said, with the stick?’
His dad leaned forward and carefully placed the can between his feet. He then flung out his right arm and struck Tom in the face with the side of his fist. Tom toppled from his stool and hit the ground with a thud. He scrambled backward and sat on the grass at the edge of the path. Determined not to cry he blinked and tried to focus. If the man on the other side had noticed him being hit he certainly wanted no part of it.
‘Then I’ll do it,’ Tom said, standing up, ‘if you won’t do it then I will.’
He stepped forward and, kneeling down, he quickly grabbed the still unopened can of Special Brew. He ran along the footpath until he reached the Horse Bridge. From there he could see them both, sitting and staring into the water. He made his way down the other side and toward the stranger but moved wide and out into the adjacent field. As he came up behind him his dad was watching. Tom tossed the can from hand to hand, testing its weight and readying to throw it. He was close now and couldn’t miss but when he did, when he flung it, the can soared high above the man’ head. His dad, jumping up from his basket, stumbled forward but the can fell short and plunged into the reeds and sank.
Image by Christine Renney
He didn’t remember his dreams, couldn’t even be sure that he had any and this troubled him. It nagged at him, had done since childhood and it was an almost constant ache.
Not dreaming hadn’t hindered him and he didn’t feel bereft – how could he miss or lose something that he hadn’t ever had? Perhaps it was the not knowing that made him curious and he needed to experience what everyone else experienced.
He didn’t really believe he was the only one. He was convinced that there were others who didn’t dream or who had no recall of doing so. But of course, they didn’t talk, unlike the dreamers, they didn’t tell.
If ever he was asked about his dreams he simply said that they were uninteresting, and kind of ordinary. There wasn’t anything elaborate about them, he would say, nor anything fantastical. They were just little every day scenes, albeit jumbled and out of context and they were the kind of things that happen to all of us. And this, it seemed, was acceptable. It was enough. His dreams could be mundane and meaningless as he suspected most people’s were. That the big, bright Technicolor epics were few and far between.
If it often seemed to him that his life was an arrangement and had been pre-planned he didn’t mind. He had been lucky, he supposed, especially in the beginning. He had been nurtured and encouraged and, working hard, he had achieved all that had been expected of him, arriving at each point on the scale exactly as and when he should. And now, he was at the midway point and others were coming along behind him. But there were some still up ahead and they were functioning okay. Better than okay and this pleased him. He was happy about where he was headed and he still had aspirations and ambition and the not dreaming hadn’t held him back and he didn’t feel he was missing out on something. Yet it troubled him.
There had been a girl at school, Amy. He had fallen for her. She wasn’t the first but was the first to reciprocate. She had seemed interested in him, almost as much as he had been interested in her. Their relationship had been brief but he realised now that it had been a point on the scale and an important one at that. He had been excited by her, by the possibility of her. And he had talked with her in a way that he hadn’t ever been able to talk with anyone else.
One day Amy told him of her dream – it was one of those Technicolor epics and he couldn’t make sense of it. But that didn’t matter because she couldn’t either. But he had featured in her dream and this excited him, to be a part of it, part of the kaleidoscopic chaos in her head.
As she related her dream Amy moved close to him and they were almost touching when she asked about his dreams.
‘What about you?’ she asked. ‘What are your dreams like?’
‘I don’t dream’, he replied.
‘What?’ she stared at him, incredulous.
‘I don’t have dreams or at least I don’t remember them.’
She stepped back, pressing her hands against the space between them. Against the place where he no longer stood.