after Raymond Carver
I was listening to the rain when I heard someone
walk onto the porch, wait, then knock. I lay still.
I knew it wasn’t the mailman. I knew his steps.
You can’t be too careful if you’re out of work and
you get notices mailed or pushed under your door.
Another knock. Who’s there? I have something for
Mrs. Slater. She’s won something. Is she home?
Mrs. Slater doesn’t live here, I said. Well, he said.
Are you Mr. Slater? I got off the sofa and opened
the door. Water ran off his raincoat and onto this
big suitcase contraption he carried. He put out his
hand. Aubrey Bell, he said. Mrs. Slater filled out
a card, he said. Mrs. Slater is a winner. Mrs. Slater
doesn’t live here, I said. What’d she win? I have
to show you, he said. Mrs. Slater’s card was pulled
at random out of a basket of hundreds of cards,
he said. She’s a winner. No strings. I’m here
to do your mattress. You’ll be surprised at what
can collect over the years. No way am I in the market
for a vacuum cleaner, I said. He flopped his case
open. He was on his knees, inserting the pipes into
the hose, grunting. He attached some scoop
to the end. I think you better pack your things
and go, I said, but he was looking around the room
for a plug-in. He found one, and the machine
rattled as if there were something loose inside,
like a marble, then settled to a hum. The scoop
tugged at the mattress, and the vacuum whirred
louder. He made three passes over the mattress,
then switched off the machine and took out
the filter. He pinched some of the dusty stuff
between his fingers, must have been a cup of it.
He had this look on his face. I heard steps on
the porch, the mail slot opened and clinked shut.
We looked at each other. You want coffee?
I said. I put on water and by the time I’d fixed
two cups, he had everything back in the case.
He picked up the letter, read the name, and
folded it in half, put it in his hip pocket.
It’s for a Mr. Slater, he said. I’ll see to it.
You’re sure that’s who the letters for? I said.
You want to see it? he said? Don’t believe me?
Just seems strange, I said. Well, I’d better be
off, he said. But he kept standing there.