In accordance with a typed sheet of rules we had taped to the kitchen wall, we took turns pushing an old vacuum cleaner across the worn carpeting of our undergraduate duplex. We did this for weeks, maybe months, before realizing the machine’s drive belt was broken. It was a great old building with birds-eye maple trim, and elegant light fixtures turned on and off by yellowed Bakelite buttons already retro in that year of the bicentennial. The rules applied to everyone—even a roommate’s friend who slept in our walk-in closet instead of going back home and writing ad copy for his father’s firm. He left in the morning, came back at night and said he’d share rent when he got his first paycheck. In reality he spent days on a park bench in downtown Kalamazoo, or lingered over a cup of coffee at the Parthenon, or knocked off a mystery in the reading room of the library. He confessed, finally, and moved back to one of Chicago’s western suburbs. There were all these bicentennial minutes on television celebrating important people and events, but I really don’t remember them. We were too busy discovering innovative mistakes to make with women and drugs and money. I loved the purposeful, furious sound of the Hoover, and the little check marks we put next to the items on the list.
Marc J. Sheehan is the author of two poetry collections—Greatest Hits from New Issues Press and Vengeful Hymns from Ashland Poetry Press. His short story “Objet du Desir” won the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Contest sponsored by the public radio program Selected Shorts and was read on stage in New York by David Rakoff. His story “The Dauphin” was broadcast on Weekend All Things Considered as part of its Three-Minute Fiction series. Publications in literary magazines include Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Michigan Quarterly Review and many others.