“Clean Sweep” by Aaron Freeman

An original piece of short fiction with a nostalgic shade to it –written and submitted by a workshop student I had last year. Enjoy!

“You promised them… you promised them…”

He repeated this mantra for most of the drive over. Putting the car in park, he started to think about how many times his mom had bugged him to come by and help out. Both of his parents could drive him nuts sometimes. He stepped out into the hot yellow sun, and then looked both ways before strolling across the road. He was happy to be seeing his parents today, as it had been a few months, but helping out at their garage sale wasn’t exactly the way he was hoping to spend one of the few days off that he had, especially since he was in the middle of a big project at work.

“I don’t know how parents do this,” he mumbled, thinking out loud. “I’m by myself and can barely keep calm or in control. I can’t figure out what to do with my team at work, by boss doesn’t notice me and the bills are starting to pile up.”

Looking around the handful of customers in their driveway, he located his Mom standing by the box of money. He made his way over and gave her a hello and a big hug, accidently knocking some books off the table in the process. As they both bent down to pick them up, he cocked his head a little.

“Where’s Dad at?” he questioned.

As she placed a handful of books back on the table, she rolled her eyes and chuckled a little bit. “He’s in the basement, reorganizing some boxes. You know what he’s like: ‘It has to get done now. That way it’s out of the way. There’s no time for sitting!’”

They both laughed. He could picture his father. That middle-aged, partially balding man in the dark, damp basement with sweat pouring off of his face, busting his hump to finish a task that didn’t have to be done in the first place. But that was his Dad, and even though it drove him nuts, he wouldn’t change him if he could. And he was sure his Mom felt the same way about his Dad too. She was also middle-aged, her hair beginning to grey, but always with a youthful spirit that her husband lacked.

That’s when his Mom chimed in. “Well, now that you’re here, I think I am going to make the three of us some lunch. I was wondering if you might take over running the sale while I’m inside?”

“Sure”, he replied, wondering what tasty treats might be in store for him.

As his Mom wandered into the house, a customer walked up to him with a blender in hand. As the buyer reached into his wallet, he asked “How much for this?”

Looking at the blender, he remembered it as the one that would wake him every Monday morning before school, whenever his Mom would be testing out a new diet trend. Looking up at the customer, he said “Five bucks should do it”. After receiving the money, shaking hands and parting ways, he began to have a closer look at all of the items that were on the table being offered for sale. At one end, there was an old, stained end table with a hefty collection of trinkets and dust collectors on it. On the large bureau beside that sat a giant Tupperware container of music cds and vinyl. Allowing his fingers to glide over them, he came across musical offerings from Springsteen, Lightfoot & Joplin, among others. He had to pause a chuckle for a moment when he came across Garth Brooks’ The Chase album, remembering how many hours and days he had spent in his younger days listening to it over and over non-stop, belting out the lyrics:

‘I’m gonna smile my best smile, and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style. Look into her eyes and pray that she don’t see, this learning to live again is killing me’.

It wasn’t until he thought about his job troubles again that the words finally resonated with him.

As his eyes continued their trek onward across the counters, he noticed lots of antique china, a collection of hand-sewn throw pillows, and a vacuum from the eighties, but it wasn’t until he spotted a young woman about twenty feet away that he was completely stopped in his tracks. She was holding some sort of cloth in her hands that had some rounded edges and one or two small stains, but it wasn’t until she turned around that the memories came flooding back to him.

That was his yellow blanket! He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know what to feel. He hadn’t thought about that blanket since Family Ties was on the air, but now all of the pictures from the past were swirling in his mind. He began to get dizzy, and needed to lean on the table for support. To have something that used to be a huge part of your life and then left in the past, suddenly be thrown back at you with such force that it was like a bolt of lightning. He grabbed one of the chairs for sale and sat down, taking time to just think.

The first memory to come back was from a quiet afternoon as a child, where he took two corners of that old yellow cloth and tying them around his neck, quickly changing a boy with a blanket into a superhero on a grand adventure. The mission started by saving a teddy bear damsel from being drowned in the bottomless pit of toys. She was lucky he was there to rescue her. Next was to super-speed around the room, arms outstretched, until he reached his destination at the base of Mount Couch-opolous. It was a tough climb getting those small feet to the peak, but going up wasn’t the hardest part. Jumping was the only way to test whether he could fly or not. One…..two……three! The last thing he remembered was the breeze in his face before he wound up in the bathroom, crying as Mom kissed him better. A few band-aids and bruises later, he had his answer. It might hurt, but he CAN fly. All he needed was the help of his trusty cape by his side.

As that snapshot faded, another came into focus. He could see himself as a boy again, running into the house and heading straight for his bedroom. But it wasn’t the boundless, joyful energy he was feeling before. This time he sat down, right in the middle of his floor, and tears began to well up in his eyes. His best friend had just moved away, and he didn’t know what to do about it. There were so many emotions built up inside that he couldn’t control. He grabbed a pillow and screamed into it, but that wasn’t helping. From there, he chucked the pillow across the room, but that only knocked his lamp over, making him more frustrated. Kids at school had told him that boys weren’t supposed to cry. He was sniffling, sneezing, drooling, coughing, choking. Anything to hold back the tears. That’s when he spotted his blanket on the bed. Instantly, he grabbed it down and squeezed it tight, slowly curling himself into a ball in the process. With a softness and warmth there to comfort him, he allowed the tear drops to carefully travel down his face and the pain to, bit by bit, fade away. He had no idea what would happen to his friendship, where he would get another friend like that, or even what the next day at school would be like. All he knew was that, in that moment, he began to feel a little bit better, and it was thanks to that simple yellow blanket.

As he was visualizing himself lying on the floor, that’s when, once again, the memory faded away and a third recollection came to the forefront of his mind. He could see himself being tucked into bed as the lamp was shut off. He watched as Mom blew him a kiss, Dad waved to him, and they shut the door behind them. Except he was too excited to sleep; he had another idea in mind. Reaching under his pillow, he quietly slipped out a book called ‘The Giver’ and a flashlight. He had just read about Jonas becoming the receiver of memory, and he had to figure out what that meant. He knew that all of his stuffed animals and bedtime toys were good at keeping secrets, but he wanted to be sure. He grabbed his most loyal, yellow companion and threw it over top of himself. Inside this handmade, bedroom teepee, he was invisible. Flicking on the flashlight, he flipped to the first page and began to read. Unfortunately, he had some trouble staying focused on the story as every little noise made him jump out of his skin. Every creak, every hiss and every clang gave goosebumps all over his arms and legs. Staying up past bedtime was a serious crime, so stealth was of the utmost importance. That’s when he heard it, the familiar clomping of adult feet making their way down the hall. Slowly, he lifted the blanket up and peered out just in time to witness a looming shadow coming from outside his door. He shut off the flashlight, threw it and the book on the floor, tossed the quilts over top of himself and began to faintly snore. Hearing the clomping fade away again, a confident smile stretched across his face, knowing that he had outsmarted the adults thanks to himself and his blanket friend.

He finally snapped back to reality, looking around rapidly to see if anyone at the garage sale had noticed his cerebral time travel. That’s when he saw the young woman once again and started to wonder when his prized possession had slipped away from him. That’s when he recalled that, not wanting to be made fun of by friends, he had packed it away in a box in the attic before heading off the college. As time passed, so did the memories of the blanket. It pained him to watch the lady pull a five dollar bill out of her purse. It pained him so much that he hadn’t even noticed his Mom had returned and was taking that five dollars in exchange for his childhood.

Is this knife in his back what is meant by ‘growing pains’? He had to stop her in some way, shape or form. He stood up and tried to walk, but his feet were frozen in shock. He tried to yell, but his throat was dry. The only sound he could muster was a light cough. The young woman was making her way down the driveway, with a piece of his heart draped over her shoulder, and there was nothing he could do about it. As she arrived at her mini-van, he couldn’t blink. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He just stared, trying to hold back that first tear from coming down his cheek. But as she slid open the side door, he noticed something. He saw a yellow car seat holding a small baby boy in place, who was taking a nap. As the young woman was tucking the baby in with this treasured blanket and he saw those little hands grip the yellow fabric for comfort, he began to feel himself breathe.

Although he was still sad and confused about how this all came about, he could feel himself slowly calming down. Knowing it was not his anymore, he closed his eyes and hoped that the little boy would feel safety with that simple cloth. And as that boy grew up, he hoped that it would not just be a toy. He wished that the boy would come to see this blanket as a friend, as a playmate. Someone he could play a game with, pretend with, tell secrets to or anything else he needed during his youth. He prayed this child and blanket could be a superhero team together, laugh together, cry together and maybe even trick an adult once or twice together. And, lastly, he prayed that this child would not take that treasure for granted. His youth will go by faster than he knows, and he needs to hang on to every second of it.

Opening his eyes, he watched the young lady shut the door to the mini-van and climb in the driver’s seat. That’s when his Mom walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You do know that if there’s anything you want, you can just take it with you when you head back to your place, right?” she asked.

Author: Aaron Freeman. All rights remain with the author.