This following is a true story, be afraid, be very afraid.
“When are you done, mom?” my oldest son yelled over the whirring sound.
“Soon,” I yelled back, I glanced down at the spinning brushes.
My youngest son was spending the day with his grandma and my husband was away on a trip. It was a sunny Saturday morning toward the end of summer.
My son, who then was 6, was straddling the arm of the couch, brown sandals in front of him, watching me as I used the scrubber as a weapon, attacking a rather obvious spot in the middle of the floor.
I was cleaning the carpet in the living room with a tiny upright that was a hand-me-down from my mom and dad. I was determined to get every speck of dirt.
My big boy was a not-so-silent witness to my mania. I say this because he would put his fingers in his ears and yell “la, la, la, la!” every time I turned the cleaner on.
“It won’t take very long,” I shouted over the whirring, “then we can go for our walk!”
“What?” he yelled back, taking a pause from his “la las.”
He liked to have time alone with me without his brother. The cleaning was eating up that time. Today was the day I had set aside for scrubbing the living room. It had to be done!
I never liked the carpet in that room. It was a putrid green color, a cross between lime sherbet and vomit. It had been a permanent fixture since we moved in five years before.
Every spot on the rug made itself known to our guests, practically screaming “Look at me, I’m chocolate syrup from the spring of ’02!”
I also didn’t like trying to find matching accessories, such as pillows and throws.
But that was my cross to bear, I guess. Being the owner of an ugly carpet.
My husband had vowed to put flooring down one day, but other projects always came first, so the carpet and I continued to carry out our day-to-day battle of cleanliness.
The age-old fight between us was about to heat up.
It was on this bright weekend morning with my impatient son looking on that the brave carpet cleaner died while fighting the dirt battle on enemy territory.
Our lives would never be the same …
In addition to scrubbing that day, I had also planned to tackle and cupboards and work my way through a Mt. Everest pile of laundry.
I was thinking way ahead to these other tasks when I heard a “pop.” Then the high-pitched squeal began. I took no notice because of the extreme amount of racket the machine produced in the first place. I should have listened. The machine was running a bit sluggish, too. I just pushed harder on the same spot.
“Grape juice,” I muttered, “always grape juice!”
“WeeeeeeeeWeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” the scrubber wailed. It was foaming a bit more, too, kind of like a rabid dog, then it began to sputter, like a bad cough.
I turned it off and back on again, a sure-fire fixing method that always worked with my computer.
“What’s the matter with it, mom?” my son asked.
“Grape juice,” I answered.
I started it up again.
“Whiiiiiiiirrrrrreeeeeeeeeee.” It didn’t sound much healthier.
I suppose I should have given up, but being the perfectionist that I am, I couldn’t help but to go back the stain, which was faint by now but still visible. I couldn’t rest until it was gone. My eyebrows furrowed, I growled and gripped the handle tighter, pushing the machine forward and back again and again. Maybe treating it roughly will make it work better, I reasoned.
“Come on! You are a disgrace!” I yelled like a drill sergeant, “I’ve seen Swiffers that can do a better job than you!”
My mind was working a mile a minute, focused on the stain with an estimated age of two weeks old when it happened …
“POP! Screeeeeeeech!” went the machine. I jumped back in horror. My boy took his fingers from his ears to stare in my direction, his eyes filled with terror.
Smoke began to billow from the cleaner. After a strange hissing, flames rose up from the bottom, and rushed up the backside, a hot streak of orange.
I was frozen, not able to do anything. I pictured my house being set ablaze. I could hear my husband scolding me.
“Well, you’ve burned down the house, now what are we going to do about dinner?”
It seemed as though everything was in slow motion.
My son screamed and ran out the front door, slamming it loudly behind him. “Waaaaaaaa. Fire! Fire!” I heard him yell.
The flames died as quickly as they had risen. I could still hear my son. I pictured him sitting in the front yard yelling, fingers stuck in his ears, and neighbors surrounding him with puzzled looks on their faces. Not to mention the police, who I’m sure would stop by to investigate a report of a child alone in his yard, hysterical …
In a quick moment of damage control, I carted the charred heap of a carpet cleaner to the end of the driveway, it was still smoking so I grabbed the hose and doused it. With a sizzle and a crack, the scrubber was finished. It died honorably.
I wiped the sweat from my brow and pulled off my bandana.
“Just let go,” I whispered to the dying Dirt Devil.
Then I looked around for my son, who wasn’t in the front yard after all. I found him crouched beside the car, praying. I could hear his pleas before I even got to him. I walked over and bent down to his level. I still felt badly shaken, but I wanted to look tough for him.
“Sweetie, are you alright?” I said, looking down at the terrified boy that did have his fingers in his ears.
“What?” he yelled.
I removed the fingers.
“Mommy, I thought you died.”
“No I’m alright, the cleaner isn’t in real good shape, though,” I said, motioning toward the smoking pile at the end of driveway. It popped again as if to affirm my statement.
“I’ve been praying,” he said, “I prayed that God would save you.”
“Well, it looks like He answered your prayer,” I said, smiling at him. I reached over and smoothed out his blonde hair, which was matted with sweat.
“Can we get out of here?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered.
He stood up and dusted himself off.
“Well, I guess we should call the fire department,” he suggested.
“The house is still on fire,” I looked into his big blue eyes on his tear-stained dirty face. I hugged him.
“The house is fine, the flames died down as soon as they shot up. Everything’s fine.”
We decided to go back into the house so I could prove to him that everything was intact.
When he saw that the living room looked as it always had (which isn’t necessarily a good thing), he breathed a sigh of relief. Then he took a whiff.
“Phew, yuck!” he said.
It was true. The only thing that was different was a horrible burning rubber smell. A haze still hung in the air. I opened some windows. After I sprayed some air freshener, we both agreed that now would be a good time for our walk.
We started up our street hand-in-hand. Everything was tranquil. We talked about our “near brush with death.”
“Mom, why did that happen?” he asked me.
“Well, mommy didn’t listen. The machine was sick, but I just kept going. Kind of like we do in life when God is trying to tell us something and we just keep doing our own thing. You see what happens when we stray? We get into trouble when we don’t listen to the warnings.”
“Yes,” he said, his expression serious, then he grinned, “hey mom, I almost wet my pants when that happened,” he began to giggle.
“Me too, son, me too.”
When we walked back home, we went into the house and cautiously stepped over to where the cleaner had scrubbed its last scrub to survey the damage.
To my surprise, there was only a tiny scorch mark.
“It doesn’t look so bad,” I said in astonishment, pointing to the mark, I bent down for a closer look.
It was amazing that the fire didn’t do any more damage.
I was so lucky.
I felt that the mark had been placed there to remind me to always heed the warning sounds, or the cleaning process might get a little rough.