by Mark 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 online. 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.”
Mark Renney lives in the U.K. and has been previously published in Still, RaW nerVZ, The Interpreter’s House, Bones and Unbroken Journal. He also contributes to the art blog collective Hijacked Amygdala.