Inez and Albo Truez sat blinking at the television screen. They had just completed a successful garage sale in which they had managed to clear out most of the past year's excess and now they were going to watch a movie. Albo had gotten rid of more than Inez knew. He was going to tell her before the movie started, but the phone rang:
"Hello," he answered.
"Yes. Who's this?"
"It's Walter. Walter Hatband from two doors down. Listen. I bought an old egg beater from your sale today."
"Oh, yes. I guess I know the one. Is there a problem?"
"Actually there is. I got it home and used it to beat some eggs for a western sandwich for my grandson, Toil."
"Your grandson's name is Toil? I think you have more problems than just my egg beater. But what, exactly has got you ruffled? Didn't it work alright?" Albo asked.
"Oh, yes, it did. But after Toil ate the sandwich, he began walking around babbling about how he 'didn't want to be a bother,' and how he knows that 'children can be exhausting' and he 'didn't want to cause my early death.' Then he found a scrub brush and bucket in the breezeway, filled the bucket with soapy water and began scrubbing the floors on his knees. Albo, Toil is ten. Something's up."
"What do I have to do with Toil's obvious struggle with his own existence? I live two doors away. I hardly know the kid," he defended.
"Albo, come clean. What did you do?" Walter demanded.
There was silence for a moment. Albo looked over at his wife. And she was looking back at him, trying to piece together the one side of the conversation that she was hearing. He took a deep breath.
"Okay. So sue me. I got rid of a little guilt with the egg beater. I didn't think you'd mind."
"Guilt? You packaged the egg beater up with guilt and didn't tell anyone? No wonder it was so cheap. Five cents. Unheard of. I should have known."
"Oh, for crying out loud Walter. Inez and I are going on vacation and I wanted to clean house so we could have some fun. It feels so good. You should try it."
"I should try...what else did you get rid of?"
"Well, we managed to get rid of that ridiculous dog-clock, where the ears rotate to tell the time...it just always bothered me at around ten after seven; looked painful. So I bundled it up with some angst that I didn't want. But that was all. Or pretty much all, except for the suspicion and paranoia that I hid in a 'Yahtzee' game. But nobody plays those games anymore. I don't even know who bought the game. I didn't see it go."
"I should have known better than to buy anything from your sale. I knew you'd do it again. I knew it," Walter accused.
He was referring to an incident several years ago wherein Albo and Inez had attended a pot-luck gathering. They had intentionally brought a salad in a bowl that they had knowingly used to store vitriol that they weren't using. Before dessert, the party cleared, everyone sad and believing that either the food they had brought, their pant suit selections, or their choice of spouse was terribly, terribly flawed. Feelings were so intense that the Durbin County Emotion Bylaw Office was called in. Charges were strongly implied and the pair were forced to endure several weeks of emotional lock-down in the form of politically correct children's programming in 3-D. The experience almost killed them and they repented.
"Alright. Alright. Bring the egg beater back. I'll give you your money."
"I want more than my money back. I want you to take back the guilt."
"Alright, alright. I'll...I'll do better. I have a set of Yankee Spoons that I'll give you for Toil. I'll give them to you, for free and I'll throw in moderate concern for others. It's a rare attribute for a boy like Toil to have. "
There was silence on the line. Walter was thinking. Inez got up and went into the kitchen. Walter finally agreed and said that he'd be right over. Albo hung up the phone and wiped his brow. Inez came back into the room with a glass of milk in one hand, and the Yahtzee game in the other. He watched her put the game up on the book shelf next to Scrabble and Quaker Monopoly ( a remnant from their lock down that they were required to keep in the house as a reminder).
"What are you doing with that game?" he asked.
"Why are you asking? What do you mean? Does this milk taste off to you? Are you really my husband? Why are we watching this movie? It's creepy and makes me uncomfortable...unless you're trying to tell me that you don't love me anymore. Is that it? Who's that coming up the stairs? I think I'm lactose intolerant. Who's at the door. I should call the police..."
"Inez. Inez!" he yelled. "Stop! So you opened the Yahtzee box?"
She looked at him, somewhat troubled.
"Inez, toast! Use the toaster. It's full of common sense and stability, remember?"
She got up and made herself walk toward the kitchen where the toaster was. Just then, the doorbell rang. It was Walter, and instead of waiting for someone to open the door, he just barged in. He held up the egg beater. Inez, thinking this was a threat wrestled the guilt-laden egg beater from his hands, ran into the kitchen and jammed it into the toaster. The ensuing melange of conflicting emotions and electrical current, though set to toast on light, resulted in a slightly overweight fireball with dyed, thinning hair, eyebrows drawn on startlingly high on the forehead, and a split-second realization that her husband had all of the dependability and charm of a cheap plastic zipper. She disappeared in an instant.
The two men looked at the toaster for a minute. Albo disappeared into the back room and came out with a plaque laden with spoons commemorating the American civil war (because nothing helps to explain death, pain and hardship better than cutlery). He handed the plaque to Walter.
"For your grandson Toil," he said.
"Thank you Albo. And I'm sorry about your wife, I guess...that toaster. I know the two of you were...tolerating each other nicely. I was wondering," he looked down at his spoons, "could I take that toaster off your hands? My wife, Grantietta complains about...toast. She doesn't like our toast."
Albo thought for a moment. He looked around the apartment.
"Walter, I guess I'm going to be going on a longer vacation than I had originally planned. Perhaps, if I give you the toaster, you could also take care of the cat, Suet. He's a manx crossed with cloying need, complete global indifference, and halitosis, but he has a nice coat. Grantietta will adore him."
Walter nodded. Albo picked up Suet just as you'd pick up a bag of mortar. He stuffed him into a box and handed it to Walter on his way out the door. Walter headed out.
Two weeks later, Albo and Grantietta were sitting on the beach in Curacao. It was a lovely day with a warm breeze moving the smells of the tropics through like a buffet for the senses. Grantietta was smearing sunscreen on her great calves.
"You know, Albo, Walter never even suspected the box. He let Suet out in the living room and then I watched him hold onto the box in one hand, and the toaster in the other; common sense and stability vrs. an intense empathy toward processed meats. I think I actually saw his mind unsnap. No one could withstand that kind of inner conflict."
Albo adjusted his sun hat. He loved Grantietta. He wasn't sure where this love came from. He really didn't care. But he found it odd that his feelings started only after he began using that new floss that his dentist gave him.
"You do what you need to do in this world my little cabbage. Let me know when you need more of that sunscreen. I've got lots."
Grantietta nodded and leaned back in the chair to soak up the sun, the bottle of sunscreen leaning beside her beach bag. It was good quality sunscreen with an SPF of 60...with added adoration and fawning. And, it came with a free lip balm.