The Brush Seller

from The Meteorite and other fables

On a crumbling corner, in a delinquent neighbourhood, in the maze of a vast sprawling city, two men sipped noxious coffee in an all-night diner.

The first was a down-and-out: he wore a tattered hat and even more tattered raincoat, and carried an ancient suitcase with very little in it.

But the second was a brush seller: he also wore a tattered hat and an even more tattered raincoat, and carried an ancient suitcase – but he had his brushes in his.

“Homeless?” said the down-and-out, who had recently discovered a warm air vent in the district, and was planning to spend another night alone with it.

“Business,” said the brush seller. “I’m in town for a few meetings. I just got here. I’m not wasting my dollars for a few hours’ sleep in an overpriced hotel.”

The two parted, the down-and-out to his warm air vent, the brush seller to an uncomfortable nest behind a cluster of trashcans.

When morning broke, the down-and-out slept on, but the brush seller made his way to the railway station. There, he administered a bracing shave, a wash and broom up, shone up his shoes and suitcase with his very own brushes – and hit the streets, ready to start selling.

He walked all day from building to building, buzzing on buzzers, whispering into intercoms, talking his shtick – and selling no brushes whatsoever.

That night he was back in the diner, where, again, he encountered the down-and-out.

“How was the meeting?” asked the down-and-out, drunkenly.

“Mee-tingsss,” said the brush seller. “I met with a lot of interesting clients, had some pretty exciting discussions, and we’re looking forward to doing business in the near future . . .

“I’m opening up a whole new territory down here,” he continued. “I’m the first man in. It’s a hell of a challenge.”

“Exactly what business are you in?” asked the down-and-out.

“Household Appliance Distribution,” replied the brush seller.

They went their separate ways, the first to his air vent, the second to his nest amongst the trashcans.

As the week went on the brush seller strayed into the suburbs. Ringing bells, dodging dogs, nattering with housewives. Still selling no brushes whatsoever.

They met every night: the down-and-out after a day of rest: the brush seller, a day of walking and talking and walking.

“Busy day?”

“I’ll say. We’re getting a lot of interest . . .

“We’re fielding a lot of enquiries . . .

“We’re collating a number of new suggestions . . .

“We like to meet our customers on their home ground; they appreciate that we come to them.”

“And you still don’t need a hotel room?” asked the down-and-out – after a week of these bulletins.

“I have a hotel room,” the brush seller assured him. “We like to get up early. We feel that it gives us an edge.”

On the sixth day the brush seller was chased from the station washroom, on the flimsy basis that he wasn’t a railway customer. He sat on a bench and went through his pockets. He had five dollars.

“Did you have good meetings?” the down-and-out asked him that evening.

“No meetings today,” said the brush seller. “It was our Quarterly Audit. There’s a possibility of future diversification.”

The final night was the coldest night. The brush seller could take it no more. He set light to a trashcan, and burned all the trash to keep warm. He burned the contents of all the trashcans. Finally he threw his suitcase full of brushes into the flames.

He took his last few quarters and rang his sister in the East, and explained that the board had been completely restructured, and as he had an opening in the city where she lived would she mind if he dropped by, for a night or two, before the interview?”

“Sure,” she said. “Have you got that money you still owe us? Whatever. I can always get you a few weeks at the canning plant.”

Then he slipped under the wire in the grey, grey dawn and over the tracks of the junction, and hauled himself aboard a slow, empty freight wagon.

He caught his breath. He said his prayers. He surrendered to the long, long journey – and was surprised to see, in the corner of the wagon, a down-and-out.

“Good Morning,” said the brush seller. “Steve Henderson. Henderson Appliances.”

“Busted eh?” asked the down-and-out.

“Oh goodness no,” said the brush seller. “All flights grounded, bad weather, this train’s fully booked. But I have an urgent meeting with my people in the East. Our entire stock’s just been wiped out . . . in a fire.”

Moral: People don’t like to call it what it is.

© Adam Acidophilus 2015