The man walks down the street pulling a large, wheeled sample case and a clipboard. Even with both hands full and dragging the sample case, he manages a slight swagger to his walk. He stops in front of a simple, ranch-style house with green shutters.
He is dressed in a white cotton/poly short sleeve dress shirt with shiny brown polyester pants. He has a clip-on tie that matches his pants. His shoes are cheap vinyl loafers. His hair is combed with a part on the left side with an almost perfect pompadour, but the angle of his hair is slightly off. Realizing that something is amiss, he reaches up and adjusts his toupee so that the hair is perfect.
The man looks at his clipboard and finds the address of the house in front of him. The grass is a little long, and the sidewalk is broken in places. There is a pink Big Wheel trike lying on its side in the grass along with several evidences of dogs having visited the yard lately. Next to the front door is a sign announcing "No Solicitors" in English and Spanish. Beneath the sign on the ground is a faded copy of The Watchtower magazine.
The man grins and reaches into his back pants pocket and takes out a clip-on ID card. The card is made of shiny plastic. It almost looks the sort of card that would unlock doors in government buildings. It is printed with his name, an ID number and barcode. It has the title of "OFFICIAL SURVEY WORKER" printed at the top next to a small American flag. There is no actual organization or company name on it. He clips it to his shirt pocket and grins. “Best twenty dollars I ever spent," he thinks to himself. “This little treasure has gotten me into houses that other people can’t touch.”
Presenting himself at the front door, he rings the bell and waits. There is no answer right away, but he can hear muffled noises inside. Two minutes go by and still no answer. He rings the bell again and waits. Again there are muffled noises, but this time the front door finally opens slowly.
Behind the screen door a little girl of about five years old steps up to greet the man. She is wearing a purple party dress with a sparkly tiara. On her feet are Dora the Explorer® tennis shoes, but they are well used and in need of replacement. In her left hand is a wand with a star on the end, and her right hand holds the front door so that she may close it quickly. Though she has a whimsical appearance, there is a confident no-nonsense look in her face. She speaks first, “Good morning Sir. My name is Princess Chloe and this is my kingdom. How may I help you today my good man?”
The man hesitates. The little girl speaks like an adult in a child’s body, with a confidence that is unsettling.
He finally speaks, “Good morning little girl…”
“I said, ‘My name is Princess Chloe,’ if you please!” There is a definite look of annoyance on the little girl’s face.
“I’m so sorry… Princess Chloe. Is your mother available today?”
“I’m afraid she is unavailable at this time. May I ask what this is in regard to?” The little girl stumbles a little on the big words, but doesn’t miss a beat. Her poker face is solid.
The man is a little unnerved, but swallows hard, straightens his posture and begins his pitch. “Well I’m here today as part of a nationwide safety survey to determine if homes in this area are safe from the effects of excessive exposure to Argon and Krypton gases. Exposure to these gases have been shown to cause vitamin deficiencies, developmental delays and cancers. In my case, here I have copies of the studies from the prestigious Vanderbilt Science Institute of Newark, New Jersey. As part of this survey your house will receive a professional ten point inspection, and if there is a danger from these gases to your residence we are proud to be able to offer a nationally subsidized version of our home filtration systems...”
Princess Chloe holds up her hand while the man is still speaking.
He finally stops speaking, “Yes, Princess Chloe?”
“Do you have a bro--…brochure?”
”Yes, right here.” The man turns and opens his case and gets out a brochure. As he holds it out, the screen door opens quickly and Princess Chloe snatches the brochure from him and closes the screen door hard.
“Please wait here, I’ll be right back,” and with that the front door closes with a slam.
The man begins to berate himself, “What was I thinking? Never give brochures out until you get in the house! What a rookie mistake! This kid is just so weird.” Three minutes pass, and nothing happens. He can hear voices discussing something and lots of moving around inside the house. “All right, I can do this. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Time to turn on the charm and put the fear of the Boogie Man into these people’s lives. I can do this!” the man says to himself.
The door finally opens slowly but this time Princess Chloe opens the front door all the way so he can see into the house. It is dim inside the house. The curtains are closed and there are no lights on. In the darkness the man can only see halfway into the house. In the far end of the room there is a large black shape moving around with a sparkle on one end of it, but he still can’t make out what it is.
Before the man can say anything, Princess Chloe reaches up and locks the screen door. Princess Chloe stands up straight with one hand behind her back. She takes on a very far-away look and begins to speak as if she was reciting lines from a Christmas Pageant, but her stern face does not blink as she stumbles through the words rapid-fire. “My dear sir, we do appreciate you stopping by today, but upon conferring with our business manager, Mr. Buttons, it has been determined that we are not in need of your services at this time.”
Sensing this is his last chance, the man breaks in, interrupting Princess Chloe’s speech. “If I could just speak to this Mr. Buttons, this is an urgent danger to many homes in your area. I’m offering safety and security to your family today. This isn’t a sales call! This is life and death! Why, just last week they had to take the folks from Percy Street to the hospital because of these gases. This is serious business and I want to help you!”
At this point Princess Chloe looks down at the ground and brings her hand that been behind her back up to face level. On the hand is a sock puppet with bright red button eyes attached to the sock with a dark X of black thread. The puppet has a small bowler hat attached to his head and a full mustache. The puppet begins to speak with a gravelly voice as Princess Chloe begins to animate his face. “I am Mr. Buttons, business manager for the kingdom of Princess Chloe. We have examined your bro--…bro-chures and feel your services are not necessary at this time.”
As the puppet continues speaking, Princess Chloe slowly moves to the side of the door frame, leaving the salesman speaking to the puppet alone. In the dark interior of the house other shapes begin to move back and forth. The man is so intent on the sock puppet that he does not notice this. He quickly interrupts Mr. Buttons’ speech. “Mr. Buttons! There is so much more to this than the brochures can communicate. If you would simply allow me to come in and share some charts and figures with you I’m sure you could see that.”
Mr. Buttons straightens up and pulls his lips back into a puppet snarl and responds in a gravelly shout, “I will not discuss this further! Good day to you, Sir!”
At the sound of, “Good day,” a cacophony begins from the inside of the house. It is not simply a dog barking, there are multiple dogs howling, growling, and baying fiercely. Mr. Buttons disappears from view and is replaced by four dogs slamming their bodies into the screen door as one four-headed creature out to murder whoever gets in its way. There is a black Great Dane, a husky with pale blue eyes, a Doberman, and a miniature poodle – all barking, growling, and baying at full volume as they strain against the aluminum screen door, making it creak as if it will pop open at any second.
The man turns in terror and flees down the sidewalk as quickly as he can run, dragging his sample case behind him. As he glances back to make sure the door doesn’t spring open, he trips on the broken sidewalk, falling between the grass and the edge of the sidewalk. He lands with a thud and a curious crunch. Finally he crawls to his feet, first looking in the direction of the screen door. Princess Chloe is smiling and waving and the dogs all have open, laughing mouths that mock him. The door closes with a loud click.
At just that time, two high school girls begin to jog up the sidewalk. Without thinking the man greets them, “hello ladies, how are you today?” followed by his best grin and his patented eyebrow move. They look at him and laugh. The one with brown hair says to her friend, “As if!” They jog on.
Just then the wind blows across him, and he can feel his toupee flapping loose in the breeze on the back of his head. He pulls the toupee forward and begins to take stock of his appearance. His tie is hanging loose by his tie tack, his shirt has a big brown spot on the left side that he is afraid to examine and is torn at the pocket. At his feet is the plastic ID card. A corner has broken off and the photo was scratched beyond recognition on the rough sidewalk. It's useless to him now. He hangs his head and begins to walk back to his car. There is no point in continuing today.
Inside the house Princess Chloe and the dogs dance through the house, barking and laughing as they move to the master bedroom. Her mom is propped up in bed with many pillows. She blows her nose as her daughter and the dogs enter the room.
“Queen Mommy, I have sent the bad man away," Princess Chloe announces seriously.
“What a good princess you are. I applaud your fine work for the kingdom. That makes four this month. You shall have the sparkly purple tennis shoes you asked for as a reward for being such a brave princess.”
“Yay!" Princess Chloe squeals and jumps up and down.
“Now be sure to give the doggies a treat for all of their help. A good princess takes care of her loyal subjects. “
“Yes, Queen Mommy. I will do that right now.”
John Homan is a poet and percussionist from Bend, Oregon. He is a graduate of Indiana University. His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Misfit Magazine, Mojave Heart Review, and Constellate Magazine, among others. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, daughter and their two cats, Henry and Lucy. His personal website is: https://about.me/john_homan