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Sarah Salway

The second time the office vacuum cleaner broke down, I decided to mend it myself. I remembered the last repair man’s face as he’d scraped every unreasonable demand from the filter, how he’d put on gloves to clear disappointments from the last round of peer assessments, the way he grimaced as he blew down the nozzle to free those 4.30pm glances at the clock, the sighs of frustration during team meetings, and how he’d shaken the dust-bag so vigorously that even the lightest strands of gossip flew free. 


We pride ourselves on being a tight-knit unit in this office. I didn’t know what might happen if we opened ourselves up again to so much scrutiny.


This time, it was the motor that was strained. It stopped and started, keening as if its heart was broken. I gentled the hard yellow body, twisted the flexible hose over one shoulder until the floor roller tickled my nape and the power-head spooned at my ear. Our breath became hot as secrets spilled out - the sound of stifled laughter, swollen gasps, a delicate rustle of silk falling to the ground next to the photocopier, and then the tears. So many painful tears.


Then I waited for the air to cool before tenderly switching us both on to begin afresh.

Sarah Salway is a poet, short story writer and author of three novels, including Something Beginning With. Her writing has been published widely including in The Virago Book of the Joy of Shopping, The Poetry of Sex (Penguin Books) and the Financial Times. She is currently a consultant for reading groups with the Royal Literary Fund. Her website is at

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