Home | Back issues | sfflier@well.com

July 25, 2008


Searching with candles — a rug ruff


[No politics today. Just a short short story, what the Japanese call a "palm-of-the-hand tale." Or a beginning.]

Her eyes kept coming back to the pattern in the rug.

It was a beige rug, one of those pseudo-oriental designs with olive and rose geometric patterns arranged in apparently random configurations.  Flowers and leaves, of a species never seen on earth, curled around the edge. The center was broken up by vaguely rounded shapes, each with a significant-looking object in the middle, like a floating space traveler captured in a nebula. One was a face, a strange drooping face, but nevertheless a face, with sagging white eyes, full green ears, and a porcine snout outlined in burgundy.

She stared at it.

It spoke.

The voice was high-pitched, syrupy, emerging from somewhere inside two pudgy cheeks.

“You did it again,” it said. “Why don’t you give up?”

She watched as the area around the face undulated, emitting a musty odor, thrusting the dark circle forward. The face stared at her, its eyes distorted with sorrow.

“Give up,” it repeated.

She watched as the nose turned a deep carmine. A tear swelled in the corner of one eye and broke loose, rolling toward the pointed chin.

She glanced at the heap of sodden tissues next to her, wondering if she should offer to dry the damp line that was spreading down the rug. There were a lot of tissues. She had not realized how long she had been sitting there, curled up on the couch. Pain casts a spell on time, transforming hours into minutes and minutes into seconds. Only the pain remains the same.

Her head felt swollen. She looked out the open window, toward the telecommunications tower on top of Bernal Hill. It was hard to make out. Her eyes were having trouble focusing. A Stellar’s jay landed on the lemon tree in her neighbor’s yard and screeched. The sound seemed to come from far away. Something had muffled her ears.

“Give up.”

The words she had not allowed herself to say. The words she had not allowed herself to think. And now this misshapen caricature, this thing on the floor next to her, was inviting her to look behind the door that she had never dared to open.

She closed her eyes.

And looked.

She watched herself walk over to the table and tear up years of carefully rendered drawings. She saw herself take a saw-toothed knife and rip jagged slashes into a pile of canvases. She felt the weight of a rusty hammer as it swung and fell, smashing smooth clay figures into rough bits.

Her fists clenched. They turned into hard little stones. She walked over to the table and pounded them against the pile of rubble she had made earlier. A plume of reddish dust spiraled up, smelling of baked earth. Her fists were still hungry. She began to beat them against the wall, chipping away at the plaster, gouging a slit that grew wider. And wider. And wider.

The sight of red stains on the edge of the hole stopped her. She forced her fingers to straighten and stared at the macerated knuckles. Her hands throbbed. She thrust one finger into her mouth, tasting the warm sweetness of fresh blood.

A faint sound arose from the floor. She looked at the face. The lower corners of its eyes, which had once seemed likely to slide down its cheeks, were now beginning to contract. Tiny muscles made taut the once-flabby cheeks. The pale pursed lips expanded into the suggestion of a smile. Or was it a smirk?

“Well done,” she heard it coo. “Don’t you feel better?” She thought she saw a pink tongue caress the upper lip.

She looked at the mess on the table. She turned toward the wall, where twisted wires and rough studs were visible through the hole. Her fingers were beginning to swell. The fog of anguish that had obscured her vision lifted, burned off by a sharp physical pain.

Yes, she did feel better. Much better. She went into the kitchen and returned with a garbage bag, which she filled with the detritus on the table. Her hands trembled as she taped a piece of cardboard over the hole in the wall. She felt her knees buckle and leaned on the back of a chair to steady herself, gaining strength from the unyielding wood.

The face grinned up at her.

“Good job,” the voice said, as a mother praises an obedient child. “Now lie down next to me and let me ease your distress. You must relax and let it all go out of your life. Let it all go, as though it has never been. There, there. Let it all go. Isn’t that better? ”

Let it all go.

Let go.


Again the thick pile of the rug pulsed and settled. The face grew flat, its eyes mournful once more. She stared at it.

“Let go. It’s better that way.”

She stood up. Grasping the short side of the rug, she dragged it toward the opposite wall. She turned it completely around. Her eyes toured the sides of the room, looking for something. They lit on a small desk, a well-worn piece of furniture that had held her high school homework and her first sketchbooks. She pulled it toward the rug. It was lighter than she remembered. She lifted the desk and carried it toward the other side, the side where the face lay looking up at her.

She planted the little desk directly over the face.

“No,” she said. “This is better.”

From inside a drawer she pulled out a black-and-white photograph. She laid it on the desk in front of her. She drew up a chair and sat down. Her feet rested on the face in the rug.

“Much better.”

To be continued (maybe).

Thanks for reading. I’m outta here till Tuesday.

        — Copyright Betsey Culp 2008