THE CARPET MERCHANT’S DAUGTHER By Mira Martin-Parker
GETTING RID OF THE DOGS (5) GETTING RID OF THE CHICKENS, DUCKS AND GEESE (6) GETTING RID OF THE YOUNG GIRLS (7) CUCUMBERS (8) ROSES (12) THE LION RUG (18) BLUR (22) THE MAGIC CARPET (26) STUFF (28) SEAN FLANNERY (29)
Acknowledgem ents August 2012, Gangway Literary Magazine, Issue 43 Story: “Blur” Fall, 2012, Knot Magazine Stories: “The Lion Rug” “Cucumbers” September 1, 2011, Press 1, Vol. 5, # 2 Story/Prose Poem: “Stuff” August 2011, Sparkle and Blink Issue #2.7 Story: “Cucumbers” Fall 2011, Sleetmagazine.com, Vol. 3, # 2 Story: “The Magic Carpet” January 2011, Battle Runes: Writings on War, Editions Bibliotekos Story: “Cucumbers” September/October 2010, Ragazine Story: “Roses” June 2010, Onepagestories.com, Issue #3 Story: “Getting Rid of the Dogs”
GETTING RID OF THE DOGS
Dad would buy a bag of dog food, load them all in the back of Debbie’s VW bus, and drive way out on Bullard, past the ranch homes, almost all the way to the foothills. Then he’d pull off and head down a dirt road, into a hidden area surrounded by old oak trees and tall grass. When he was sure no one was looking, he’d take out the bag of dog food and pour some on the ground, leaving the other half still in the bag. Hopefully they’d be smart and not to eat it all at once. Then he’d let them out and drive off. They’d chase the car all the way back to the main road, barking and howling all the way. But once he hit the pavement he’d speed off and be gone.
GETTING RID OF THE CHICKENS, DUCKS AND GEESE
Once they were old enough, Eli would help dad load them all in the back of Debbie’s VW bus. Then they would drive over to a large recreational park on the north side of town. The birds would be squawking, quacking, clucking, running, and flapping around the car entire way. Once at the park they would pull up to the fence and start throwing the birds over the top, one by one, until all of them were safely on the other side. The park was a nice one, with acres of manicured grass, an artificial lake, and lots of trees. I’m pretty sure the birds were very happy with their new surroundings. Dad knew the ducks and geese would be okay, since people liked to go there and feed them bread. Hopefully the chickens would be able to find something to eat. But just in case they didn’t, dad threw an open bag of feed over the fence as well.
GETTING RID OF THE YOUNG GIRLS
Dad used to take me into West Hollywood with him when he visited his carpet dealer buddies. He’d leave me at Wali’s shop and walk up the street to Café Figaro and hang out. Once he left, Wali’s friend Amir would chase me in circles around the store. “Just one kiss,” he’d say, trying to catch me. I thought it was a game. I’d run, jumping from one stack of rugs to another. Finally he’d succeed in grabbing me by the arm and pulling me towards his scratchy mustache. “Just one kiss, please, just one kiss…”
It was still early in the day and the warm desert sun felt pleasant against the side of his face. As he drove along he struggled to tune in a radio station, but his old truck had only a coat hanger for an antenna and he could barely catch anything more than crackled voices. He had been driving nonstop since eight in the morning and his bladder was beginning to strain, so he slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road. Once at a stop, he checked quickly behind to make sure no one was coming, and carefully hid himself behind the open door. As he stood there, he examined the large crates of cucumbers he was hauling. April was cucumber season and he would be able to fetch quite an impressive price for his cargo at market. They had been purchased cheap from a friend of his in Jordan, and Jordanian cucumbers were known to be the best; all you had to do was peel them and add a sprinkle of salt. He remembered back when he was a little boy, children were not allowed to bring cucumbers to school during Aprilâ€”the smell of the freshly cut fruit was so overwhelming, it was considered cruel and insensitive to the children whose parents could not afford them. When he finished, he adjusted his trousers, climbed back into his truck, and continued up the empty road. He hadnâ€™t been able to fit the entire load in the back, so one of the crates was resting beside him on the passenger seat. They were the thin Persian variety, and several were so small they had escaped from the slats and were now rolling around playfully on the floor. One began making its way dangerously close to his accelerator, so he leaned down, grabbed it, and chucked it out the open window. He watched as it flew
through the air and hit the sand. Immediately he felt guilty. So many people were going without any fresh produce at all. These days, even boiled cabbage was a luxury. Why, there wasn’t a child on his street that wouldn’t sweep several courtyards in exchange for that one skinny little cucumber. After driving another twenty-five miles he reached a checkpoint. There were three U.S. Military Humvees parked in front and several American soldiers with machine guns standing beside them. About ten feet away, a group of Iraqi soldiers were leaning against an old Land Rover and chatting casually amongst themselves. He slowed down, and when he was close enough to see their faces, he waved a friendly greeting at the Iraqis. By this time the men were standing at attention, waiting to check him through. They eyed his truck suspiciously as he pulled up, and he began getting nervous, but the first soldier to approach his vehicle immediately smiled upon noticing his goods. “Oh my, what have we here?” he said, bending over and admiring the bountiful crates. “Fresh cucumbers! What my wife wouldn’t give to serve a fresh cucumber salad with dinner tonight.” And so he parted with the crate next to him on the seat, plus two more from the back, and he was not only treated kindly in return, but they didn’t even bother making sure it was only cucumbers he was hauling. Instead, they cheerfully waived him through and wished him good luck at market. When he reached the crossroad, just before the border, he pulled over and got out. He was supposed to be met exactly at eleven, but he was five minutes early. There wasn’t a soul in sight, so he lit up a cigarette and stood waiting. The desert had heated up considerably by then, so he went and fetched a plastic tarp from behind his seat, then draped it hurriedly over the exposed crates. As he was tying down the corners he looked up and noticed the dusty trail of a car quickly approaching. His heart started beating fast, but he
continued on with his task as if it wasn’t there. When he looked up again, the car was close enough for him to recognize it as Ali’s primer gray Land Rover. At once he relaxed and stood up. Ali greeted him warmly then went straight to the back of the truck. After briefly commenting on the beautiful cucumbers, he threw up the tarp, pulled aside the top crates, and exposed three large wooden boxes hidden underneath. Each measured about 3 x 7 and was nailed firmly shut. They quickly loaded these into the back of the Rover, without saying a word the entire time. Then Ali pulled a heavy envelope from his breast pocket and handed it over. After receiving two crates cucumbers, Ali said farewell and left. A minute later Ali’s car was out of sight and once again the road was empty. He held the heavy envelope in his hands for a moment, then opened it. Inside there was a stack of Euros, two inches thick and held together with a rubber band. Wrapped around this was a neatly handwritten letter in English. He quickly returned the money to the envelope and slid it behind the front seat. Then he lit another cigarette, leaned against the truck, and read.
My Dearest Wali, I hope this letter finds you safe and well. I will get straight to business, as I know this is of utmost concern to you right now. The 19th Century Tabriz (4x6 and utterly breathtaking) was auctioned last month at Sotheby’s for €35,000. The four Gabbehs (two lions, one floral, and one geometric) I took care of myself, working with dealers directly online. The lions both went to a small shop on the Via Marzo in Venice (a Swiss dealer, whom I actually met years ago in at a conference in London). Each piece went for €10,000. The geometric and the floral sold for €12,000 a piece. The rose-patterned Isfahan (unspeakably lovely and by far the most precious of the collection) went to Dr. Bracken at the British Museum (who sends his best to you and your family). We had to haggle a bit on this one, but finally settled on €65,000—I admit it is a bit low, and I probably could have squeezed more out of the old chap, but I knew you would have done the same in my shoes, having been so fond of him yourself. The Malayer camel hair runner and the Halvai Bijar runner both went to a German attorney redecorating his family estate. They sold for €28,000 and €32,000 respectively.
The money has been distributed as follows: Kathleen received a check from me last Tuesday for €100,000. I wired Kevin Hartourian €44,000. €14,000 went to partially cover the yearly maintenance fees on the Lowell Street flat (as you know, I insist on accepting nothing for rent, and Kathleen and Nadia may live there as long as they wish, but Kathleen begged me to at least take something, and I promised her I would). €1200 went to Ali for his services. The remaining €34,000 I have enclosed for you. Please contact me immediately if any of this goes against your wishes and I will do my best to correct the matter. Astrid and I flew to London last week and saw Kathleen. Nadia looks more and more like you every time we visit (I have included a photo from our trip). She is doing quite well in her studies, and is apparently top of her class in both French and German. I made a quick stop by Amwell Street. I walked by your old store, which is now a flower shop (something which made me very happy). The mood on the street has changed, though. There is suspicion everywhere, especially with European collectors like myself (old Mr. Alfaki wouldn’t even say hello). This soul-crushing mess has ruined everything, but you know quite well how I feel. Expect to hear from me within a week regarding the next exchange. Ali has kindly offered his assistance going forward (for a rather generous fee). I hope I have lived up to the trust you have placed in me. Your friend, Walter Langen Sils-Maria
Tucked behind the letter and carefully wrapped in scented tissue (no doubt Astrid’s touch), was a photograph of a pretty young girl about eight years of age, sitting at a large mahogany table and smiling cheerfully at the camera. Her hair was curly and deep chestnut brown. And yes, her dark eyes and chiseled features were unmistakably his. He stood looking at the photo for minute then tossed his cigarette into the sand. It was going on noon and if he wanted to sell his cucumbers by three he had to rush. He climbed back into his truck, placed the photo on the dash in front of him, and continued up the empty road.
Wali watched skeptically as Rasool crouched on the floor unfolding the carpet. “I’m not buying right now,” he said. “The store is way too full.” He lifted his arms and gestured around him. The floors were entirely covered with stacks of rugs, the walls were draped with ancient Chinese and Afghan pieces, and every isle was lined with either a Turkish runner or a faded Kilim. Just outside the door, greeting the numerous cars and pedestrians on College Avenue, was a stack of camel bags resting on a sawhorse. “Come on, Wali, just have a look. This is the most beautiful Gabbeh in the world, I swear,” Rasool said, winking at Wali. When Rasool had the carpet spread out evenly on the floor, Wali walked around its perimeter with his arms folded across his chest. “The colors are too bright—synthetic. And it can’t be more than fifty years old,” Wali said. “C’mon man, it’s beautiful! What’s wrong with you? You could sell it in a day and you know it,” Rasool snapped back. Rasool was right, it was beautiful. Probably the most beautiful Gabbeh Wali had ever seen. Unlike the others, it was not dominated by eccentric geometric shapes and figures, making it look as if it were woven by a child. Instead the entire field was filled with brilliantly colored roses—magenta, orange, fuchsia, and gold, each lined up side by side, separated by an almost imperceptible square frame.
It was also true that Wali could sell it in a day. In fact, he had at least three clients who would buy it unseen, over the phone, at whatever price he asked. Tribal carpets were hot, and Gabbehs the most collectable. Turning over a corner to inspect the knots, Wali realized the entire rug was as soft as a blanket. “How much?” Wali asked. “I won’t take less than ten thousand. You know it’s worth twice that—easy.” “But you still owe me five from the Mercedes,” Wali said. “Okay, five,” Rasool said firmly. “You’ve got to give it to me today though. My landlord’s going to throw me out of my apartment.” “Your wife’s on the phone, Wali,” Alexander the shop assistant called from the back of the store. “She wants you to pick up a bag of rice and some yogurt from Safeway on your way home.” Wali did not respond. Instead he bent over and began folding up the rug. Rasool grabbed at the opposite end. “How’s Zara?” Rasool asked. “Fine.” “And your daughter, does she like college?” “Sure, she’s all right. Can you take a check?” “As long as it’s good.” After Rasool left, Wali put the carpet in the back office and went home for the day, leaving Alexander to close up. *** When Wali opened the shop the following morning the entire back office smelled of flowers. Not the sharp smell of a cheap perfume, but the intoxicating wine-like fragrance of a large blossoming red rose. Wali
was reminded of his mother’s garden back home. “You see,” she would say, bending down to smell a rose, “they are sweet, just like God.” “Good morning,” Alexander said, arriving late for work, as usual. “Good morning,” Wali answered, not looking up. “Hey, Alexander, did you have a girl in here last night?” Alexander was at that age and Wali knew he occasionally brought friends into the shop late at night to party. As long as they cleaned up after themselves and didn’t start a fire, he didn’t mind. “Of course not!” Alexander said, pretending to be offended. “Why?” “The place smells of flowers.” “I don’t smell anything,” Alexander said, sniffing at the air. “I guess it’s nothing. Forget it. I’m sorry.” Wali thought of calling Dr. Weinsfeld about the new Gabbeh. Then he remembered how pretty it was. Maybe I’ll hold off and keep it in the shop for a few days, he thought to himself. What do I need money for? Zara will just spend it on a new washing machine. No, I’ll savor it for a little while. Besides, it will be nice for the customers to see. Wali sat at his desk waiting for Sharon, the young girl from the hair salon next door, to come out for her morning cigarette. Unlike the other carpet dealers in town, Wali did not go out at night drinking or keep a mistress. Instead, he limited the pleasures in his life to three: his wife’s cooking, spoiling his daughter, and visiting with Sharon in the morning when she had her cigarette. The problem was that lately, for some unknown reason, his wife had begun withdrawing the one last remaining bit of joy she still managed to give him. Her rice was almost always sticky now, her vegetables pale and lifeless, and she hardly ever used spices anymore. Lately his evening meal had become little more than the necessary acquisition of sustenance,
ingested at a silent table. To make matters worse, his beautiful, most-beloved daughter had just started college and was hardly ever home. Sharon was all he had left. The minute he saw the edge of her flowered skirt in the front window, Wali grabbed his pack of cigarettes and leapt from his chair. “Good morning,” he said, smiling. “Good morning,” she said, smiling back. “How’s things?” “Okay,” Wali said, looking down at the pavement. “You look tired, Wali. You work too hard. What you need is a good massage.” Sharon stretched out her long, ringed fingers, and kneaded at the air like dough. Wali stared in enchantment. “You should come over to my place sometime after work, I’ll give you one. I’ve taken classes, you know.” Wali was blushing like a teenage boy. “What’ll it be today?” he said, trying to change the subject. “A dragon, a lion, the Tree of Life, what about diamonds?” Each morning, Wali would ask Sharon this question, and then dash into his shop to look for a corresponding theme in a carpet for the front window. “Actually,” Wali said, remembering the rose rug, “I have a surprise for you.” He then stuck his head in the door and asked Alexander to hang the new rug in the front window. Now, Wali owned some pretty impressive carpets, and he was not stingy with what he allowed to be exposed to the harsh afternoon sun. Why, just yesterday he hung up a Nain that once belonged to the Shah of Iran, simply because Sharon asked for birds gathered around a fountain. But nothing, not even that silk Nain, had ever made her eyes sparkle quite the way they did when she saw Alexander unfolding the rose Gabbeh. “It’s beautiful,” she said, putting out her cigarette so she could go inside for a closer look. “Wali, it’s beautiful!” She repeated, brushing one of its soft corners against her cheek. “Where is it from?”
“Iran. It was made by a nomadic tribe.” “Nomads, cool! How much is it?” Sharon had never asked Wali the price of one of his carpets before. This was a good thing, in his view, since he knew she would not understand. The Nain up the day before was worth eighty-five thousand, maybe more. How could he possibly tell this to a young girl giving massages after work to earn extra cash? “Oh Sharon, I don’t know. I haven’t priced it yet.” Sharon spent the whole day popping out of the salon to have a cigarette and admire the rug. Every so often Wali could overhear her proudly explaining to one of her coworkers that it was woven by nomads. *** At about four o’ clock that afternoon a middle-aged man driving a vintage Jaguar pulled up in front of the store. He stood for some time looking at the rose carpet before coming inside and asking Alexander to take it down. Wali sat in the back office watching. The minute Alexander brought out the step stool, Sharon appeared with another cigarette. Wali waited a few minutes before getting up to greet his customer. “Good afternoon, sir,” Wali said, finally making his appearance. “Wonderful piece, isn’t it?” The man didn’t respond. Instead he walked slowly around the carpet. “The dyes are mostly synthetic,” the man said, stopping to flip over a corner of the rug with his shoe, “and it’s not terribly old either.” Wali glanced outside at Sharon, who was pacing back and forth like an angry animal. “No, you’re right. It’s not very old, maybe fifty years.” Sharon motioned for Wali to come outside. He pretended not to see, but then she leaned her head in the doorway and softly called his name.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Wali said. “Would you like some tea? Alexander, please bring this gentleman some tea.” Sharon stood nervously in front of Wali. “Is he going to buy it?” she asked. “I don’t know.” She then leaned close to him, so close he could smell her. It was the same intoxicating fragrance that filled his office earlier that morning. “Wali,” she said, “whatever that man offers, I’ll give you twice as much.” Again she stretched out her ringed fingers for him and rubbed a mound of imaginary flesh. “Twice as much,” she repeated in a whisper. Wali was drunk with her smell and the sight of her young hands when he walked back into his store. Twice as much, he thought to himself. Twice as much. When he returned, the man was sitting on the edge of a large stack of carpets, holding his cup of tea and scowling down at the rug. “I’m very sorry to keep you waiting,” Wali said, as he quickly began folding up the rose carpet. “Please, don’t take it away. I’m thinking of buying it. How much?” “I’m sorry, it’s already been sold. I’ll have Alexander show you some more tribal weavings.” “I don’t understand,” the man replied, clearly irritated. “I’m very sorry, sir, but this carpet is sold. I have to leave now. Alexander will help you. There are many more beautiful rugs in the store. You will find another you love.”
Wali held the rose Gabbeh in his arms like a baby as he left the store. The girl is so sweet, he said to himself. Like God.
THE LIO N RUG
It was late in the afternoon when she entered the small shop with a rolled up carpet under her arm. She was a pretty girl with auburn hair and slate gray eyes, but recently she had become overly thin and started wearing her makeup a touch on the heavy side. On her left arm she had a very high-quality tattoo of the Sufi heart with wings. She was not feeling well, and her free hand was shaking. She needed cash badly. Very badly. The store was dimly lit and smelled of a combination of wool, sandalwood, and mothballs. Its floors were almost entirely covered with stacks of burgundy and black Afghan carpets, and the walls were lined with rolled up rugs tied with string. Next to the front door there was a large glass case filled with amber beads and heavily tarnished silver necklaces. She stopped to admire an uncut piece lapis lazuli the size of a grapefruit resting on one of the shelves. Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, a group of carpet dealers stood watching a shop assistant color a faded and worn section on an antique Chinese rug with a blue Sharpie. “Oh my, I'm so sorry! I didn’t see you come in,” one of the men said, suddenly looking up and noticing her. He relieved her of the rug and led her to a desk at the back of the shop. “Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing towards a well-worn leather office chair in front of an old oak desk. He was a tall man with chiseled features. His hair was curly and dark, and slightly on the longish side. His olive green shirt was cut loosely, and the top three or so buttons left undone. Around his neck he wore a heavy chain made of Persian gold with a large coin hanging from it.
Nadia welcomed the invitation to sit, having carried the rug on her shoulder all the way from her studio apartment a quarter of a mile away. “So what can I do for you?” he asked, sliding into his chair and lighting a cigarette. “By the way, I’m Ali-Shah,” he said, extending his hand and giving her a wide smile. “I’m Nadia. It’s nice to meet you,” she said, shaking his hand. “Nadia—a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Just then an old man who had been sleeping in a leather armchair off to the side, popped his eyes open. “Cur,” he muttered, just loud enough for them both to hear. Ali-Shah blushed and assumed a more serious tone. “My father,” he whispered, nodding in the direction of the old man. “He’s not feeling well today.” The girl smiled in understanding. “Well, Miss. Nadia, what can I do for you?” He asked, resuming his normal tone of voice. “I have a carpet to sell,” she said. “Would you like to see it?" “Of course, of course,” Ali said. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” Nadia stood up and unrolled the carpet on the floor and all at once Ali-Shah’s patronizing smile vanished. It was a tribal piece, woven in muted shades of orange and brown. Dominating its center was a lion. But this was not an ordinary lion rug. For, behind the lion’s tail there was a space of about five inches, after which began an entirely new lion’s rear-end, from the hind legs back to the tail. It was as if the weaver didn’t like how her animal was turning out and rather than undoing her previous work, she left it there as a reminder of her error.
Ali-Shah bent over and rubbed his hand over the pile. The carpet was obviously very old. He flipped over one of its corners and inspected the knots. “I’ve seen this rug before. Where did you get it?” “It was a gift,” she said. Ali-Shah stood looking down at the carpet and rubbing his chin with his hand. “It’s beautiful, it really is. It’s obviously very unique. But business is slow on the street right now—nothing’s moving. The best I could offer you is five hundred—cash of course. I could give it to you tonight, before we go to dinner,” he added with a wink. Just then one of the men at the front of the store called out to him. “Excuse me,” he said. “You sit and think about it. I’ll be right back.” Once he was gone, the old man poked his head up and looked straight at Nadia. “Shame on you,” he whispered. “Excuse me?” she said. “Bringing that rug in here—it’s embarrassing.” Nadia’s heart was beating fast and blood was rushing up to her cheeks. “A nice girl like you, out selling her father’s gifts. And to him of all people,” he said, pointing at his son. “That dog!” “I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken,” she said. “My mother gave me this carpet.” “Such a silly girl you are. Look at yourself,” he said, pointing at an old mirror hanging behind AliShah’s desk. Nadia stared blankly at her reflection. “Who do you see?” he asked.
She continued to stare, seeing nothing but her own reflection. “For God’s sake, girl, look at yourself!” he roared, drawing the attention of the men at the front of the store. Again she looked up at her pale, startled reflection. When she turned back to the old man her eyes were met by his piercing glare. Once again she turned and looked at the mirror. Nadia quickly rolled up the lion rug and bolted from the shop. She could hear Ali-Shah calling her name as she ran up the street, but she didn’t turn around. She just kept running.
He sat staring at his reflection in the mirror. It was an old bar, and the glass was original, so his face appeared cracked and fuzzy. The bartender came by and tried to strike up a conversation, but he looked away and made it clear he didn’t want to talk. He sat quietly for another minute, then turned and offered his girlfriend a cigarette. “Did I ever tell you why I left school?” he asked. She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.” “I lost a hundred grand gambling one night in Monaco. They came after me for the money, so I had to leave England right away. My father still hasn’t forgiven me for not finishing my degree.” “Is that how you ended up here?” she asked. “Yes,” he said. “And I fucking hate it. I hate the people. I hate the culture. I hate everything about the U.S. I especially hate this ridiculous college town with all these annoying alternative types.” “They annoy everyone,” she said with a laugh, “especially themselves.” He fell silent again and sat staring at the old mirror. “You have no idea what it means to hate—I mean to really hate,” he said. She didn’t respond. Instead she pulled a small compact from her purse and began checking her face. “Of course you don’t. How could you? Your people do it to themselves. Your parents could have worked hard and saved money, but instead they partied all the time and pissed everything away—hippies,
artists, homosexuals, and oh my God, that mother of yours! And you—look at you, out drinking and smoking. You have no conception of suffering. Your people know nothing of pain.” She held the compact in her hand and touched up her bright red lipstick while he continued on his tangent. “Did I ever tell you about my grandfather?” he asked. “Nope,” she said, putting away her makeup and closing her vintage bag with a snap. “He was only a boy at the time of the genocide—maybe seven or eight. He had nine brothers and sisters. The Turks forced them all leave home and wander the countryside. My great grandfather died, along with seven of his children. In the end there was only my grandfather and my great aunt.” “I’m sorry,” she said, looking down. He was silent for a long time, then suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face. “Did I ever tell you I bought you?” he said with a laugh. She abruptly turned around on her stool. “What do you mean by that?” “Remember when I picked out that funky old kilim from your dad’s crazy shop. He was only asking four hundred for it, but I wrote him a check for eight grand. Your dad just smiled and thanked me—he never said a damn thing.” He laughed again and motioned for the bartender. “Bring us another round down here, Carl. And don’t be such a stranger—come on over and say hi every now and again.” She turned her stool back around and faced the window. “Oh don’t get mad. You were under age at the time—he could have had me thrown in jail. He needed the money anyway. You guys didn’t even have food at the time. If it wasn’t for me you’d still be living in that dumpy apartment, dressed in rags, and starving to death with all your step mothers and your half-brothers
and sistersâ€”hippies, artists, and homosexuals, and you, their pretty little vagabond princess. Hey, thatâ€™s funny! Vagabond princess, vagabond princess, ha ha ha!â€? She sat staring out the window. It was raining and large drops of water were running down the plate glass. She tried to focus on her reflection but it was nothing but a blur.
THE M AGIC CARPET
If you’re hungry and haven’t much money, buy a bag of rice. You can live on it for quite a while. Potatoes are good, too. A sack of potatoes and a dozen eggs—that can last an entire week. My grandparents on my dad’s side are American Indian. That’s why we keep guns in the house. It’s also why my dad’s so crazy. They moved here from Oklahoma during the dustbowl and brought with them some great starvation recipes. One of my all-time favorites is the fried potato sandwich. All you need is bread, mayonnaise, and a potato. Dad says he wants me to do well in school—become a cheerleader and get good grades. But the people here think we’re weird. We have a carved African statue on our front porch that looks like the devil, and our house is full of Persian tribal rugs. We also have no food. My only friend at school is part American Indian, just like me. Her mom is crazy too, just like my dad. All her brothers and sisters are from different fathers, just like all my brothers and sisters are from different mothers. The other day she brought a bag of uncooked rice to school and gave it to me. She knows what it’s like to go hungry. She’s a little better off than me, though. At least at her house they have rice. We pick up trash together on our lunch break. Our school gives students a dime for each piece they hand in. Once we’ve gathered up enough, we buy a sandwich from the cafeteria and share it. We like to sit together watching the other kids run around and yell and have a good time. They all look so happy and
healthy. Their clothes are brightly colored and new. They go home and do their homework. They are good kids. Sometimes when I’m home alone, I sit on my dad’s favorite carpet. It’s an old camel-colored Gabbeh that’s soft as a blanket. I make sure to place myself directly on the large orange diamond woven in its center. Then I close my eyes and imagine I’m flying through the sky. I look down and everything below me becomes small—my house, my school—it all disappears behind me. I like to imagine that I’m flying somewhere far away and never coming back. Ever.
I don’t know who ended up with my rose Isfahan, but Karl Hesse got Andrew the African statue. Tim Stafford got the couch made with Afghan carpets, along with an impressive collection of kilims. Mark Brandon, the Swiss attorney, got his entire collection of Gabbehs (over 150 pieces) photographed and researched. (He also got thrown in jail in Turkey.) David Miller got a pre-Columbian statue, an Indian chief’s blanket, and some miscellaneous tribal weavings. Aunt Annette got mother’s Turkish runner, and a pawn dealer on Santa Monica Boulevard got her Mont Blanc Diplomat. (Thank God she still has the Shaker rocker.) The Indian calf’s head covered with turquoise and coral is still missing. An odd couple into the black arts got the Bedouin tent, and I don’t know who the hell took my rose Isfahan. The alter desk painted by a famous artist in the 1960s was sold to a dealer online. An extensive collection of rare alchemical texts is now no longer on the bookshelf. Grandmother’s silver was pawned on Santa Monica Boulevard along with the Mont Blanc. Once mother threw the Shaker rocker in the back of her VW and drove around Laguna Beach trying to sell it at antique shops. (We had no food at the time.) Then there was grandpa’s deer rifle and a set of candy red Castelli fold out chairs. Gone. Some meth-heads in Bakersfield tried to steel dad’s last Gabbeh, but the cops found it in a mobile home just off Highway 99. The vintage eggbeater collection was sold off in batches over a long period of time. Christopher Trinton in Berkeley got everything dad didn’t want to take to Colombia (the chicken wire kitchen cabinet, the antique glassware, the carved Indonesian pillars). Mother still has her Shaker rocker, but for the life of me I can’t find that damned rose Isfahan of mine.
Sonya lay in bed staring at her husband’s face. Although he was only thirty-three he had several deep creases along his forehead and near the edge of his eyes. But the rest of his skin was smooth and his thin features were most definitely handsome. He wore his ash colored hair in a buzz cut and had the slim, muscular body of a lightweight boxer. Of course Sonia loved him, but except for the fact that he was an Irish housepainter, she knew very little about him. Oh sure, he was a nice enough guy and looked great in a suit. And as long as you kept things simple, he was pleasant to chat with. Her friends liked him too, which was important. And her dad liked him, which was even more important. For, if the truth be told, Sonya married her husband Sean entirely to please her father, who had recently made it abundantly clear that as his only child, if she were to stop going out every night and partying like a college student and settle down and start a family, the lovely little Edwardian cottage he had been letting her live in rent-free for the past year, the one surrounded by ancient cypress and pine trees, the one located in the hills above Parnassus Street, with a view of Golden Gate Bridge, and a climbing tea rose bush growing up the front arbor—that sweet gem of a place would immediately be passed on to her, rather than sold off in a month. So even though she had only met him a few weeks earlier at a dive bar in the Richmond District, Sonya married Sean Flannery yesterday afternoon at City Hall. The reception afterwards was small—just her parents and a few close friends. Sonya’s father spared no expense on the food and drinks. He bought a crate the best champagne he could find over at the Wine
Merchant in the Ferry Building, and hired a professional catering service specializing in local organic artisan foods. He even managed to find a real Irish fiddle player for the entertainment. Her father loved dancing, and what better way to please his new son-in-law than to have some traditional tunes from his homeland. It worked, too. As soon as the bearded fiddle player appeared, Sean’s eyes flashed and he hit the floor like possessed spirit. Sonya had never seen him so lively, and as the night progressed he danced faster and faster. Sonya’s father tried to keep up with him, but it was no use. Sean’s feet skipped over the hardwood flo faster than a weaver’s shuttle. *** Sonya crept out of bed the next day without waking her husband and left the room. The living area downstairs was in complete disarray. The end tables were littered with empty gift boxes and colored tissue paper. The coffee table was still covered with the numerous presents they had received. There was an elaborately cut crystal vase from her Uncle Amir, and a pretty hand embroidered tablecloth from her cousin Nadia. There was a set of cookbooks of various ethnicities from her mother, and two neatly folded monogrammed towels from her best friend Kate. But by far the most beautiful gift was the Turkish runner her father had given her. The antique carpet was woven in muted shades of brown and burgundy. The overall pattern was composed of stars and flowers, with an occasional awkwardly woven stick figure here and there. As she rubbed her bare feet into its smooth, blanket-like pile, she remembered her dad saying that he wanted to give her something to cover the cold wooden floors, so her children—when she was ready to have them, of course—would have something nice and soft to play on. Sonya went into the kitchen and filled the kettle for tea. As she waited for the water to boil she leaned against the sink and stared blankly out the front window. It was a cold, early San Francisco morning and the
old, tree-lined street was quiet and empty. Small wisps of fog were blowing over the pavement, giving everything an ancient appearance. She was about to turn away from the window when she noticed a woman in a long black coat walking up the center of the street holding two small children by the hands. She was tall, with long brown hair, pale skin, and the delicate features of a porcelain doll. The boys at her side looked to be about four or five, with sandy blond hair and rosy cheeks. Sonya stood watching them as they slowly made their way up the block, looking from one side of the street to the other. She was about to go back to making her tea when the woman stopped abruptly and reached down into her purse. She then pulled out a folded piece of paper and looked straight at Sonya’s door. Me? They’re here to see me? Sonya’s heart began pounding and she could feel blood rushing to her face. A few seconds later there was a very soft knock at the door. Sonya greeted them with a hesitant smile. “Good morning, can I help you?" “Yes, Miss,” the woman said in a heavy accent, still holding onto the boys with each hand. “I’m looking for Sean Flannery. I was told he stays here.” “May I ask who’s here to see him?” “Yes, Miss. I’m his wife and these are his boys.” Sonya wanted to close the door. She wanted to secure the bolt, run upstairs, climb into her warm bed, and go back to sleep. She wanted to wake up and find that this was merely a very lucid, early morning dream. But instead she stepped aside and politely invited the three of them in. “Can I get you some tea,” she asked the woman. “It’s already made. Or some juice? Yes, I’ll bring some juice for the children.”
Sonya’s hands were shaking as she opened her refrigerator and grabbed the leftover orange juice from the party. She poured two small glasses and set them on the table for the boys, who were busy running in circles around her dining room table. Afterwards she brought a cup of tea to their mother and sat down across from her at the table. “He left us, you see,” the woman began, keeping her head down and running her fingers along the grain of the wood. “He told me it would only be for few months, but that was a over year ago. We were staying with my family, but it was only supposed to be for a little while. Sean told me he was just going to see how things were over here. He had a friend that was going to set him up with some work.” Mrs. Flannery stopped suddenly and began sobbing. During this time, the children had discovered a tray of Jordan almonds left sitting on the edge of the table and were busy grabbing handfuls and filling their pockets. The older boy’s pants were stuffed to the point of bursting and the younger one began tugging violently at them, screaming and crying for him to share. Suddenly the older boy grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him into the table, knocking one of the glasses of juice onto the rug from Sonya’s father. “Oh no, the dyes,” Sonya said, jumping up to fetch a towel from the kitchen. When she returned she began carefully soaking up the spill, making sure to blot to avoid running the colors. “See what you two have done!” the mother shouted at them. “Put those back, put those candies back right now.” She turned to Sonya. “They’ve become so unruly since their father left. They never mind me anymore.” “It’s alright, “ Sonia said, slowly getting up from the floor. “I’ll go and fetch Sean for you.” The minute Sonya left the room, the boys went at it again. She could hear their mother screaming at them all the way from the top of the stairs.
*** When Sonia entered the bedroom, Sean was still sleeping peacefully, just as she had left him. “Sean,” she called, gently nudging his shoulder, “you need to wake up.” “Huh?” he said, still half asleep. “There are some people here to see you. They’re waiting for you. You need to get up now.” “Who are they?” Sonya paused for a moment before speaking. “It’s your family. Your wife and two children are downstairs.” “What are you talking about?” Sean said with a laugh, throwing off the blankets and rising from the bed. “Have you lost your mind?” “Well anyway, there is a women downstairs with two boys here to see you,” Sonia responded. He put on his robe and followed her. When they entered the dining room it was completely silent. There was no teacup on the table where the mother had sat, and no juice glasses set out for the children. “But they were here!” Sonya said, looking furiously around the room. “Your wife and your two boys.” “Sweetheart, you are my wife. And I don’t have any children,” Sean said, chuckling and giving her a comforting hug. “Look, I’m going to start making some breakfast and you can tell me all about my wife and my kids,” he said laughing. He then opened the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of eggs. Sonya just stood there feeling foolish. “I guess I’m losing it,” she said. She turned to follow Sean into the kitchen, but as she stepped over the carpet she felt something damp against her bare feet. And when she looked down, she noticed the dye from one of the brown stick figures had bleed slightly into a small red flower.
FIVE QUARTERLY | BROOKLYN, NY Copyright 2013 by Mira Martin-Parker Published by Five Quarterly Art by Nick Kinling fivequarterly.org
Published on Jan 9, 2014
Published on Jan 9, 2014
Mira Martin-Parker's winning fiction e-chapbook from the 2013 Five Quarterly chap contest. Guest editor: Crissy Van Meter. Art: Nick Kinling...