Mon, May 1, 2006
Under the Rug
Written 9/13/95 in a high school writing class.
I switched off the TV and settled in to listen once more. I had heard the story of my little brother's death over a dozen times, but Dad was nearing the end of his stay on this planet and I knew it would do his tired old heart a world of good to go through it all once again. It was always the same. He always told the story after dinner in the family room, once he felt ready. It had been that way ever since I was a little girl of nine or ten, but he had always been visibly more relaxed afterwards, so I never thought to change things.
He had always blamed himself, and the more I heard the story, the more I think I understood why. I never blamed him, though; it was simply beyond his control. I believed it, I thought as he stared at the floor and began to speak, but how could I convince him?
"It must've been twenty-five years now, Sadie, 'cause you were only seven or eight at the time," he began, his eyes still fixed upon the floor. "Honestly, I can't remember the first time and I can't remember the last, but those in the middle I remember like yesterday."
My father worked at a big company in town that sold cardboard or foam fibers or something industrial like that. Every night he came home at seven o'clock, rain or shine, and left his stressful day, his sorrows and his woes, on the coat rack with his worn old fedora that he wore whenever he was out of the house.
It was early in his marriage, and easier to separate work and personal life. His first child, a charming baby girl named Sadie after her great aunt the military strategist, was nearly two. Another baby was on the way and, secretly, he hoped it was a boy. He had a fantastic relationship with his father and wanted to have a similar bond with his son. He loved Sadie, but variety is best. One night at seven o'clock when he came home, his wife was in hysterics. Immediately, he could sense it; something was wrong with Sadie. He ran to the baby's room in the back of the house but found her sleeping soundly. He dashed back to the front door, hoping his wife was not in labor, the baby wasn't due for weeks yet. He found her wheezing and panting with fear in the foyer, just as he had left her. As she calmed down, he gradually learned more about what had happened during his day at the office.
His wife had been tidying up, fixing little things around the house in preparation for the new baby, when she had heard a noise in the den. Slowly, she walked into the room and found lumps moving around under the rug. She described it like traffic, moving rapidly in organized patterns, over and over, back and forth. Sometimes they sunk down below the floor and quickly popped up somewhere else, she said, but they moved with great speed and force beneath the rug for about four minutes and then disappeared.
He was unsure of what he should do. He had heard that pregnant women could get delirious but she had been fine before. He trusted his wife, but her story was quite perplexing. He told her to call him at work if it ever happened again.
Two weeks passed, and it happened again. It was on a Thursday afternoon, just as before, and she called him at work, knowing it would do no good to do so, because he would not be home in time. The next day, their son was born.
He stayed home for the next week to be with his wife and their newborn son, but the bumps did not return. Judging from the organization of their travels about the den, he expected their visits in a pattern and stayed home the following Thursday. Right on target, the bumps returned. His wife refused to watch the floor this time, preferring to stay in the babies' room with her children while he confronted the manifestations beneath the rug.
He knew he didn't have much time, so he went right to work attempting to sway the bumps from their course or eliminate them altogether. He tried to smack one with a chair, which shattered upon impacting the rigid bump. Soon, he learned that the bumps would not be squashed and neither could the rug be lifted. Two weeks later, he learned that if he stepped on the rug during the performance, a hole would open up somewhere else, a bottomless hole that widened until he stepped off.
Years passed, and every other Thursday he would come home for lunch and stay until they appeared, make sure of his family's safety, then return to work. He had long since given up attempting to eliminate the bumps, he chose instead to prevent them from causing disturbance or damage. His children grew up never knowing about the bumps because they were with their parents every other Thursday in another room.
One day, after about five years of these visits, the family was talking in the children's bedroom during a Thursday afternoon when his son announced that he had to go to the bathroom. He told his son that would be fine as long as he avoided the den. The boy said okay and went on his way.
He assumes that his son heard the noise in the den and peeked in. Once enthralled, he stepped on the carpet to "play" and the hole kept widening until the tot was swallowed up. The boy was never seen again.
After a month or so, the bumps quit coming. A funeral service had been held for the boy, and his sister was scared and perplexed.
"It's never been the same. After I lost that boy, I couldn't sleep for weeks," he said. "I just didn't think I could go on. Sometimes I still don't."
I held him in my arms and let him sob for as long as he needed. I stroked his hair and cried right along with him. He sobbed harder and harder and suddenly just stopped, and I knew that he was dead. The stress, day in and day out, had finally taken him, at the age of fifty-four.
Now it was my turn to sob those heart-wrenching tears that seem as though they may never end.