Monday, July 31, 2017

The Magic Carpet by Brooke Fieldhouse

Mohammed buys a rug from IKEA and discovers it has a very unusual property; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'STOCKHOLM', that's what the on-line catalogue said.

There's a whole family; a lamp, a table, a sofa, a mirror - nothing to do with the city, it's just a name. Mine is Mohammed - Mo I prefer - and I work in The City. I'm a global accounts manager, I'm twenty-five, shockingly well paid but don't have much spare time. I don't have a girlfriend either.

IKEA was made for people like me. I click, and it don't matter whether its aktad, antilop, backaryd, beboelig, fanigt, fillsta, stig, or sprutt it's here in two shakes of a monkey's tail, or two shakes of an apa's tail I guess I should say. Stockholm by the way is a rug; 2.4 metres by 1.7.

The day Stockholm arrived I was crazy busy juggling the Asshole Airlines account with Parmesan Homes, and it was past midnight when I shimmied out of the lift of my apartment block on Upper Thames Street. I could see that the courier had left a parcel outside my door - 1.7 metres long - same height as me, a smidge taller if you allow for the chunky visqueen in which it was wrapped. I dragged it in, dropped it onto the laminate, and glanced at the label before heading for a bit of the old aqua treatment. Hand Woven in India it said.

After a good rubba-dub-dub I hit the Egyptian cotton - Heals this time, not IKEA. The old see slits were firmly shut but those zzzzds were evasive little so-and-sos... just wouldn't come. It was Pete at Parmesan what was doing it, the manipulative bastard. I'd sussed that he was setting a trap for me... Get me off the account so he could have Lo Lo instead of me...

Then I heard it. It was like somebody letting air out of a balloon. At first I thought it might be the air brakes on some street-cleaning truck, or the coital ceremony coming from the next apartment, but when I went to point Percy at the porcelain there was no doubt. It was coming from inside that visqueen sheath lying outside my bedroom door.

Shit-n-sugar, did I scarper! On went the ear defenders, then it hit me, morelia spilota. That's what it was. Grandad was always going on about them - said they were lethal... Told me that they'd slither inside the cardboard tube and lie there undetected, sometimes for weeks. 'Carpet buggers' he called them. Gran used to say that a fully grown one was six foot - 1.8 metres in IKEA-speak - but maybe this was a young bastard.

Zzzzds were a no-no now and as I lay rigid - all 1.7 metres of me - perspiring into my zero-allergy pillow (M&S) I thought about the morelia spilota... And it wouldn't be in harmless basking mode either, it would be bloody ravenous after being cooped up in cardboard and plastic for god-knows how long. They're arboreal - can climb anything. They're particularly partial to crossing things; roads, rivers, rock faces; they love thresholds. Oh yes, it would relish the journey from laminate to loop-pile... and up onto Egyptian cotton... Oh fuck-fuck-fuck! It was all right for it, reclining rod-like and displaying its conspicuous set of thermolabial pits to the inner cardboard, but what about me? I was shagged!

Somehow I slept - I woke up so I must have done, and by the time I'd pussy-footed back from my dawn pee, and past the polythene tube, I had my plan of action. It was 0400hrs and so instead of waiting until my usual rising hour of 0500 I dressed in Saffredi suit - minus jacket for now - white cotton button-down and dark silk tie. I opened the Hall closet, took out a Stanley knife and a new roll of silvery gaffer tape. I tugged open the white-painted sash window in the sitting room and - taking no chances - pulled on a pair of ribbed motorcycle gauntlets before sliding the packaged carpet across the laminate and heaving it against the window cill.

Then came the tricky bit and I knew I would have to work like lightning. In one seamless movement I sliced a 75 millimetre hole in the end of the package, thrust the tube out of the window and slammed down the sash on top of it. Without pausing I yanked off length after length of gaffer, plastering it across the gap between glass and cill. I stood back and waited.

In a while the spilota would come wriggling out in search of food. It would find itself in non-arboreal urban space, coil around the slippery visqueen 'branch' where it would wait to pick off a passing pigeon. If it tried to come back into the apartment it would get stuck on the gooey barrier I'd built. I could picture its stripy phallus-like head, gorge gaping and well-and-truly glued against the gaffer.

I stood, watched, and waited for an hour. Nothing happened - except something was happening. It was that sound again, but instead of a noise like the release of high pressure gas I felt the sensation of human voices... An undulating melody of treble entwining with base. A heavenly descant... It was Palestrina, 'O magnum mysterium et admirable sacramentum ut animalia viderent Dominum nature...' and it was coming from inside the rug.

The voice changed. 'Allahu Akbar, Ash-hadu an la ilaha...' Grandad was never very religious - gave all that stuff up when he came to live in Hanwell. The voice changed again; '...sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man, Born in the USA...'

This was heavy duty craziness. I lunged, tore the gaffer tape from the window frame, and - thump thump thumped the parcel back into the room. I grabbed the Stanley, carefully slit the entire length of the parcel and heaved. Like a warm soft wave the rug unfurled, releasing its olfactory comforts of washed wool and crisp mouth-watering jute as it boomed a new resonance; '...and the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and flesh shall see.' This was the softest, warmest, most tactile MP3 player I could ever imagine. The spilota had been a paranoid fantasy of mine but this was nothing short of a miracle!

For the next few days I was on autopilot at work. My attention was focussed entirely on Stockholm. He - for some reason I'd given the rug a male identity - had a repertoire and quite a range too. '...Like a song of love that clings to me, How the thought of you does things to me.' Yes, he could do Nat King Cole, Springsteen, Handel.

I was spending most of my life sprawled within that soft rectangle of 2.4 metres x 1.7. My hand would travel across the velvety tuft pile, would stroke the pert ridges of loop-pile. I would even adopt a sajdah - not for religious reasons but because I was sure that I could smell Teen Spirit, '...with the lights out its less dangerous, here we are now entertain us... hello, how low...'

When I say repertoire, what I mean is that when all this started I'd assumed that he would have a stock of choral works which he would circulate, like a tape on loop, but the list seemed endless. Some pieces I recognized, others I'd never heard before... But something very odd was happening. It was as if Stockholm and I were developing a personal relationship, as if we were exchanging telepathic messages. I would think of a piece and he would perform it - giving it his 100% wool rendition.

Because I'd been so busy listening to Stockholm I realized that I hadn't really looked at the rug - I mean its pattern, its colours. At first it appeared to be the vaguely stripy design I'd chosen from the internet catalogue, but as time went by I noticed that it seemed different. There was a hidden landscape; rocks, trees, flowers, but undefined as if coloured inks had been spilled and were running into one another. The tufted surfaces looked dabbed, melted; images seemed scalloped, and appeared to be fret-cut. Sometimes the loop pile glowed as if it were made from obsidian.

There were traces of figures; men wearing baggy trousers and headdresses like swollen onions. I began to think that I was in there, one of those curly moccasined, moustachioed, hookah-smoking dudes, and I didn't like it. Stockholm - it seemed to me - was indulging in just a teeny-weeny bit of racial stereotyping. I rolled him up to the muffled accompaniment of '...pack all your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile...' and went back to concentrate on Asshole Airlines and Parmesan Homes. I was just in time; Lo Lo had been to the CEO and to get back on track I had to do a couple of all-nighters.

My boss maybe recognized the signs of strain and suggested that instead of working a third all-nighter I go to a drinks party. One of our clients was fundraising for Macmillan Nurses, so not entirely a night off... They were all oldsters - nobody under thirty five.

'You couldn't meet a lovelier guy Mo,' enthused host Jim as he introduced me to stocky brachycephalic Colin. Threadbare beard, honest eyes, and a schoolteacher would you believe? I've never been great at secrets - even though I've had to keep schtum about lots of things because of my job. But something got hold of me and within two texts of an IKEA courier I'd told Colin about the rug. I didn't for a moment think he'd believe me I just thought it would make a great story. It must be something to do with being a school teacher... must be amazing to actually believe in people.

'You should make money out of it!'

I could not believe what the teacher was telling me. Why is it that people who know nothing about making money are always eager to tell you how you should make it? I mean... my annual bonus is ten times what he makes in a year. Don't get me wrong I don't mean to make money, I can't help it. I'm competitive, I have a need to do good shit, and if that means screwing the guy next to me that's what I'll do.

After the drinks do he gave me a lift back in his Skoda. Why should I drive to work when the company provides free cabs?

'Is it just you here, no partner?' Colin seemed curious.

I showed him the rug... he didn't go wow or anything, just smiled, and seemed to take it all in his stride. Then he asked if he could be my agent!

'All right...'

Stockholm had spent the last couple of days rolled up under the glass table and I'd been glad to get away from him. There was a threadbare directness about Colin which I liked and he seemed to like me - said he'd introduce me to his daughter.

'...Same age as you...Work, work, work, that's all she ever talks about... She's an accounts manager with J Walter Thoreson, the advertising agents.'

At first I left Colin to it. I was glad to be shot of Stockholm. I ordered another rug - John Lewis this time - got the courier to unpack and unroll, and signed for it but only after I was hundred percent that it was a silent one.

After that I didn't see much of Colin, but I heard about him didn't I? ...From Melissa. Ye-es we went on a couple of dates, nice girl. She said Colin was 'doing kids parties.' That way people didn't ask questions... Parents thought it was a conjuring trick while Colin was charging them a fortune - fortune to him that is. You see the thing about us Generation 'Y'ers is we understand the value of money. We appreciate that it's no good waiting until things happen to you; you have to make them happen. Then I met Fluff.

Now, you're thinking namby-pamby-airy-fairy 'floppy-tied aesthetical craftsman' type, but he the-shit scared out of me. He was waiting outside the door in Upper Thames and the bastard manhandled me.

'Fluff!'

I wasn't sure whether he was introducing himself or if it was a term of abuse. 'You... have got something.'

It was that understated patois and I knew exactly what he was on about. He'd got me up against the acid-etched doors - all 1.95 metres of him. Kindling thin, dark kit but grubby, he looked like a degenerate poet from the streets of 19th century Montparnasse. Jet birds-nest barnet pricking my ear, carbon Cubans pressing down on my loafers. He was the first person I'd seen who looked more sinister without shades than with, and as he whipped them clear of his face I felt the worst abdominal cramp ever.

'What?'

'You know!'

He had me by the Saffredi lapels and I could feel the increased pressure from his Cubans.

'So?' I attempted truculence.

'He works for me, and he works for free!'

What was this, art for art's sake?

'You have been warned.' With that he stamped the hell out of my left loafer, shoved me hard against the acid-etched, and vanished.

'Fuck-fuck-fuck,' was that really me squealing?



'Colin... er... it's Mo... how's it going?

'Fiiine, when are you coming to a show Mo?'

It's one of those roomy Chelsea studio houses near Flood Street; lots of oak - olde Arts & Crafts style and tall windows which seem to rise up and just keep on going. As I pull on the olde iron bell I have an odd feeling, as if I'm being watched. Not by Tatiana who opens the door, but by something a little more distant. She - Tatiana - doesn't introduce herself but I know that's what she's called because I can hear Brad's voice coming from somewhere on high.

'Tatiana, answer the goddamned door willya!'

'Brad and Nisi,' Colin had said - oh, 'and Ashley,' yes he'd said it just like that.

I follow Tatiana's vermillion derriere across the ringing white carrara and up the wide oakey stairway. No need for a guide, it's obvious where I'm headed. The sound from above is... almost indescribable. The best I can do is to say that it's like somebody's trying to force Stockholm down a waste-disposal unit. As I pass through the baronial double doors leading off the landing I glance to my left - out the window. There it is, looking up; a figure, lanky, kindling-thin, funereal black jacket four sizes too small, drainpipe trousers and hair like a crow's nest. I can sense a general feeling of ill, like gamma rays invisible, dangerous, and travelling straight for me.

Tatiana vanishes, and for a split second I shut my mind off from the din. The room I'm standing in is like a medieval hall, and one that's been cleared of furniture. There's a minstrel's gallery, carved, fret-cut, scalloped, and something is already feeling curiously familiar to me. There are twenty small children, fifteen adults - half of whom are female - sitting lotus position, kneeling on brightly coloured yoga mats or leaning against darkly-patterned cushions, and all eager-looking. Some of the adults are flitting from group to group where eat-the-jelly, food-on-a-string, and what's on the tray are in progress.

Most of the children are dressed simply in coloured tops and pants. There's an African girl with bright green shirt and yellow trousers, a carroty-coloured toddler in blue - her carroty mother leaning over her shoulder... A tiny boy wearing over-sized spectacles and a twizzly bow tie like Brains.

Standing in the middle of the room is a girl, and larger than the other children... Puffed-up pink frock, pink roses perched on pyrite hair...

'...Our gorgeous li'l Princess!'

My hand is encased in a grip, powerful enough to be threatening. A charcoal cut-away tee stretches dangerously over the man's upper body while black raw denim jeans are rammed into hunting boots which look as if they were made from poured pitch. '...Brad!' bellows the man. 'Er... Nisi's not so well - having a lie down.' Colin had said something about a 'lush problem with Nisi.'

Then I catch sight of them.

At the end of the hall and visible in sudden spokes of sunlight... there's this enormous great catafalque, carved in ebony-hued wood, upon which sits Stockholm... And its not the homey stripy catalogue Stockholm, it's the stained and inky Stockholm; the dabbed and melted images, the arabesques and curlicues, and those onion-headed figures hovering above its quicksilver surface... And there, right at the centre of its 2.4 metres by 1.7, sitting cross-legged, dressed in an Utsav silk tunic with Nehru collar, moccasined, false-moustachioed and hands in anjali mudra is Colin.

'We're going to play grandmother's footsteps chil-dren,' announces Carroty Mum. Stockholm opens up with a hungry A Hunting We Will Go. Li'l Princess is 'Grandmother.' The other children tiptoe toward her turned back, as she stands with hands outstretched, pinkies extended. Brad's lower jaw is thrusting... But there's a problem; Princess don't swing fast enough because her pyrite curls are shedding pink flowers and before you can shout 'Ginny Doll' Brains and the yellow-trousered African girl are upon her.

It's a similar story with musical statues, and all those exciting hats and coloured cloaks which have been waiting to be donned in dressing up dancing just won't fit Princess without a major wardrobe adjustment.

'Where the hell's Tatiana?' Brad's poured leg wear and feet are stomping the parquet. The other children are well into musical bumps to the accompaniment of Hickory Dickory Dock, and I'm getting a strange feeling that some of them are sitting down rather more firmly than they want to as I hear yelps of pain. One of the dads seems to have developed a nervous tic, and several of the adults are behaving as if they're being bitten by fleas.

'Can we have something a little calmer?' Carroty Mum leads a sing-song as Stockholm unravels a decidedly fleecy Frere Jaques... And all this time Colin hasn't spoken - hasn't moved - he's gone transcendental!

How Much is that Doggie in the Window sounds fine until the doggie barks and it's a howl like the American Werewolf in London. Some of the children are in tears. Carroty Mum tiptoes backwards and forwards, hands alternating between being in homily and touching tiny heads. 'Do Re Mi,' she demands but after the first few bars it turns into the choral works of Stockhausen. Carroty tries to get the children to play sleepy lions but nobody will lie down and arguments have broken out among the adults.

Tippy tippy tap toe on your shoulder, I shall be your master - No, that's not right it's you shall be my partner. Everything's going wrong and it's not me, honest! Instead of tapping, the children are really socking one another. Brains' spectacles go flying off as he gets a punch from a fat boy. Princess screams, sits down hard on the parquet and five kids pile on top of her. I can hear a voice in my head, 'he works for me and he works for free.'

'You bastard!' Out of the corner of my right eye I can see Brad's right finger wagging in my direction. It's time for Colin and me to make our escape. Please don't let him be in a coma!

Somehow I rouse Colin; we rock and tug Stockholm into a roll, and run like hell for the double doors.

'I'll sue every bone in your goddamned body!' For a moment I think that Brad is upon us but there's a new sound coming from inside Stockholm. As we helter-skelter down the oakey I hear the elephantine crash of brass, and the eerie tenor of Benjamin Britten's Lyke Wake Dirge:

'...This ae nighte, this ae nighte,

Fire and fleet and candle lighte,

And Christe receive thy saule...

I hear screams coming from upstairs - and they're not all children. As we wrench open the front door and tumble over the threshold there's the mournful sound of a siren.

'Oh Jesus, someone's called an ambulance.'



Well, all that was forty years ago! ...And I'm still married to that young lady that Colin introduced me to. Oh yes, we got through the kid's party stage years ago, we're grandparents now - real oldsters.

Colin was the loveliest father-in-law you could ever wish for. He passed on to be with the Great Events Manager in the sky five years ago, bless his little sateen tunic. Events, that's what we did. I quit The City, Melissa packed in the 'hidden persuader' industry, and we formed a family business... All kosher, we went on courses and that - Melissa insisted!

But I know what you're thinking...

Stockholm? Tate Modern wouldn't have him, 'very dodgy pedigree.' MoMA said no, and Saatchi? Not a chance. Eventually we got him into a lovely little gallery in Norwich - on compassionate grounds. I've got the covenant here 'cos I knew you'd be asking...

...the said art gallery to be free of charge at all times to members of the public, and in the case of the establishment changing ownership and new management requiring entry fees then an alternative non fee-charging establishment be found...

They do go on a bit these solicitors.

'...And Fluff...?'

'Fluff to you mate!'

3 comments:

  1. What a romp to lift the spirits! I loved this - exquisitely paced and skilfully delivered with intelligence and wit - I want more - please? Very many thanks,
    Ceinwen

    ReplyDelete
  2. this really is special, elegantly written and Fieldhousean!

    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Ceinwen and Mike for your encouraging comments.

    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete