A BULGE IN THE CARPET

A large bulge like a mushroom cap appeared slowly in the rug under my hovering hands. A few of the guests gasped, but that was nothing more than a reaction that could be expected from an audience by a common conjuror – nobody was really shocked, nor frightened. I made the bulge move toward the edge of the fabric and then reached for the hidden object to help it out. It was a shiny wooden bowl the size of a tortoise. 

            That was the intro. The time came for me to concentrate. I switched my eyes to one of the squares in the pattern of the rug, a square of roughly twenty by twenty centimetres outlined by a thin turquoise line, and started to feel the blue rind with my fingertips. The square was right in front of my knees – I must have looked like a primitive potter or an African woman kneading the dough, stooping gently, working on it, encouraging it to listen to me, to change, to grow. Fully focused, with a clear mind, I tried to slip my fingernails underneath the line as if the square was some stubborn lid covering a tea caddy or batteries in a camera. Or as if I was pulling something out of the carpet.

            Which I was.

            When the line jerked up a bit and turned out to be a rind, a blue plastic rind of something that used to be the square, one of a hundred or more squares making up the pattern of the rug, nobody uttered a sound. I suppose they just stared. I can’t say because I was sitting with my back to most of them – silly if you’re doing a show, but it’s hard to concentrate on these things if you are conscious of being stared at, or of anything for that matter, too much.

            I pulled on, making the air above ready with the fingers not used for pulling, and in the short breaks with all of them, but never ceasing to touch the rind. I weaved the air and pulled on. Of course it just looked like pulling – I only encouraged the growth. There was no friction and no physical strain.

            What was now visible under my hands was a lidless sandwich box of transparent bluish plastic, deeper and deeper. Suddenly it got slippery for me, like a baby being born in one smooth thrust after the head. I extracted from the rug a whole angular pail full of water and, still kneeling, I placed it to my left on the bare parquet.

            I turned to the guests.

“It takes eight years of training to be able to do such a… such a trick,” I announced in a matter-of-fact voice. I didn’t want to brag or anything – it was a reflex – I’d just heard it so many times before it seemed an appropriate thing to say at this point.

There was no applause. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it after all? It was something that grated too much on the reality that most of them chose to believe in, especially here in this bourgeois drawing room with its peach walls, a grand piano, an oval mahogany table and a multitude of chairs. Did I have the right to remind them of the past, or rather of my past, uncomfortable and awkward?

I moved back to my pouf. I think everyone just started to talk. Who knows, maybe they had some fun, treated it as a joke. A trick. I was just a conjuror. It was just a party. At a party you talk. And there had been no war.

As usual it was difficult for me to remember to record other people’s reactions. The whole affair with the pail did require my mind to be quite clear, where clear is unresponsive. And I was too focused on composing my own version of the events, too, those two sentences about not bragging and the rest of what’s in here. Everything I write is always only a story of mine.

I moved back to my pouf and he sat next to me, side by side, thigh by thigh. It would be nice to say that I don’t remember what happened in the room after my little show because of the way his warm side touched mine, wouldn’t it? Or maybe he was sitting there all the time and it was me who sat next to him and I didn’t remember the reactions being able to think only of where I was going to sit? If I could, I would have put my head on his shoulder.

“I was just a land boy,” he said. Most of them were, most of my generation: land boys, errand boys, farm hands, mother-helps.  

“And I was at a monastery,” I said, as if it was necessary. “We copied books,” I added conversationally.

And we sat in silence.

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