Fabrications by Tyler Keevil

Fabrications by Tyler Keevil

It’s impossible to say, after fifty odd years, how Lowri and I found the shop, with its missing floor and collection of rugs and that rambling man who had so many stories to tell. All we know is that it was in our town (that picturesque hamlet formed around two cross streets, nailed to the earth at the point of convergence by the old market hall) and that it was on Longbridge Street, not Shortbridge Street. But whether the entrance was behind the curry house, or the knickknack shop, or the Unicorn hotel, or further along towards HSBC and the Red Lion, neither Lowri nor I can say with anything resembling confidence.

At that time the knickknack shop wasn’t even a knickknack shop. It was a vintage clothing store. And the Unicorn was not the Unicorn, but a less successful pub called the Plough. In the intervening years both those places have cycled through various permutations; the first a hobby shop, an auto supply specialist, and a teahouse, the latter the Daffodil, the King’s Arms, and the ill-fated Sow’s Ear. So a certain amount of confusion on both our parts is understandable, even expected. Just as time heals all wounds, it also erodes all memories – until your own past seems as tattered and patchy as a swath of moth-eaten fabric.

 

For a long time I was convinced we had reached the shop via a narrow passage, marked by a wrought iron gate, which still lies between the ever-changing pub and the (then) retro clothing store. However, when I went back recently, hoping to relive the memory, I found myself at a dead end – marked only by a newly (and poorly) built brick wall. Lowri, for her part, is convinced we reached the shop by passing through another – possibly the retro clothing store, with its racks of thin, faded T-shirts and wrinkled trousers. The more I consider it the more I suspect she’s right, and that the clothing store acted as a kind of passageway to the rug shop. If that was the case, then the woman who ran the store must have had some kind of understanding with the old man. It’s even possible that she was the one who’d put up the sign that lured us off the high street of town: Sale: Wondrous Rugs of the World. As to that I can only speculate, since neither of us can recall where, exactly, that sign was located. I can visualize the lettering – an antique, old-fashioned font – but not its position.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter where his shop was, or how we came upon it, because we couldn’t go back even if we knew the way. It now exists only in the past. And so, somehow or other, we came to a courtyard tucked behind the buildings of Longbridge Street, and thereafter the details of that day are much easier to recall.

#

The uneven concrete of that square was filled with cracks, and the cracks filled with tufts of grass. Affixed to the wall on our left was a crooked wooden staircase, precarious as a Jenga tower. As we ascended it seemed to sway and totter beneath us. At the top was a plain blue door, the weathered paint peeling back in layers. Pinned to it was a small, hand-written note: Enter, Please. Despite that, I felt obligated to knock, setting loose a cascade of paint chips that fluttered like tiny flower petals to the floor. They were still in the process of settling when the door swung inward.

And there he was. For all the uncertainties about the location of his shop, my memories of that old man are indelible: tall and loose-limbed, with a mass of Mark Twain hair and one brown tooth among dozens of yellow ones – like a single rotten kernel on a gleaming cob of corn.

‘Come in, come in,’ he said, beckoning us with a nicotine-stained finger.  ‘You’ve arrived just in time – I’ll be closing shortly.’

He had a habit of gazing at your shoulder, or ear, or chin, or just past your head – never quite looking you in the eye, perceiving the world as he told his tales: from a sly, slanted angle.

‘For the day?’ I asked.

‘No, no,’ he said, studying my hairline. ‘Forever.’

That kind of comment, uttered with such calm finality, would ordinarily have warranted a more inquisitive response from Lowri and me – had we both not noticed, as we crossed the threshold, that his shop lacked a floor. Instead, a metre-wide walkway, or catwalk, had been built into the walls of the building. From it (we were standing on it) you could see right down through to the ground level, where we presumed he lived. I say ‘we’ even though at the time, of course, I could not have said what, exactly, Lowri was thinking. But later on we both agreed that we’d been looking down upon the man’s living quarters, and therefore his life – the specifics of which could be read in such details as the unmade cot against one wall, the rusty hot plate, the overturned bookshelf that served as a table, the sink with its clutter of rusty tin dishes, the Persian carpet of near-biblical proportions that dominated the room’s centre, and the cat creeping about, oblivious to our presence, its haunches rippling beneath its dirty black pelt. I had the impression that we were gazing into the guts of a temporary encampment, as of somebody on safari, or a military expedition.

‘You must watch your step,’ the old man said, pointing; there was no rail or barrier between the catwalk and the space below. ‘I could have put a floor in, you see…’  He trailed off, looking at the space, at the place where a floor might have been.

‘But you didn’t want to?’ Lowri prompted.

‘Quite right, quite right,’ he agreed. He had an accent I found impossible to place – but coming from Canada that’s quite common for me. He wasn’t Welsh.  I couldn’t even be sure he was British. I thought I detected a soft Australian drawl, maybe even a dash of New England. Later Lowri (who has a better ear than me) would confirm it wasn’t just me; the man’s accent was wonderfully ambiguous, both educated and guttural, refined and coarse, rustic and worldly, with dashes of Northern intonation mingled with Southern slang, and the faint inflection of foreignness just tangible, as of a tongue influenced by many languages, many dialects. ‘I had this high-ceilinged room, you see, but dividing it into two floors would have required planning permission, and lighting, and windows. This way my treasures are lit from below, which I find delightful.’ As he spoke, he moved his left arm in a slow sweeping gesture that took in the treasures to which he was referring: a collection of sumptuous, vibrant, astonishingly varied rugs and tapestries that adorned the walls, like doorways to exotic, mystical worlds.

‘Are you interested in buying?’ he asked, and I thought I saw him wink. He had one lazy eye. Or rather (more accurately) one dominant eye, which seemed to be forever scrutinizing the world through its constant, roving motion. ‘A rug for your new home, perhaps? Making a nest?’

We laughed, since we had, indeed, just bought our first house, but also because we could tell, at a glance, that these rugs were far more expensive than anything we could afford, than anything we could ever dream of affording. We professed our poverty, together, like two beggars, but the old man waved the concept of poverty aside – as you might a fly.

‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘A poor pocket and a rich heart are synonymous. At least let me show you around. I would rather chat with a young, local couple than the predatory antiques connoisseurs who I deal with so often – who think small-town equates to small-time, who think they might know more about rugs than me, though I have spent a lifetime seeking and collecting only the most exquisite of carpets. As if I wouldn’t know their exact worth! ‘He shook his head, chuckling at the thought. ‘This world is a boat of vice bobbing along on a sea of greed – though no doubt it will be scuttled soon. ‘That idea seemed to cheer him. ‘But come. See for yourselves.’

He had adopted the pose of a museum curator – one arm folded across his midriff, hand cupped to support the opposite elbow – and he spoke with such authority we felt compelled to follow as he turned on his heel and moved off down the creaking walkway.

#

 

He marched past several hangings, apparently intent on beginning with something impressive. He stopped before a large rectangular rug, covered in complex patterns, dyed red and brown and beige.

‘Now this rug,’ he began, ‘is something special. Some of the colours have faded, as you can see – but the design is as intricate as the day it was woven, over five centuries ago.’

 

Lowri and I exchanged a discreet, secretive glance, both of us silently agreeing, yes, this old man is crazy – obviously – but let’s humour him for a while.

 

‘That’s amazing,’ I said, studying it with a theatrically critical gaze, hoping to make Lowri laugh. Yet soon my affected air dissolved. The rug was faded, as the man had admitted, but not so much that you couldn’t discern the design. And what a design! At the centre was a shimmering sunburst, the pattern as fine as a snowflake viewed beneath a microscope. Smaller, oval-shaped decorations radiated from each spoke of the central motif. Every inch of the field had been incorporated into the abstract, symmetrical design, so complex it played tricks with your eyes.

 

‘Shah Tamil,’ the old man said, ‘was a great lover of the art of weaving. When he discovered he was dying, he held a contest for the weavers in Ardabil – the centre of Iranian rug-making in those days. Whoever could weave the most intricate, the most beautiful rug the world had ever seen, would have his work selected as the carpet for the Shah’s tomb, and guarantee himself a place in paradise. To complete such a task alone was impossible. Teams of weavers formed, ready to take up the challenge. But the high stakes provoked squabbles, bickering, in-fighting. In the end only half a dozen rugs were completed.’

 

Lowri and I stood and gawked as he explained this, as casually as if he were telling us about a walk he’d taken the other day. ‘You’re not going to say,’ I said, ‘that this is the rug that won?’

 

‘It placed second, actually. But that is where the judge and I disagree. You see, Shah Tamil never lived to see the finished products – he died of what many suspect now to have been a stroke shortly before the contest finished. The selection was left to his Grand Vizier. You can find his choice on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art .It is a masterwork, of course – but the Vizier lacked Tamil’s discerning eye. I am certain if the Shah had lived to see it he would have chosen this rug. The medallion pattern is typical of Iranian carpets, but what sets this piece apart is the tightness of the weave – over a thousand knots per inch. And yes, I have counted them.’

 

#

 

The next rug he showed us, at first glance, didn’t seem to be nearly as impressive or remarkable. To my eye, the weave looked coarse, the colours drab, the design relatively simple.

 

‘And this rug,’ he said, as if ready to launch into a well-prepared speech. Then he paused – catching himself. Instead he asked, ‘Tell me about this rug. What can we deduce?’

 

‘It’s pretty plain,’ I said.

 

‘Ah – but look closer at the colours. Isn’t this brown reminiscent of a farmer’s field, these greens bright as a Welsh hillside, that grey like the waters of the River Wye on an overcast day?’

 

And the longer we stared the more the woven features seemed to adopt the characteristics of those comparisons, blurring into the geographical features he’d suggested, until I had the impression that we were looking at –

 

‘A map,’ Lowri ventured.

 

‘That’s right,’ I agreed. ‘A map of Mid Wales.’

 

And our words seemed to settle it, crystalize it, make those statements true. I recognized, now, several local landmarks: the snake trail of the A470, the blue bends of Llyn Clywedog, the patchwork of Hafren Forest. All very rough, of course, or else we would have noticed it before.

 

‘This rug,’ the man said, neither affirming nor refuting our claims, ‘will show you the way home. Each to his own.’

 

We laughed, assuming he was joking, seeing if we would fall for it. But the longer we stared at the mottled patchwork of colours, the more details seemed to miraculously emerge.

 

‘That square of green…’ Lowri murmured.

 

‘The soccer pitch?’I pointed to a spot adjacent to it. ‘And this deep slate-grey?’
‘Our terrace.’

 

The old man nodded, accepting our discoveries, and continued: ‘This is one of my oldest items, and native to these shores. Woven by an unknown artisan of an ancient Celtic clan, before the Norman Conquest. Those were the days of myth and legend – when what we might now call magic was still an everyday reality. The warriors of the clan took this rug with them when they waged campaigns against enemy settlements. In those days paper and parchment were not used in Britain, so the map it contains was the best means they had of returning to their wives and families.’

We look at him, half-believing this outrageous lie.

 

‘But conquering is a dangerous business. One day they looked at the map and saw nothing – only patterns on plain cloth. They knew then that their village had been attacked, their kin wiped out – retribution for one of their many conquests. For the rest of their lives the remaining warriors scoured the land, searching aimlessly for some ruin, some evidence of what had been their home, and found none. It may seem obvious, but you can only go home if you have a home to go to.’

 

He pinched his lower lip, giving us time to digest this axiom, before moving on…

 

#

 

‘I came across this next tapestry, and the people who wove it, while exploring the Sahara. Men tall and lean like me, but dark-skinned, their faces scarified by sun, sand, and wind. They walked with me for many days, guiding me along unseen trails in the desert. At night we slept in tents, warmed by their camels – though in actual fact we slept little, talked much. It was during one of those dark, sand-hissing nights that they told me their purpose.’

 

‘To weave this tapestry?’ Lowri asked.

 

‘They were nomads, and had been weaving it for generations, outlining the entire history of their people – beginning with their first ancestors who’d come to Africa from a land of parrots and persimmon. They had no written language, so they’d woven their lore into the rug itself, a rich history that went back centuries.’

 

Withdrawing a magnifying glass from his pocket, he held it up against the fabric. Beneath its lens, the tendril lines morphed into complex pictographs: a man with a spear, a woman giving birth, a desert oasis, bonfires, some kind of wedding ceremony, two children paddling down a river, all etched in detail as fine as the cut of a diamond, in colour as ripe and vibrant as fresh fruit.

 

‘They could not explain how, exactly, they’d attained such level of intricacy – but please, look for yourselves.’

 

He handed the glass to Lowri, who held it close to her eye, her face intent, a caricature of a detective looking for clues. She saw (she later told me) the waters of a flooded river, a series of caves where the tribe buried their dead – each skeleton in the pictograph no bigger than an ant, but just as detailed.

 

I asked, ‘But why would they give it to you? For them it must have been priceless.’

 

His face cracked into a grimace, like a brittle mask, and he said, ‘The tribe had long since brought the tapestry up to the present. Upon reaching the point where they were weaving the events of the previous week, and yesterday, and today, they saw no need to stop – but continued weaving the rug into tomorrow, and the next day, knotting the threads of their future. They saw the babies they would have, and the famines they would face. They saw the ongoing cycle of birth, life, death until, at a certain point, there was nothing but darkness – black threads entwined like vipers, the patterns of oblivion. Convinced they’d foreseen the end of the world, believing that some calamity would befall their tribe, they gifted the tapestry to me – the first foreigner they’d met in centuries – to ensure the history of their people would never be forgotten, that their story would not end with them.’

 

Lowri handed the magnifying glass to me, and I knelt to examine the bottom corner of the tapestry. I saw a great feast, a bonfire the size of a burning match, and then…nothing. Panel upon panel of darkness, which ended in a tangle of loose threads – as if the weavers had been so startled by what they’d foreseen that they’d abandoned their weaving without tying off the knots.

 

‘But surely it was just superstition?’ I said. ‘Once they realize they were in error, you can return it to them.’

 

‘If only that were true. But shortly after I left Africa that area was carpet-bombed by the Libyan government, who thought it a rebel stronghold. I have been back since then, and there is no trace of them. Their apocalypse was real. Yet I sometimes wonder if what they’d foreseen was only their own future, or if it is still waiting to happen to the rest of us. Did they foresee their end or our end? Is it possible the fabric of our civilization will soon unravel, the threads of our lives be cut off, as if snipped by the Greek Fates?’

 

I smiled uncertainly. I could tell all this talk of doomsday unsettled Lowri – as it unsettled me – and in an attempt to lighten the mood I gestured at the rug further along.

 

‘What about that rug?’ I asked. ‘Does it have a story?’

 

He smiled, seeing through my ploy. ‘They all have stories, my boy,’ he said.

 

#

 

The one I’d pointed to was the plainest of them all. It was a small, dusty oval, perhaps three feet wide by four feet long, divided into rings of colour: blue, red, green, yellow. That was all. No intricate designs, no patterns, no hidden map. Just some tattered frills around the circumference.

 

‘You’re probably thinking,’ he said, ‘that this rug looks out of place among all this finery. Perhaps. And in auction it would fetch no more than a few pounds – if that. Yet at the same time it is the most valuable item here, the closest to my heart. You see, if it weren’t for this rug I would not be alive. ‘He reached out and touched it, the only time we saw him make physical contact with any of his treasures. ‘I was born in Berlin, you see, a few years before the war. We were not Jews but we were sinti – travellers – and there was little difference in the eyes of the Nazis.

 

‘You know all this, I imagine, from your history texts. But what those texts miss are the little moments of villainy and heroism that mark such times of crisis. On the last day that I saw my parents, they took me and my six siblings to the toy shop at the end of the street, which was run by an ex-army engineer of whom we were all afraid. Since retiring he had put his skills to designing all sorts of mechanical toys. This rug lay in the middle of his shop. I do not remember the specifics of the bargain, or how my parents had known to come to him, but I remember him pulling it aside, revealing the trap door beneath. The seven of us descended into darkness. I looked up and saw my parents’ faces; then the circle of light was obscured, as in an eclipse. I lived beneath that rug for five years, with my brothers and sisters, the man’s wonderful toys our only source of joy. During the day, we would hear the creak of the floorboards and the clink of cash exchanging hands. We grew to recognize, and fear, the thumping of army boots, when some member of the SS came in to buy presents for his little one. At night, the trap door would open; the chamber pot would go out and food and candles and new toys – occasionally – would come in. And each time the frightening old engineer would whisper to us that help was coming soon, that our parents sent their love, that it was only a matter of days before we would be free.’

 

The man tilted his head, as if just noticing something. ‘I think those years of entrapment led to what came after – to my life of wandering. I had been confined and now I wanted only freedom. When the trap-door opened, and hands helped us up, we were all rail-thin, pale as corpses. It took days for our eyes to adjust to sunlight, and just as long for our stomachs to adjust to full meals. The engineer wanted neither gratitude nor reward. He could not bear to look at us as we emerged. He said, “Go, children. Go from this place, this city, this country, and do not look back. Do not return.” And I didn’t, for many, many years. When I finally did, he was gone, of course. But the shop remained. And would you believe that this rug still stayed in its spot on the floor. I told the new owner of its history, and my collection of carpets. She gave it to me with tears in her eyes.’

 

Even as he said it, he looked at us, with tears in his eyes. We were both near tears, too.

 

‘So in a way, this rug was my chrysalis. It covered me for most of my childhood – those five years of incubation. I emerged fully grown, ready to escape, ready to fly.’

 

#

 

‘But come,’ he motioned us to follow, rounding the corner to a rug on the wall opposite the entrance, ‘let me tell you about this next rug – from a little known weaving community on the outskirts of Alcaraz, in Castile. There the art of rug making is prized above all others – and the competing guilds jealously guard the in-house techniques they have developed, be they soumak, embroidery, brocade, pile weaving, hand tufting, or a combination of these and others.’

 

As he spoke, he pointed to various parts of the rug, which was large and colourful and gorgeous. It depicted two young people, dangling from a series of strings like marionettes. Yet instead of a puppeteer, the threads hung suspended from a pair of looms. The couple were straining to kiss each other, but the tension in their strings prevented their lips from touching.

 

‘This piece is assumed to have been woven by Catalina Calino, a child prodigy – the sixth generation in a famed line of master weavers. The Calinos had, through carefully arranged marriages, bred their children for particular physical traits beneficial to the art: long fingers, hand-eye coordination, a natural nimbleness and ambidexterity. Reputedly, Catalina was able to weave before she could walk. By the age of five she was making her own thread, by six she had invented a new dye – a particularly vibrant red made from the shells of cochineal insects. Unfortunately, the demands of her craft – and her overbearing parents – meant she was plagued by neurosis and mental illness. She drank her own dyes. She killed butterflies. She had an obsessive attraction to felines in the great cat family. She saw – and frequently spoke to – the ghosts of her ancestors. None of these idiosyncrasies affected her craft, and her parents were willing to tolerate them, until, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, she fell madly, wildly, deliriously in love with a boy.’

 

‘Why would they object to that?’ we both asked, which is what we were expected to ask. All his stories had such breaks, in which a line seemed to be scripted for us, waiting to be spoken.

 

‘The boy was a weaver himself, the offspring of a guild that specialized in the use of synthetic dyes made from chemicals. The Calinos despised aniline dyes. Though inexpensive, they faded and deteriorated quickly – and her mother thought it symptomatic of an overall decline in the craft, which more and more sought to cater to vulgar, American folk-art tastes. None of this mattered to the girl. Neither did the fact that her lover’s skill as a weaver was mediocre, which made him an unsuitable match for a virtuoso like herself. Against her parents’ wishes, the two of them continued to meet in secret, exchanging tiny woven tokens of their affections. When her parents forbid her to see him again, she eloped – essentially defecting to the other guild. Violence between the two families ensued; several people died. Tensions reached a peak during the annual Alcaraz rug weaving competition. The final was between Catalina and her mother – Calino vs. Calino. The whole town gathered to watch the event, which reputedly lasted for days, both parties weaving themselves to the point of exhaustion, subsisting only on water and salt tablets, as the rules decreed.’

 

‘And who won?’ I asked.

 

The old man sighed. ‘Sadly, we don’t know. Before the competition finished, Castile was hit by a devastating earthquake. Both families perished – including Catalina and her mother. This rug was found among the ruins, though we have no way of knowing for sure who the artisan was. The obvious choice, given the content, would seem to be Catalina. Yet survivors maintain that her mother was working on a similar portrait – perhaps as an act of appeasement, a means of healing the rift with her daughter. To use a phrase as worn as some of these rugs, we’ll never know.’

 

#

 

It went on like that – each rug a story, each a gateway to a flood of memories and fantasies, and it seemed to me he was purging himself of them, as a monk before meditation, a Catholic seeking absolution – passing on the accompanying tales before his journey elsewhere. The old man was such a consummate salesman and raconteur that it didn’t matter whether his anecdotes were fact or fiction, myth or history. If the proof is in the pudding, then the truth, perhaps, is in the telling, and in that place, at that time, we believed his stories – even those ones I can no longer remember. My only regret now is that I did not write it all down immediately after, for my memory is sound, but not perfect. Yet had I gone in as a reporter, seeking to take advantage of him – like the antique dealers he was fond of disparaging – I doubt he would have been so open and forthcoming.

 

As our tour wound down the light outside the windows was fading. The last work he showed us was unfinished, something he’d recently commissioned – thin and delicate and woven from white mesh.

 

‘A friend is making this shroud for me out of silk from old cocoons,’ he said. ‘I am not there yet, and perhaps have a few more years of collecting in me. But in some ways that is of little significance. The shop will close today; as far as my customers are concerned I’ll already be gone.’

 

‘But why?’ Lowri asked. ‘You clearly love it – so why close your shop?’
The old man shook his head, as wearily as an old horse in the traces. ‘The people have stopped coming, my dear. And those that do have stopped listening. ‘He turned to survey his collection. ‘They see only material objects, not the stories behind them – and I am sick of spinning my yarns for an unappreciative audience.’

 

‘Isn’t there anybody to carry on your work?’ I asked. ‘Somebody to train up?’

 

‘I’ve had apprentices over the years, it’s true. But none willing to invest the time to commit to it. Your generation is so flighty, so quick to flutter on. But then, who am I to talk, having never had a real home, or a long-term relationship? ‘He grinned, patting us both on the shoulder, as if claiming us as comrades. ‘Perhaps there are those who take up the mantle in their own ways, on their own terms.’

 

As if to seal that declaration, he clapped his hands together, startling the cat, which had settled into sleepy reverie below. ‘But tell me – you strike me as a discerning young couple, with good taste. ‘Have any of these rugs taken your fancy?’

 

Dazzled and dumbstruck as we were, we immediately professed our ignorance, and our poverty. We knew we couldn’t afford any of his treasures. He let us stammer and babble our way into silence.

 

‘Let’s play a game, then,’ he said, rubbing his palms together, as if warming them. ‘Just for kicks – as you youngsters might say. If you could afford my overpriced fare, in another life, which would you prefer?’

 

We didn’t have to answer; we betrayed ourselves by looking back across the room, across the missing floor, to the rug hanging nearest the door, the one that showed the way home.

 

‘Ah-hah,’ he said. ‘So it goes. I’ll admit to being fond of that one myself. There is something so comforting about being able to imagine your way home, especially for us travellers. But in this case, also, perhaps particularly appropriate – given that you are beginning your new life together. ‘He led us back to it, walking with certain swagger. ‘And tell me – again in jest – how much do you think I’d ask for this heirloom of a clan from ancient Wales?’

 

Lowri and I looked at each other, then at the floor, hesitant to even proffer a guess. It was like being asked to bid on a piece of the man himself, a part of his body. Instead we again reiterated that it was no doubt priceless, that we had no hope of being able to afford it.

 

The man chuckled. ‘Yet you must realize you are in a position of great advantage, this being my final day of sale. In many ways you would be doing me a favour, in saving this piece from being relegated into storage, or ending up as part of some soulless museum display. In fact – and no arguments here – I will sell it to you for the money you have in your wallets, and that’s it.’

 

Before we could contradict him, he held up both hands.

 

‘No arguments, remember?’

 

He was so adamant we had no choice, but we were almost embarrassed to open our wallets, and reveal the paltry, crumpled bills within. I had a tenner; Lowri a five and two-eighty in change.

 

‘This is more than sufficient,’ he assured us, alleviating us of our money. ‘And I hope you may always find a home to go to – even if it’s one you don’t expect.’

 

Those words, as enigmatic as the rest, were the last he said to us – at least that I remember. I have a feeling we lingered for a little longer, exchanging pleasantries, reluctant to bid him a final good-bye – though Lowri isn’t sure about that. We both remember him walking us to the doorway, and leaning there as we descended those rickety stairs. I carried our new rug, rolled up and slung across my shoulder, like a body I’d rescued from a burning building. It was surprisingly heavy. I looked back once, saw him smiling, and looked back again, and saw that he was gone, the door shut, though I hadn’t heard it close.

 

Back at our house we unrolled the rug, but in the dimness of our terraced cottage the colour seemed less vibrant, the patterns less defined. For a few months (or maybe longer) we had it on display, but we squabbled often over what represented what, where our house was, and where our town – debating those details that had been so clear beneath his coaxing eye. Like a flower plucked from an exotic garden, it seemed to wilt and fade over time. We never dared to get it appraised, for fear, I imagine, of discovering it was not fifteen hundred years old but barely fifteen, terrified that the magic of that day might be dispelled by some expert declaring the rug worthless. But neither did we relish the questions the mottled tapestry always evoked from curious guests. Nobody ever saw anything in it, and eventually it found its way to our attic, where it remained for many years.

 

It’s only recently, perhaps spurred on by a bout of nostalgia, that we’ve got it out again. Fortunately the moths of memory have not been at it. And strangely enough, maybe because my eyes are going in my old age, I feel I can again perceive something within the field of the rug. And we are no longer embarrassed to keep it on display. When our grandchildren come over, they often ask us to relate the story of the mysterious carpet salesman, and our visit on his last day of business. We tell them about the myth behind the rug, and encourage the little ones to pick out those features that show them a way home, which they always manage to do. And I think it’s only lately, through passing these tales on to them, that I’ve begun to understand the gift he gave us back then, a gift which had less to do with the rug, or any of the rugs, and more to do with the art of weaving a story.

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