Chapter 21

“Though river gunk adorns it, do not fear.”

The day came when Khalil arose from his work, stretched, and then began to snip away the threads that held his finished rug to the loom. As it fell to the floor, it seemed to Avery Deane less like a wooly picture in a frame and more like a rug. Relieved and moved, he improvised a boisterous song to the tune of an old English madrigal:

I think you’re going to like it Sarah dear.
I know you’re going to love it, do not fear.

After months of work, the rug was off the loom and it looked wonderful! Of course he saw it with a father’s eye. The average observer would have thought the rug a thick and tangled mess, for its unclipped pile was an inch long, like a shag rug, and its design was garbled and indistinct. But he broke out again in song:

The rug will be a work of art,
Our dandy dragon melt your heart,
I know you’re going to love it, Sarah dear.

“Who’s Sarah?” Khalil asked.

“Ah, Sarah! It’s she for whom we’re making this wonderful rug, my friend. The lovely Sarah.”

“Are you going to give it to her?”

That caught Deane. Give it to her? It was a shame that money had to enter into this. But soon he had to settle with Khalil for his three months of weaving, and Cherise for dyeing the wool and with Kadija, Zainab, Soroya and Fatima for their spinning. And there was his rent, of course, which he had not paid in some time, bless Sandra’s heart. And he would have to replace his Porsche. He still owed Holden for the silk Kirman. And he owed that fellow Bob for the same Kirman. There were other debts, too, that he would rather not think about. It was astonishing how petty some people could be where debts were concerned. So he would have to sell the dragon rug. But he was confident that it would make Sarah happy nonetheless. But he would like to give it to her. Maybe he would.

I’ll give to you my treasure Sarah dear,
Though a dragon guards it, Sarah, do not fear.
The rug will be your guiding star,
Its words of wisdom lead you far,
I know you’re going to love it Sarah dear.

How good it was to be alive! Deane watched as Khalil laid the rug flat on the floor and began to shorten and even-out its pile with a tool he had brought from Afghanistan, a tool designed in central Asia four thousand years ago for the sole purpose of clipping the pile of an Oriental rug. It was like a scissor whose blades were turned sideways to its handle, and with it Khalil cut off the top half of the shaggy pile so that soon it was an amazingly uniform half-inch throughout. Each clip of the scissor revealed a curling dragon tail or a flaming pearl, a wave, a dragon’s eye.

“You know, that dragon’s eyes kept me awake every night, boss,” Khalil said as he worked. It seemed to Deane that Khalil tried not to look at the dragon even as his clipping gave it focus. “I used to dream that it asked me, ‘What are you doing here, Khalil? Why aren’t you back home taking care of your parents.’ Things like that.”

“No, the dragon was saying, ‘Khalil Zadeh is the best cook in all the land and the best rug-weaver, too. Khalil belongs here and the people of Fremont, California hope he stays forever.’ The dragon is saying, ‘Your wife and daughter love you and are happy you are here taking care of them and there are many people back home to take care of your parents.’”

Khalil laughed. “I didn’t hear it say that..”

“That’s why this rug is so good, Khalil. It’s magic.” To Deane it seemed as if Khalil had half-again more teeth than the average person and that they all showed when he smiled.

Finally Avery Deane was alone with the clipped rug, and he stood back, regarding it, still humming. He saw just what he had expected to see and had hoped to see: A rug of extraordinary interest and beauty—and it was brand new. Though expected, its newness was daunting. Somehow it would have to become a 350-year-old rug in a month, give or take. “And that’s where the magic comes in,” he said aloud. “That’s why we have me.”

The next day he put on his beret and silk scarf and took a bus to a store in Berkeley that rented tools. On the bus he noticed once again that his fellow humans were sadly lacking in style, manners and hygiene. Though he found them distasteful, still his heart went out to them. Poor blokes. He couldn’t resist trying to help one fellow. “For God’s sake, man, look at your shoes!” The man seemed startled and deeply concerned, and of course he looked down at his shoes. So did everyone else within ear-shot of Deane’s powerful voice. “Why, what color are they? One can’t make it out, they’re so scuffed! Now what kind of impression do you hope to make with shoes like that?” The fellow looked around as if for a way out. Others on the bus maintained blank faces as they followed the action, looking first at the fellow’s shoes, then at Deane, then to the poor fellow to see what he was going to do, and finally back to his shoes. Deane went on, “You know, shoe polish only costs a few cents. Practically nothing! Three minutes to apply! Appearances matter! That’s why I drive a Porsche.” But Deane could see that the man was too far gone to follow his reasoning. “Well,” he thought, “You can lead a horse to water…” He decided to let it go. After a while, the fellow with the scuffed shoes walked to the door at the back of the bus and acted like his stop was coming right up and he was getting ready to leave, but Deane thought he was just avoiding coming to terms with the poor choices he had made in life.

Back home, Deane went to work on the dragon rug with his rented tools. First, the belt sander. He revved it up and held the sander just above the rug and began to wag it in the air as some people wave their fountain pen above a document before signing their name, waiting for inspiration, waiting till he sensed just where to lower it onto the rug’s colorful pile. He half-closed his eyes and, like an artist—no, as an artist—he dropped the sander onto the rug and let the sander spin. Atomized fragments of wool filled the air, and soon a pattern of wear emerged on the rug’s surface, especially around its edges and dead in its center. Anyone not knowing how the wear had come to exist would have wondered how the rug had been used. There was something about the wear that suggested ritual use, an impression that was heightened by the fiery dragon. Had temple lanterns had been placed around the rug’s perimeter for many years, or bones of ancestors had been tossed onto it in some pagan rite? And the low spot right in its center- had a small, carved deity or other ritual object presided there for decades? Anyway, most people would now have assumed that the rug was old, though it would have been hard to say whether it was 30 years old or much older. In fact, the rug was anomalous and therefore disturbing—even Deane felt uneasy—because somehow it now looked both new and old at the same time.

Finished with his belt sander, he fired up his rental blowtorch. Luckily, Deane had previous blowtorch experience, having tamed a number of his previous creations with one—two of which were now mounted on a wall in the San Francisco Museum and labeled “Mid-19th century”—so he knew just how to regulate the torch’s impressive flame. He started by torching the rug’s back, burning off all the fuzz that one finds on the backs of new rugs. Next he singed all the new-rug fuzz off the rug’s front side, making sure that the torch did not linger too long in any one place, then extinguished the torch’s flame and swept the smoldering rug on both sides with a stiff brush. Even after Deane carefully brushed away all the charred wool from its surface, a subtle dark patina clung to the rug, along with the odor of burnt sheep. “Now,” Deane thought, “we’re getting somewhere.” Suddenly it looked a hundred years old, “which,” he continued, “isn’t at all old enough.” Furthermore, he noted, though it now looked reasonably old, it didn’t feel old. It still had the stiff handle of a new rug. There was much more work to do.

Of course he knew that in the Middle East the stiffness of new rugs was usually conquered by placing them on busy streets to be run over by automobiles. In more rural areas herds of sheep or camels served the purpose. In recent decades chemicals sometimes were used to turn a stiff new rug into a floppy old thing in a matter of hours, but Deane was unwilling to risk spoiling the dragon rug with chemicals—nor did he want trace amounts of a chemical to be found in his rug if it were carefully scrutinized. On the other hand, he had neither a herd of sheep nor even an automobile with which to soften it up. He sat down, humming, and thought. He couldn’t very well spread the rug in a city street or a freeway. In Afghanistan motorists knew the game, but, here, motorists would swerve to avoid running over a rug in the street. Tumble it in a clothes dryer? Not powerful enough. What would he do? Suddenly he thought of the answer and he sighed. What a lot of work. In the remaining hours of daylight, he laid the rug out on the concrete driveway near the rear of the apartment building and began to smash it with a hammer, inch by inch. Pow! Pow! Pow! In two hours the rug was as floppy as a blanket, and there was no longer even a hint of newness about it. Sanded, singed and hammered, it looked like something on which four generation of children had been raised. But it did not look three or four centuries old. There was still more to do.

The next morning Deane tucked the rug under one arm and carried a small garden spade with the other and headed for the Berkeley hills in an AC Transit bus: First to north Berkeley, then up steep Marin Avenue, then off to the left onto Spruce, then finally to Spruce and Grizzly Peak where he disembarked. From there he headed on foot down into Tilden Park, a territory he was familiar with from the days when, sleeping completely recumbent in the driver’s seat of his Porsche 928, he had called it home. As he hiked, he sometimes caught a whiff of burned wool that wafted from the rug under his arm. Except for that, the spring air was delicious.

At a campground called Eucalyptus Grove he left the road and dropped down to a trail that ran along Tilden Creek. A half mile up the creek, bay trees that were rooted at the creek’s edge leaned into the trail and narrowed it, making it hard for Deane to keep going. He draped the would-be million dollar dragon rug over his neck the way he normally would have worn a scarf, used the shovel as a walking stick and scrambled through brush until he felt that he was well away from the normal pack of weekend hikers. Breathing hard, he looked around carefully, and when he was convinced he was alone, he descended the steep bank to the creek’s edge. He easily jumped the creek and found a dense thicket of brush to duck behind, and there he began digging in the soil about four feet away from the creek. The clayey soil was just right—slightly damp—and he dug a little ditch about five feet long and a foot deep. That done, he took another close look around and then opened the dragon rug and spread it on the ground as well as he was able. For a moment he gazed at it, startled by its beauty. The dragon he had created seemed to float on its surface, bristling, staring at him, challenging. For a moment he peered into the dragon’s eyes. High overhead a raptor screeed and broke the spell. Deane shoveled about half of the damp soil he had taken from the ditch onto the rug’s surface, spread it with his spade as evenly as he could and rolled up the rug with the clay inside. He laid it in the ditch and, finally, backfilled the ditch till the rug was buried. He pulled brush onto the scar in the ground, gathered his bearings, marked the trail inconspicuously with rocks and headed back toward Eucalyptus Grove and home. And as he walked he began to hum and then to sing aloud.

I know you’re going to love it, Sarah dear,
Though river gunk adorns it, do not fear.
The rug will be a work of art,
Our dandy dragon melt your heart,
I know you’re going to love it, Sarah dear.

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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