Chapter 23

“How are you going to get those worms out of your rug, sir? If you don’t mind me asking. And the bugs, too.”

A small man with a big voice slipped through the dense branches of bay trees that clogged the trail beside Tilden Creek. When he judged the time right, he began to look for a little pile of rocks by the trail’s side and soon he came to it and veered down the creek’s bank to where he had buried his rug. This time he didn’t bother to carry a spade, for he knew the rug was lying in a shallow ditch covered only with a thin layer of loose soil and brush. He did carry a bag, though—a canvas laundry bag—which he tossed to the ground as he peered up and down the creek and the trail. Satisfied that he was alone, he found what he wanted and began to pull aside sticks and forest duff, and he kicked dirt out of the little ditch. Within seconds the back of the dragon rug was revealed, though it looked more like a filthy old canvas tarp than a rug. In fact Deane was surprised to find that it was quite wet and slimy. When he pulled it out of its shallow grave by one end, it dripped water. Mud and clay clung to it. Deane frowned. He was gripped by a powerful urge to clean his muddy hands. He washed them in the creek and dried them on the laundry bag.

He looked around again and then unrolled it on the damp soil. He had the most peculiar feeling as hundreds of bugs scurried about on the rug, confused and probably blinded by the light. Large black bugs stuck their back ends in the air, threatening to loose a tiny blast of stink. Earthworms tried to burrow into the layer of clay muck that covered the rug. “Bloody hell!” he shouted. He startled himself.

Deane looked up. A park ranger stood not ten feet from him, his arms folded, watching. “What are you doing?” the ranger asked.

“What does it bloody hell look like I’m doing?”

“Well, that’s what I can’t figure. Are you throwing that thing away? Because if you are, that’s littering.”

“Brilliant! I carried this filthy mess all the way in here to throw it away. You’re a regular Sherlock Holmes, I’d say.” Deane, who was in a rage, still had the presence to notice that the ranger’s expression and the attitude of his body had changed and now suggested a dangerous mix of fear and aggression. The ranger had become afraid that he had cornered a hostile maniac and he reached for his walkie-talkie. Suddenly Deane had an image of being arrested, his rug seized and held as evidence as it rotted into sludge. “Wait, constable, I’ll explain. I brought my rug up here to wash in the stream. That’s how we always do it in the old country. By far the best way to wash a rug. Natural. Good for it.”

“That’s a rug?”

“Why yes!” With his shoe, Deane scraped mud from a corner of the rug, and a bit of color showed through the muck. “First we give it a nice mud bath and then we wash it in a river. That’s the only way to do it.”

Cautiously the ranger drew closer, still holding his walkie-talkie, and he looked at the rug. “Where did you say you come from?”

“I live in Berkeley, your honor. Right here in Berkeley.”

“But you said ‘In the old country.’”

“Yes, that’s how we wash rugs in the old country. Mud bath, then the river. Sometimes we have to do it twice.”

“Well we don’t do it that way here, sir. Here we call that polluting a stream. You’re going to have to take your…rug and leave the park, sir. And don’t try to wash it somewhere else in the park. I’ll be watching, sir.”

“Well, I’m terribly sorry, actually. Hah, hah! Had no idea. Well, I’ll just be going on.” Deane folded the rug in two and rolled it as the ranger watched.

“How are you going to get those worms out of your rug, sir? If you don’t mind me asking. And the bugs, too.”

Avery Deane had an impulse to attack the man and beat him to death, but he answered, “Well I suppose I’ll have to have it dry cleaned, sheriff. Since I can’t wash it in the river.” The fellow looked doubtful.

“They might not take it. It’s pretty dirty with those worms and everything.”

Deane kept working. He stuffed the doubled and rolled rug in his laundry bag. He was sweating. When he was finished he looked at his filthy hands and started for the creek, then stopped and looked at the ranger. The ranger frowned but nodded and then looked away. He did not want to witness the pollution.

Even before the bus came, his bag had begun to leak. Because of that and because of its weight—wet rugs are heavy!—Deane had to drag it behind him. The bus driver eyed it, then focused on Deane, whose face and clothes were splattered with mud. The damp odors of a swamp wafted from Dean and his package. The driver said, “Hey, buddy…” But Deane gave him a steely look, dropped his money in the bin and walked to the back, dragging his bag down the isle, where it left a watery brown trail. Evidently the driver had learned to let some things pass, and he said nothing more to Deane who, in his present mood, probably would have attacked him if he had. On the other hand, his fellow passengers stared at his bag with distaste, even though some were hardly presentable themselves. One very heavy lady with a tiny hat pointedly held her nose. So by the time Deane dragged his bag off of the bus and onto the sidewalk near his apartment building, he was in a towering rage.

He dragged the laundry bag to a hose bib at the rear of the apartment building and he dumped the foul smelling rug out of the bag onto a cement slab, unrolled and then opened it. This time he refused to let the rug’s crawly surface paralyze him. He looked at it through half-closed eyes, seeing only enough to work on it. He turned on the water and squirted the rug with the hose. For ten minutes, bugs and muddy brown water ran from it onto the concrete slab, and yet the thick layer of muck that caked the rug’s surface never seemed to diminish. “Clay,” he said. He laid the hose on the dragon rug and let it run while he went looking for a tool shed. When he found it, he pulled a rake from it, the kind with a rigid spine and teeth. Using the back of the rake, he bore down and squeegeed away mud, clay, worms and small insects that rolled themselves into little balls. Muddy water spread out across the patio.

After twenty minutes of scraping and scrubbing he could see the rug’s design and colors, though they were muddied by a deep brown patina, as if the rug had been bathed in Turkish coffee. Deane allowed himself one consoling thought: At least it had not been eaten by the bugs that had colonized it. It had no less pile than before he buried it. Still he was not yet ready to focus on it, not yet ready to risk disappointment if the rug were ruined. He turned off the water, left the soggy rug lying in the broken sunlight of a cloudy day and took the back way into the building and into his upstairs apartment where he found a bar of Castile soap. Downstairs again, he unwrapped the soap, knelt and began to rub the bar on the rug’s surface, working up a satisfying lather. Then with the back of the rake he worked the suds into the rug’s pile and, after ten minutes, turned on the water again and rinsed the rug a second time. Again muddy water poured from it. Finally the water ran clear, and for the first time since he unrolled the rug and began to scrape the muck off its surface, he was willing to risk a real look at it, sans mud, worms and bugs.

As he stood gazing at it, the sun emerged from the clouds and sparkled in the clear water on the rug’s surface. Colors danced beneath the water, and a glaring dragon grinned at Deane. Some spirit deep in him soared. He looked away. Just as he had feared to look at the rug when he thought he might have ruined it, now…Was it too good? Too gorgeous? Could he have brought it to life? He couldn’t look.

“Anyway,” he reminded himself, “it’s still wet. Maybe it will look terrible when it dries.” He gave it a last squeegee to expel all the water he could, then rolled the rug tightly and stood it on end and leaned it against the building so it stayed upright. A few moments later, water began dripping from the end on the concrete. The drying process had begun. As he watched, he began to hum and then to sing.

The next morning he made a phone call. “My dear,” he said, “I have something to show you.”

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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