The Secret Society of Carpet Liers

A couple down the street with a big house is off to Miami and they ask me to dogsit. They have a big yard with a fountain and I like to sit outdoors. Fifty dollars, we agree, and on Saturday I'm listening to water bubble across pebbles.

There's a hole the size of a bottle cap in the wooden slats that fence off the yard. The dog--an Aussie Shepherd--settles himself down in front of it, stares for hours. His nose fills with splinters. There is something there, on the other side. Another dog perhaps; maybe that rooster that wakes me up with the sunrise. Occasionally there's the sound of nails scuffling in the dirt and the dog begins to howl, scratching frantically at the boards as if he can dig through. Then it stops and he pants for a moment before settling back into the grass, eyes towards the hole, disquieted.

I once stayed with a man for six months because he would call me on the phone and not say anything. He thought my intelligence was "cute," and made loud comments in movie theaters that lacked empathy. But the sound of another human being tinkering around his house over a tinny phone line crippled me. The familiarity of it. The sheer presence.

It's nearly eight thirty, but the sun is only just beginning to head towards the horizon. I climb the stairs to the attic and look across the lake. I carry a picture with me--the sun cresting a mountaintop. I can't tell whether it's setting or rising. I wonder if no one had been there to tell me as a child, "This is night" and "This is day," I'd ever have known the difference.

When I got into his car, I started crying. I wasn't an idiot, I knew what was coming. I'd been having those premonitions: looking at his things while he was in the bathroom; my stomach filling with the fleeting nature of things; blood gushing, as if just moving swiftly could keep the clot from building.

"Just drive," I said.

This was a different man. In the first weeks, the thought passed through my mind that one day we could marry, that all this could stop, and I'd been clawing at its tail ever since. But to him I was deadwood from a felled tree. He'd scraped against me, run his fingers across my rot, pushed me out into the ocean. Yet I kept coming back, kept scraping.

It was the final days of the global gas hikes. The Saudi kings were coasting in their Mercedes. The rain slid in sheets down the windshield. Even the Northwest Pines, normally so tall and sturdy against the Seattle clouds, bent to the wind. But we just kept driving.

I don't care about the sun anymore, whether it's going up or going down. I'm staring at I90, a floating divider across the lake. I used to have night class in a building with this very same view, just panned back. There was something comforting about the steady blur of headlights. One light passed, another took its place. Light after light after light. Constancy. Distance.

But I'm all zoomed in now and I can see that there's something in the bridge's construction and the way traffic flows that makes one side of the lake jostle violently and the other bob-silent, serene, oblivious. I notice a brief blinking flash as a truck on its way from Bellevue signals a lane change and I am weighted with fatigue. I can hear the crackled news on the radio, the road clicking by beneath me, the engine and its ceaseless roaring. It's been I90 since Rochester. Unload the truck, turn around.

The dog is salivating on my ankle. We scamper together back down the stairs. I give him an extra scoop because it's late and I feel bad. He sticks his nose in so deep, it's a wonder he keeps on breathing. His metal bowl scrapes against the hardwood. I lock the door to the guestroom, lie back on the carpet and put on an ambiguous female singer playing acoustic guitar; it doesn't matter who she is. The carpet is firm and smells of pine-scented cleaner.

I never get to see the world this way, to study the cracks above me. I like to look down and see my toes still there, still tipped in red polish, still rounded with dead skin. I am comforted by the sight of them wiggling. When I rise, the liquid will shift in my ears and I'll lean on the bedpost to steady myself. But I'm not getting up; not now, not yet.

There are others like me, I know. I can smell them through the fence. One day I'll dig a hole and find them. We'll call ourselves The Secret Society of Carpet Liers; touch our toes into a circle, press our spines into the shag, divert the blood into our heels.

"Hear hear," I'll say. "I call this meeting to order."

We'll close the shades against the sun; lie.

When I get my fifty dollars, I linger for a moment and then head out into the street. It rained all last night and there is a cat drinking from a puddle in a church parking lot. I pass a man with stubble on his chin and a cigarette between his lips. When I look straight at him he spits and it twines amongst the weeds like a spiderweb. Yesterday there were fires in Australia, kangaroo fireballs bouncing ashes down the street. I unlock the door to my studio, lie back into the hardwood and listen to the rain tap the windowpanes.

This is my permanence.

About the author:

Leah Kaminsky grew up in Ithaca, NY, completed an MFA in Fiction Writing at the University of Washington, and has since spent her time exploring the world far and wide. Though her main passion is in writing longer works of fiction, she has dabbled in journalism, plays, and screenplays, but gave up poetry a long time ago for the greater benefit of mankind. She admires and draws inspiration from writers ranging from Virginia Woolf to Matt Stone and Trey Parker and all those that lie in between. She has published short stories in Play of Mind and LOGOS, was nominated for inclusion in the Best New American Voices Anthology: 2008 and has placed twice in Glimmer Train Top 25 Lists. "The Secret Society of Carpet Liers" was one of those lucky two. She requests that all spammers considering sending irrelevant enlargement ads to her email address kindly send dried organic mangoes instead, as they are both nutritious and delicious.