artifact1_Ryan Buell


Okay, so I was driving a little fast. I had a new Porsche. I had just gotten a divorce. So I was speeding a little. So what?

I happened to be in Bakersfield visiting a client—an old farmer with over a hundred acres of prime agricultural land who had recently managed to get himself into legal dispute with one of his neighbors. It seemed the boundary between one man’s cotton fields and the other man’s orange groves had been called into question, and rather than settle the matter with a deer rifle, old Mr. Paulsen wisely decided to give me a call. I had known him for years, so I felt obligated to pay a personal visit.

However, I did not feel obligated to like the place. The people in the Valley are big as refrigerators and the towns, if you can call them that, are made up entirely of strip malls, fast food chains, and auto dealerships. It’s also hotter than shit in the summertime. So that afternoon, after a pleasant lunch with Mr. Paulsen, I decided to drive out on one of the old farm roads and rev my engine a bit, just for fun. Take the edge off. Get some steam out of my system. I was feeling edgy, not having had a decent cup of coffee since I left Berkeley. I was also slightly miffed at myself for promising to see the old man again the following day, hence, forcing myself spend the night in a stucco motel next to the freeway.

I had just flown past a lovely old almond orchard when up in the distance I saw a faded Persian kilim draped over a wooden fence. Next to it was a hand painted sign reading “Antiques.” I slowed down, and just past the sign, slowed down and pulled into a gravel drive.

Soon I found myself parked in front of a modest 1920s stucco cottage. A large shade tree stood next to the garage dropping hard berries on the numerous pieces of rusted turn-of-the century farm equipment scattered about beneath it. I was about to enter the small fenced in yard surrounding the house when an English mastiff sprang out of nowhere and started barking like crazy. Before I had time to dart back to my car, the screen door swung open and out popped a skinny bearded man wearing Bermuda shorts and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.

“Shut the fuck up, will you!” he yelled, grabbing the dog by its collar and quickly leading it to a gated area on the side of the house. “Sorry about that,” he said, returning a few seconds later. “I usually keep him chained so he doesn’t eat somebody. Excellent guard dog, that one, but I have to keep an eye on him. Mark Anderson,” he said, extending his hand.

“Saw the kilim on the fence and thought I’d stop in and have a look around,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Oh, that old thing—picked it up in a village in Iran years ago. It’s a real beauty, with nice age. Four hundred—cash—and it’s yours. Come on inside, I was just making coffee.”

Oh God, coffee. What I wouldn’t do for a decent cup of coffee, I thought.

 

***

I should probably stop here and briefly mention a thing or two about my fondness for Middle Eastern carpets. My wife got practically everything in the settlement—the cars, the house, the furniture—but I got the rug collection. I insisted on it. And if I didn’t get the rugs in court, I would have packed them up in the middle of the night and ditched the country. I have over fifty hand woven tribal pieces—most of them from Southern Iran—and each one is precious to me. I don’t consider myself a terribly materialistic person (the car is a recent aberration, a mere concession to middle age), but I love rugs. I love hand woven nomadic textiles like most men love women. I love them bad. Real bad.

***

Mr. Anderson’s house was completely cluttered with early Americana—old oak tables and chairs, turn-of-the-century glassware, vintage eggbeaters and other miscellaneous antique kitchenware. While he finished preparing the coffee (it smelled fucking divine) I looked around a bit, peeking inside cabinet drawers and examining the bottoms of old glass jars, pretending to be interested. In truth, though, I really don’t care for early American antiques. They remind me too much of my wife, and she was the last thing I wanted to be reminded of. Not that she’s a bad person, or anything. She’s not. She has her good qualities. I just didn’t want to be reminded of right then, of what she did—that whole mess with the dentist—no, I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to forget it. I needed time to process everything. To take it all in. I needed to heal.

Okay, so before I go any further, I may as well get this off my chest as well. I married too young. No sooner had I finished law school, then I up and tied the knot. I was practically a virgin. I never screwed around in college. I never had a one-night-stand with a legal aide during any of my internships. I never went to a party, smoked pot, and jumped into a hot tub naked. I never did any of that. And I should have. I really needed to.

Instead I married the first girl I ever asked out on a real date. And we had only been seeing each other for three months when I bought her a two-carat square cut in a platinum setting from Shreve & Co. and popped the question. The following summer we went the whole nine yards—a beautiful church wedding and all that crap.

We got along okay at first. Two years later came the baby. She was a good mom. Had some German blood on her mother’s side. Kept a nice house. Ran it like a goddamn railroad—up in the morning at six, a sack lunch for the office, dinner at five—sharp, sex once week, and so on. We prospered. Eventually I opened my own firm. But, oh God, there were times when I wanted to just toss everything in the fucking can and run off with one of the pretty young things I hired to answer the office phone.

But my wife did bake excellent pies and her roast chicken wasn’t bad either, so I remained faithful. I stuck it out and never messed up. Not even once. Then six months ago, less than a week after our daughter left for college, I come home from the office to find her standing at the door with her bags packed. She said she was leaving—running off with the fucking dentist, of all people—the motherfucking dentist! (And all this time I thought he way gay!)

So that was that for that. Twenty years and bye bye, adios, ta ta, and I never even got to fuck around with my god damned receptionist.

***

“Please, have seat,” Mr. Anderson said, motioning me towards a small dining area connected to the kitchen. “The coffee will be up in just a few minutes.” He was standing at the counter pouring boiling water into a French press. The freshly ground coffee reminded me of home, and I suddenly felt as if I’d known Mr. Anderson for years.

As I sat waiting, I glanced around at my surroundings. Other than an overwhelming amount of early American furniture, there seemed to be no consistent theme to the contents of Mr. Anderson’s house. Resting on the floor, not far from where I sat, a large engraved brass Turkish tray leaned against a wall, and above the door to the living area was a California license plate that read “YA ALLAH.” In the back of the kitchen there was a wooden-topped pastry table with a heavy iron base. Above that hung numerous antique copper pots, along with a collection of turn of the century cherry pitters, apple peelers, and eggbeaters. Adding to the jumbled nature of the décor were several brightly colored plastic toys—a Japanese robot, a Gumby doll, a rubber Dumbo elephant, all lined up along on the kitchen windowsill. And hanging on the wall directly across from me was a brightly colored Huichol string painting.

“I’ll take that kilim on the fence,” I said. “And I’d love to look at any other pieces you have. I’m sort of into rugs.”

“Well, unfortunately you’re about twenty-five years too late,” he said. “I used to own hundreds—had a shop on Solano Avenue in Berkeley back in the day. Oh God, those were the days! I traveled the globe buying merchandise for that shop. Remember those round-the-world-tickets you could get back then? I’d be gone for three months at a time. My wife hated me for it.“

I could tell Mr. Anderson was one of those people who enjoyed listening to himself talk. Even when he occasionally paused and asked a question, my answers always ended up leading the conversation back to him. Which was perfectly fine with me. Listening to his adventures in North Africa and the Middle East was the perfect distraction. We sat chatting for two hours or more, until finally, I asked him once again if he had any other carpets.

“Well, let me think. Humm…I do have one last Gabbeh. Now where did I put it? Let me go and see if I can find it for you.”

While he was away, I sat staring blankly out the front window. There wasn’t much to look at, just an occasional big rig passing on the highway, and every now and then an old beat up Toyota, probably driven by a meth-head. I was lost in thought, when a 1970s Buick, with darkened windows and chrome rims slowly began making its way down the gravel drive. The car parked next to mine, and a few seconds later the driver’s side door flung open and a young girl emerged. The dog didn’t bark, even when she entered the gate, and she opened the screen door without knocking.

I could tell right away she wasn’t a local. First of all, she was thin and her hair wasn’t frosted. She also had a tattoo on her forearm—an East Indian symbol of some kind—and numerous large silver hoops in each of her ears.

“Anyone home?” she called. “Dad, you here?”

Mr. Anderson returned just in time to save me.  

“Hi honey, what a surprise! Come in, I was just showing this nice gentleman my Gabbeh.”

She gave me a quick glance, but I felt as if she didn’t quite see me. I could tell she was thinking hard, and this thinking was interfering with her vision.

“But you promised me you weren’t going to sell that rug. You said it was your last, and you weren’t going to sell it.”

“Easy there, girl. I’m just letting this nice man have a look. Relax, will you.”

She tossed her purse on the table and sat across from me.

“So where do you live?” I asked, attempting to extend an olive branch.

She said nothing, and sat admiring her hands. She had long delicate fingers adorned with silver rings—all Indian, of course, no doubt purchased from a street vendor on Telegraph. But they looked nice on her. Anything would have looked nice on her. Or nothing at all. Yes, nothing at all would have looked especially nice on her.

“She lives in Oakland,” Mr. Anderson said. “And usually she’s polite, aren’t you sweetie?”

Mr. Anderson bent down and unfolded the carpet on the floor in front of me. It was clear from the way it moved that it was soft as a blanket. The border was simple in design, the dominant colors mostly red and tan, with a little white here and there. It had an emerald green field with exceptionally nice abrash, speckled with small, awkwardly woven stars and flowers. A magnificent diamond was woven in the center.

I got up from the table and bent to examine the rug.

I walked around its perimeter and flipped over a corner to inspect the knots. I checked teach of the ends for wear. As I did all this, he girl sat scowling, not even bothering to look in my direction. Then something cruel took possession of me.

“It’s a beautiful rug,” I said to her. “I can see why you’re so fond of it.”

She continued ignoring me.

“Name your price,” I said to Mr. Anderson.

If her dad weren’t there she probably would have gone at me with those lovely little claws of hers. (Oh, how I would have enjoyed that!). Instead she just sat there glaring at me like a wild animal.

“You really are an asshole, aren’t you?” she said, getting up from her chair.

“If you’re going to be nasty, go take a drive and cool off,” Mr. Anderson said.

She obediently followed his order and grabbed her purse.

“Nice meeting you, ” I said as the screen door slammed behind her. Once she was safely out of her father’s sight, she flipped me off.

I smiled and waved back.

“What a lovely daughter,” I said to Mr. Anderson. “An absolute doll.”

“She has her own mind. I’ve never had any luck trying to control her. Smokes way too much dope. Does massages for a living, can you believe it? I try to keep an eye on her, but it’s no use. She’s too much the Taurus.

“Will you sell me the rug?” I asked.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

“How much?” I asked.

“Six grand, cash.”

“Deal.”

Mr. Anderson and I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening together drinking wine, as I sat and listened to his stories. And there was a lot to listen to—from what I could tell, he had had at least five wives of various ethnicities, had begotten an entire tribe of children, each with a different mother, and had had five extremely acrimonious divorces (we lingered on this subject for quite a while). He also told me his tales of Berkeley back in 60s, of his extensive hallucinogenic drug use and corresponding mystical experiences, as well as his interest in the occult sciences—Mr. Anderson had certainly led an exceptional life.

At around nine o’clock, Mr. Anderson apologized and said he was too tired to stay up any longer. I was welcome to sleep in his spare room, if I wished.

I thanked him, since I was in no condition to drive, and agreed to stay. He yawned and wandered off to bed, and I went out to my car to fetch my overnight case. Thank god Mr. Anderson’s dog was still locked up on the side of the house. It barked a couple of times, but clearly lacked any interest in pursuing the matter. As I reached behind my seat to grab my bag, I heard a car slow down on the road and turn into the drive. I quickly went back inside, grabbed the Gabbeh, and headed for the spare room.

Not more than five minutes passed before there was a gentle tapping at my door.

                  ***

When I made my appearance the following morning Mr. Anderson was standing at the kitchen counter pouring hot water over freshly ground coffee beans.

“I hope that stupid rooster didn’t wake you,” he said when he saw me.

“Not at all, I’m an early riser.”

“Looks my girl ran off with your rug last night.”

“Actually, I locked it in the trunk of my car before going to bed,” I said.

Mr. Anderson made us a breakfast of fried eggs and toast, and after eating we drove into downtown Bakersfield together and went to a Wells Fargo bank. I pulled out six thousand in cash, and when I dropped him at his place and handed him the money, he told me he hoped I enjoyed the rug. I assured him I would and said goodbye.

You have no idea just how much I enjoyed it, I thought as I backed out of the drive. It was worth every last dime.

 


About the Author: Mira Martin-Parker earned an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Mythium, and Zyzzyva. Her collection of short stories, The Carpet Merchant’s Daughter, won the 2013 Five [Quarterly] e-chapbook competition.

Artwork: Ryan Buell