It was a small, soft carpet. When she woke up in the morning she felt immediate comfort as she rested her little feet on it. Her toes would sink into the woven fabric and the skin on the soles of her feet would stretch out to meet the warmth. From the tip of her toes a tingling pleasure would move up through her skinny body and reach the top of her head, right up to her bushy hair. She imagined the warmth running through her bones, as this was the part of her body that was growing fastest. Sometimes she thought she could even feel the bones grow, and she believed she was skinny because the bones were pulling and stretching her skin.
As she grew older and her body changed, so did the Carpet. It changed shape, size and colour. Sometimes it would match her mood and feel just right under her feet. Other times it was so rough and unpleasant to the touch, that she was almost tempted to throw it out. Sometimes she even forgot it was there. It went from clean to filthy, from brightly coloured to a dismal grey, from leaden to featherweight.
One day she came home and she had picked up so much dust and grit from the street that she decided to hide it under the Carpet. In fact, it was a man who had thrown the grit at her, but she was so embarrassed to tell anybody that she decided to hide it. She thought it must have certainly been her fault the man had been angry with her.
That’s when she started brushing things under the Carpet. Some days it was so full of things under it that she had to stamp her feet and jump on it to squash them down. Some small stones started appearing from under the edges, but she was very careful to push them back under. The Carpet grew accordingly to cover all the grit there was to hide, but sometimes it was just too much, and she would have to sit down on her bed and wait for the Carpet to digest everything. This could take some time, and a lot of swallowing sounds would rise from the Carpet, followed by deep sighs.
She knew the Carpet wasn’t well. It was in a pitiful state, all tattered and worn, and pretty much ready for the dump.
Eventually she found a way to clean it. At least the surface. A boy showed her how to look after it, how to brush and scrub it, so when other people came to her room it looked spotless. But there was still plenty of grit underneath, and she just couldn’t get rid of it on her own. It had become ingrained in the fabric.
One day she met someone. She was convinced he would be the perfect person to share her Carpet with. His carpet—for almost everyone has a carpet next to their bed—was beautiful. She never tired of looking at it. Even when her Carpet was spotless, she would look at his carpet adoringly and gently rest her feet on it.
What she didn’t realise was that underneath, his carpet was even grimier than hers. It was so full of grit that he would sometimes, more and more often, use her Carpet instead. He stained it with blood, wine and semen. Whenever she complained about it, he would sneer at her and move to his carpet for a while. But then he would duly start treading on hers again. His stains were becoming too many and too difficult to remove.
This lasted for seven years. During this time his Carpet had started fraying at the edges. It saddened her to see such a beautiful carpet in that state. Why was he ruining all that beauty? ‘It must be the grime underneath that’s toxic’, she thought. ‘It must contain some poison that seeps through the fabric’.
Eventually they drifted apart. He spent more and more time on his empoisoned carpet. By now he was sitting on a hill of grime covered with bare threads, or what was left of his once beautiful carpet. There was, perhaps, still enough left for him to rethread it if he really wanted to, but the grit underneath was too much.
She spent more and more time on her own Carpet, cleaning it constantly, preparing to shake it out into the air when the spring came. One day a bird came in through the window. It was a black bird with a beautiful, enchanting song. While she was timidly lifting the Carpet to peep under it, the black bird slid underneath and started pecking at the grit, taking the little stones out one by one.
The bird worked incessantly, softly but with determination. Sometimes this hurt her a little, because by now she was used to the little stones under her Carpet. Her feet were accustomed to feeling them through the fabric. ‘They’re only small stones’, she told herself repeatedly when one of them pushed through the fabric and into her skin.
The black bird kept on going. It took all the stones away, even the tiniest ones, the ones she hadn’t seen. After the work was done, the bird sat down in the middle of the Carpet with its wings spread out, and blended into the fabric. Its feathers melted into the yarn, mixing with the colours and texture, until only its flattened image remained.
Every morning now, when she gets out of bed and rests her feet on the Carpet, she feels no grit under her skin and admires the image of the beautiful, kind bird imprinted into her Carpet. She knows that as long as the black bird is there, there will be no grit to hide.