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UNDER THE CARPET-THE STORY OF SANITY AND SOLITUDE
The loner. Have you, dear reader, ever come across him? He is the man that stands in the corner and keeps his eyes down, trying vainly to avert making eye contact. He is the isolated man who is there, but who you never notice, never gaze at, never pay any attention to. Perhaps he is that someone who you are indifferent to, justifying your cold ignorance with the fact that you hardly know him, and therefore don’t owe him any acknowledgment. Perhaps he is the man who you don’t see at all. Your eyes may look in his direction, fix themselves directly on him, but never really see him. Perhaps to you, he is invisible.
Tippity Typity, Herman’s’ fingers danced across the plastic keyboard as he carefully punched out numbers on his old-fashioned computer. He paused, sighed sadly, and continued again, counting up the endless amounts of taxes and stocks. It was a sad job, being an accountant. Cooped up in a room all day, with no one to talk to but the numbers on your computer screen, some might even refer to it as torture. But not Herman. His reclusive disposition felt most at ease among numbers, numbers he knew so well and had no problem working with, as opposed to people, whom he both admired and feared.
Returning home from the office of “Accelerated Accounting”, Herman walked quickly, hands in pockets, eyes directed at the cold autumn cement. This way, he subconsciously thought, I won’t have to put myself through the anguish of making eye contact. He hurried to his small, one bedroom apartment, eager to flee from the crowd of people on the streets and return to the familiar solitude of his home.
It was not that Herman hated people; oh no, he had a very affable heart, not capable of hatred. The problem was more that he feared them. Perhaps it was because he was made fun of in high school; maybe it was the cruel laughter of heartless children that had left a mark on him forever. Perhaps it was because his parents had raised him in this way, always telling him to “be timid and keep to yourself” (his parents were strong advocates of the phrase “children should be seen and not heard”.)
Or perhaps, and most likely, it was because of Beth, because the only chance he had ever taken failed him, and left him frightened and coy, like a little sad child.
Whatever it was, Herman chose not to think about it. He did not question why his actions were always so cautious. He ignored the fact that he was 57 and not yet married, had no friends and no relationship with his family. He avoided thinking about the sad truth, that a house cat probably enjoyed a life more exciting than his.
But sometimes when he forgot and accidentally let his mind wander, he remembered, remembered how he lived (alone), and to whom he was married (to no one), and to whom he had proposed, brave and reckless from love (to Beth.) However, with the click of the television remote and the theme music for Wheel of Fortune, Herman was able to push these depressing thoughts far back into his head, into a place where he stored all his tear-worthy memories, not to be thought of until the next time he forgot and let his mind wander.
After his daily viewing of Wheel of Fortune at six, Herman moved on to the next item on his mental schedule- the Daily News crossword puzzle. Taking out an Accelerated Accounting pen from his pocket protector, Herman positioned himself comfortably in his soft-fabric arm chair, and began the puzzle. “A May Fly only lives _____________ hours,” the text read. An eight letter word, number three across. Herman contemplated, trying to recall what he had read about May Flies, and what number of hours would make sense and had eight letters. Thinking hard, Herman looked down in concentration. His eyes focused on the red Persian carpet sprawled across the floor. AHA! He remembered. Eighteen was the answer. A May fly only lived eighteen hours. But before he could triumphantly record his answer, Herman’s’ balding head snapped back to the floor, where he had seen something odd just moments earlier.
It was still there, a little bump under the carpet, as if something small and round had positioned itself on the floor right at the foot of the armchair. Nonchalantly, Herman moved his slipper over the bump and pressed down. Not even bothering to check if the carpet was restored back to its flat form, Herman indulged himself in the crossword puzzle, and then, just to be spontaneous, he also solved the Sudoku.
Later that night, as he tossed and turned in his Queen sized bed in an attempt to fall asleep, Herman couldn’t help but let his mind wander to the wonderful time at the Caribbean where he had first met and fell in love with Beth. He remembered the first time he laid eyes on her. He was 27, young, tall, and with a head of luscious hair. She was young too, probably 24 or 25, and beautiful, with shiny chestnut curls and lively green eyes. They were both on vacation at the festive Caribbean islands, alone, and in need of a vacationing companion. It was Beth who befriended Herman, who made the first move by offering him a margarita at the hotel bar. He agreed, for back then his heart was still young, and he was not as coy, not as awkward, not as unfriendly as he later became. And so they made friends, and did everything together-snorkeled, swam, danced at the midnight parties. Slowly, Herman recalled, he fell in love with her. He hinted his affection, and she laughed it off, pretended it was all a joke.
Then, (Herman winced as he remembered this), he decided to ask for her hand in marriage. He gathered all his courage, all his bravery, and bought a beautiful engagement ring. He chose a perfect night to ask the question. Herman remembered that night well. Even thirty years later he remembered the shimmering night stars, the light sound of Hula music, and the sweet aroma of cinnamon buns baking in the café. He remembered getting down on one knee and presenting the ring to Beth, and he remembered the smile-less, wide eyed look on her face. He remembered her shaking her head sadly, and whispering the word “No.” “I’m sorry…I, I can’t.”
A string of words had left his mouth then- a sentence of sadness.
“Please, no! Don’t go! I love you!’’ he had yelled after her. Beth looked at him, her eyes sad and regretful, silently turned her back to Herman, and walked away. Away from him and from what hope he had for family and happiness. As he lay in bed Herman could remember the way her chestnut curls bounced as she left him. Rhythmically they bounced up and down Beth’s back, up and down, up and down, and as those curls swam in front of Herman’s teary eyes, he fell slowly into a restless sleep, eliminating another day in his lonely, forlorn life.
The next day events at work remained the same as the day before, and every day before that. He talked to no one, looked at no one, and did nothing but type up the numbers on his computer and consume a ham sandwich for lunch.
After work, he walked home in his usual reclusive manner. At six, Herman plopped down into his arm chair and glued his eyes to the television screen, where The Wheel of Fortune had just begun. But as he watched, something caught his eye on the wall, forcing him to look away from the joyous contestants. It was a dark shadow creeping up the wall, a large, dark half circle. His eyes snapped to the floor, where they grew wide and frightened. His heart stopped abruptly in his chest, and tingles of cold, as if the closed window was flung open, crept up his back. The thing causing the shadow was a giant bump under the carpet, as if a giant raccoon had crept under the rug and fell asleep. Not knowing what to do and beyond himself with fright, Herman leaped out of his arm chair, grabbed a little wooden chair perched against the wall, and slammed it down on the carpet, breaking the chair and sending a leg flying through the air. The wooden leg hit a lamp, the only source of light, and darkness filled the room. In the darkness, Herman felt his heart beating like a crazy drum in his chest. His head started to spin, his breath stopped abruptly in his chest, and he felt his knees buckle from under him. His head hit the floor, and his consciousness left him.
Herman awoke to a bright light and a well-shaved man in white peering curiously at his face.
“Where…” Herman asked weekly, “Where am I?”
“In the hospital,” the man answered. “I’m Doctor Tharp. You had quite a bit of an accident yesterday. Your neighbors, nice fellas, heard a crash comin’ from your apartment, got quite a fright, and called the police. It turns out ya fainted, got quite a lump on your head there from when ya hit the floor.”
Slowly the startling events of the previous evening came back to Herman, and a terrifying cold swept over his body.
Herman began to stutter. “There…there was a bump…under the carpet, something, something was there and I...I didn’t know, didn’t know what to do, so then, a lamp…I swung a lamp, I think, or, no a chair...and the bump…oh, it was large…maybe it was a like a cat, or a tiger…but I don’t think I killed it…well, maybe, I am strong…but I don’t remember what happened, oh, I swung the chair, and then it was dark…so dark…and then…well, I can’t remember what then…but I fainted, you say…and…oh, its so peculiar, that lump…but, you did see it. It was still there, right? Oh, it was so large! So big and odd…”
Doctor Tharp furrowed his eye brows in perplexion, and frowned down at Herman. “Mr. Shupeninsky, that bump of yours is mighty big, and you had a pretty hard hit …We were gunna let you out if you were feeling better…but maybe you ought to stay a day or two more…you don’t sound so well…”
“No!” Herman yelped, not willing to stay in an unfamiliar, public hospital. “I’m fine, really. That was nothing…”
Herman returned home in a daze. His comprehension of the events of the previous night were dim…he wondered whether his mind was playing a trick on him, yet the experience, the bump seemed so real. In a state of confusion and fright, Herman attempted to enter his apartment. Only after his third endeavor was Herman able to swing open the door, for his hand shook so violently, he couldn’t enter the key into the key hole. Upon enclosing himself in his apartment and locking the door apprehensively, Herman walked jaggedly to his bed, with a strong desire to sleep. However, uneasy thoughts persistently swept back into his head, cruelly keeping him from rest. Just when he was at the peak of sleep, his eyes would pop open and wildly scan the floor, closing again only when he was sure that no bump or fold in the carpet was that which he had seen the previous night. After two hours of the routine gasping and calming, Herman plopped sluggishly out of bed, and stumbled in the dark to the kitchen, to retrieve an assuaging glass of water. With the new fright Herman had recently been experiencing, everything he once found comforting about his apartment now seemed menacing. The soft Persian carpets he had once giddily installed into every room (without the exclusion of the kitchen) now seemed alarming, a possible host to the mysterious bump. Every noise, be it floorboard creak, or the swoosh of his foot on the carpet, now may have been caused by the enemy. These terrifying thoughts replaced Herman’s desire for a drink, and in a matter of minutes he found himself bunched up in the kitchen corner, clutching an old baseball bat in his shaking hand. It was there, in that cold dark corner that Herman dozed off till morning, when he was awakened by the first few rays of warm morning sunshine.
The morning brought a new feeling of relief and bravery on Herman. He had survived the night, and now morning arrived, in all its comforting beauty, and the time ahead looked bright. Herman chose to celebrate his survival with a mouth-watering omelet, one of the few dishes he could make without burning. As he salvaged two eggs from his old fridge, Herman even managed to smile to himself. All his foolish fears were for nothing, it seemed. The night he fainted he had simply imagined the bump-it was the television, no doubt, that had triggered his imagination to run wild.
Herman smiled and turned from his refrigerator to the pan, ready to release the eggs from their shells. However, Herman missed the pan, and the eggs plopped to the floor, landing slightly closer to Herman then a massive bump, which seemed to faintly swell with every passing second. Herman’s eyes bulged out so far that to an observer it would seem a miracle that they didn’t fall out of their sockets. He yelped, threw the pan at the floor (missing by two feet, since his aim was already terrible, and worsened by the hysterical state he was in) and took off towards his door, a possible portal out of the nightmare he was in. Running past the kitchen counter, he grabbed the four kitchen knives that waited patiently in a jar. He glanced at the bump, which moved at great speed towards him, yelped, and ran into the hallway of the building. To his horror, the bump moved from the carpeted floor of his living room right to the cement floor of the hallway. A piercing shriek escaped his throat, and he ran wildly out onto the sleepy morning street, slippers and all. The bump, it seemed, crawled out onto the street too, for it now moved towards Herman from under the cool autumn pavement that enveloped the streets, just beginning to buzz with the voices of those beginning another day of work. In midst these confused people Herman ran shrieking, constantly turning to look at the location of the deadly bump and flinging a knife at it. Frightened people jumped out his way as Herman ran blindly through the streets. The bump was gaining on him, moving faster then his little chubby legs could carry him, and it was almost there, almost by his leg, and suddenly, a flash of light, a long beep, a woman’s scream, and darkness…..
Herman awoke, dazed and aching, his eyes watering from the bright fluorescent lights shining directly into his tired eyes. Groaning, he tried to shift his arm to rub his aching shoulder. The arm however, would not budge. Neither would the other arm. With a panicky gasp Herman realized that his arms were bound. With his body immobile in a lying position, Herman could not rise and comprehend where he was. He stared at the stucco pealing off the bare white ceiling spread above him and whimpered, squirmed, withered violently,. Eventually his pitiful vocalizing weakened and he lay listening to the silence. Remote voices could be heard in the distance, and once Herman was deeply frightened by the sound of a woman screaming. At some point he dozed off in cold sweat, to be awakened by a man in white gently shaking him. Herman’s eyes were half open, like those of a sleepy child, when he first spoke to the odd man. “Where…where…who?” he muttered half-consciously.
The man laid a firm hand on Herman’s shaky shoulder.
“I’m Doctor Goldberg. You’ve had a little accident, so you’ll be resting here until you get better, okay?”
The man’s voice seemed so deep, so reassuring, so friendly, that Herman, feeling so weak and helpless, nodded obediently. “Am, am I safe?” he inquired
“Quite safe indeed. No one,” (and here the doctor raised his voice for empathy,) “No one, can hurt you now.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” Herman sighed in relief, “Please help me sit up. And for that matter, why are my arms bound? Help me, untie me at once!”
The doctor wordlessly helped Herman sit up, and he was finally able to observe his surroundings. As the white, cushion-padded door slammed behind the exiting doctor, Herman realized where he was, and what was keeping his hands immobile. But it couldn’t be. The small, window-less white empty room, padded with white cushions, the equally white door with a little rectangular window at the top, the white, hard jacket keeping his hand tied at his stomach…It couldn’t be…Surely they didn’t think he was…
“Crazy.” Doctor Goldberg replied when his colleague asked what was wrong with the new-comer in Room 13B.
“Henry Shupeninsky, apparently. Completely insane. He was running down the street screaming and throwing knives at the sidewalk. Got hit by a BMW. Apparently he’s already been at the hospital once rambling about some bump on the floor or something.”
The second doctor clicked his tongue and looked through the little window into Room 13B, where the elderly man sat against a wall, wriggling and staring wildly at the empty white floor, screaming for help and something about a bump.
“Poor thing,” the second doctor commented, “Thinks he’s being attacked by an invisible bump. What caused it, do you think?”
And as Herman shrieked piercingly for help, Doctor Goldberg calmly answered,