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September 2013 Issue [Story]

The Two Davises and the Rug

They were both named Davis, but they were not married to each other and they were not related by blood. They were neighbors, however. They were both indecisive people, or rather, they could be very decisive about some things, important things, or things to do with their work, but they could be very indecisive about smaller things, and change their minds from one day to the next, over and over, being completely decided in favor of something one day and then completely decided against the same thing the next day.

They did not know this about each other until she decided to put her rug up for sale.

Illustration by Demetrios Psillos

Illustration by Demetrios Psillos

It was a bright patterned wool rug, red, white, and black, with a bold design of diamonds and some black stripes. She had bought it at a little Native American store where she used to live, but now she found out it was not Native American. She had grown a little tired of it where it lay on the floor of her absent son’s room, because it was a little dirty and a little curled up at the corners, and she decided to sell it in a group sale that was being held to raise money for a good cause. But when it was much admired at the sale, more than she expected, and when the price of ten dollars that she had put on it was raised by the organizer of the sale to fifty dollars, she changed her mind and hoped that no one would buy it. As the day wore on, she did not lower the price on the rug, as others were lowering their prices around her, and though people continued to admire it, no one bought it.

The other Davis came to the sale early in the day and was immediately attracted to the rug. He hesitated, however, because the pattern was so bold and the colors so starkly red, white, and black that he thought it might not look good in his house, though his house was furnished in a clean, modern way. He admired the rug out loud to her, but told her he wasn’t sure it would look right in his house, and left the sale without buying it. During the day, however, while no one else was buying the rug and while she was not lowering the price, he was thinking about the rug, and later in the day he returned for the purpose of seeing the rug again, if it was still there, and making up his mind whether to buy it or not. But the sale had ended; all the goods had been sold, or bagged for donation, or packed up and taken back home, and the expanse of green lawn by the porch of the parish house, where the sale had been held, lay clear and smooth again in the late-afternoon shadows.

The other Davis was surprised and disappointed, and a day or two later, when he ran into this Davis at the post office, he said he had changed his mind about the rug and asked if it had been sold, and when she said it had not, he asked if he could try the rug in his house to see if it would look good.

This Davis was immediately embarrassed, because in the meantime she had decided she should keep the rug after all, clean it up, and try it out here and there in the house to see how it would look. But now, when the other Davis showed such interest in the rug, she was no longer sure she should do that. After all, she had been willing to sell it, and she had thought it was worth only ten dollars. She asked the other Davis if she could take a few more days to decide whether she was willing to part with it. The other Davis understood and said that was fine, to let him know if she decided she didn’t want to keep the rug.

For a while she left it in her son’s room, where it had originally been. She looked in on it now and then. It still looked a little dirty, with curled-up corners. She still found it somewhat attractive and at the same time somewhat unattractive. Then she thought she should bring it out where she would see it every day, so that she would feel more impelled to make a decision about whether or not to keep it. She knew the other Davis was waiting.

She put it on the landing between the first floor and the second floor, and thought it looked good with the drawing that hung on the wall there. But her husband thought it was too bright. She left it there, however, and continued to think about it whenever she went up or down the stairs. A day came when she decided quite firmly that although she now found it more attractive than unattractive, the other Davis should have it, or at least try it out, because he liked it and it would probably look better in his house. But the next day, before she could act on her resolution, a friend came to the house and particularly admired the rug: she thought it was a new rug, and she thought it was very pretty. Now this Davis wondered if she shouldn’t keep it after all.

Meanwhile, however, the days were passing, and she worried very much about the other Davis. She felt that he had clearly wanted to try the rug out, and she was selfishly keeping it even though she had been willing to sell it — and for only ten dollars. She felt that he probably wanted it, or admired it, more than she did. And yet she did not want to give up something that she had once admired enough to buy in the first place, and that other people also admired, and that she might like very much if she cleaned it up.

Now the rug entered her thoughts often, and she attempted to make up her mind about it almost daily, and changed her mind about it almost daily. She used different lines of reasoning to try and work out what she should do. The rug was a good one — an expert had told her that; she had bought it because she liked it in the Native American store, though apparently it was not Native American; her son liked it, the rare times he came home for a visit; she would still like it if it was cleaned up a little; but on the other hand, she had not kept it clean before and probably would not again; and the other Davis, to judge by the presentation of the interior of his house, which was clean and tidy and thoughtfully arranged, would clean it up and take good care of it; she had been ready to sell it; and the other Davis had been ready to buy it. The other Davis would probably be willing to pay the fifty dollars for it, which she would then give to the good cause. If she kept the rug, it occurred to her, she herself should probably give fifty dollars to the good cause, since she had been willing to sell it and no one had bought it — though then she would be paying fifty dollars to keep something that was already hers, unless perhaps it could no longer be considered really hers once it was put out for sale for the good cause.

One day she was given a large cardboard box full of fresh vegetables by the son of a friend: it was midsummer by now, and he had too many vegetables in his garden even to sell. There were too many vegetables in the box for her and her husband, and she decided to share them with some of her neighbors who did not have gardens. She gave some to a neighbor around the corner, a professional dancer who had recently moved to the neighborhood with his blind dog. When she left him, she took the rest across the street to the other Davis and his wife.

Now, as they were talking in the driveway about one thing and another, including the rug, she admitted to them that she often had a hard time making up her mind, and not only about the rug. Then the other Davis admitted that he, too, had a hard time making up his mind. His wife said it was amazing how firmly her husband could decide in favor of something before he changed his mind and decided just as firmly against that thing. She said that it helped him to talk to her about whatever the thing was that he was trying to make up his mind about. She said her answers were usually, in sequence, over a period of time: “Yes, I think you’re right”; “Do whatever you want”; “I don’t care.” She said that in this case, since both Davises were so indecisive, the rug was taking on a life of its own. She said they should give it a name. Both Davises liked that idea, but no name came to mind right away.

This Davis was left with the wish that there were a Solomon to turn to for a judgment, because probably the question really was not whether she did or didn’t want to keep the rug, but, more generally, which of them really valued the rug more. She thought that if the other Davis valued it more than she did, he should have it; if she valued it more, she should keep it. Or perhaps the question had to be put a little differently, since it was, in a sense, already “her” rug: perhaps she simply had to decide that she valued it more than she had before, just enough more to keep it. But no, she thought again, if the other Davis really loved the rug more than she did, he should have it. She thought maybe she should suggest to the other Davis that he take it and keep it in his house for a while, to see whether he loved it very much, or merely liked it somewhat, or in fact did not want it at all. If he loved it, he should keep it; if he did not want it, she would keep it; and if he was still undecided about it, perhaps they could share the rug for a while, letting it spend time in each house alternately, until one or the other of them was prepared to make a firm decision about either wanting the rug or not wanting it.

is the author of several short-story collections and the winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. Her next collection, Can’t and Won’t, will be published in April 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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