by Tom Laplaige
Our doormat used to be a dentist. That was before, in a country we’d never heard of. Our riches, invasive as ivy, needed little encouragement to keep prospering, but in the midst of all of this effortless accumulation, our souls ached with emptiness. When we married, Victoria was still writing checks to faraway causes, feeling distant from her impact, and deflated by extension.
Some manors clamor through archness. Some manors roil with legacy’s intuited terminus. Ours was thick with my wife’s longing to be celebrated for her munificence. Longing is a thing that rots without containers and lids. Even the cats are driven mad by its presence.
Our new doormat turned Victoria’s days towards cheer. Finding an excuse to tromp through the mud, she would alight to the garden to whisper sweetly to a box hedge, or bring a horse a purple carrot. And when she’d return, he’d be splayn waiting. Those first weeks her wipes were gingerly ones—and gingerly was a manner I’d never seen from her velvet arsenal of airs.
With much of her generous carriage diverted to a back haunch, Victoria would softly skim her toe on his surface, and sensing her apprehension, the doormat might purr or go mmmm as though making effort to appreciate a meager stew.
Blush returned to her cheeks. Before long she was tap dancing on his surface, digging in, thrashing her heels while he begged for more, more, more. And my darling, plump Victoria would actually giggle.
A motherly wind swept my baroness, and for a sweet moment, there was nurture where mean nature had reigned. My agonizing efforts to climb the stairs were met with tenderness and encouragement, not goading and derision. Once, she even threw me over her shoulder and hoisted me up the marble ascension before my pride could protest.
I’d awake from screamy guillotine dreams to find myself suckling at her wooly, mammoth teet. Eye contact, and a stroke of the cheek. Monday, Tuesday, happy days.
But alas, finitude is the cruel melody of our time.
One dismal night, fecund with foreboding, the dinner gong screamed and then screamed again but Victoria did not appear. I dined alone, picking over every bone twice, rolling gelatin with my tongue until every nook of my mouth was coated, but still no wife for company.
I broadened the dinner gong’s protocols to include carrying, and bade her to ferry me around the manor. Past the suits of armor painted neons, and the alabaster busts of my forebears with prominent foreheads, through the hall of cloudy concave mirrors, under the clinking crystal of our rusting chandeliers. My heart knew where we were headed, but I stretched the search circuitous until finally I directed her to our front door.
There, like a poached egg strangling a toast point, was Victoria, nude and breathing heavy on the doormat. Her jaw jelly-rolled slowly through her chins to meet my distress, two soft blinks with batty lashes, then she began to snore. I looked down and the doormat smiled, mustache dripping into his lips, without a lick of penance.
Shame! I screeched at them and whipped at the gong’s bottom to whisk me away, bawling into her apron like a Mewbury newling.
Months passed and our gilded bed remained unshared. I powdered and painted my face with her makeup, buried myself under her dresses, and sniffled in her mattress imprint. I waxed murmurous in the loss cocoon, betrayed, pinken.
Eventually, I moved into the dining room where my daily observations lingered without parry. Stoic tick of the grandfather clock. Impassive oblivion. My straw-sucking echoed off the ceiling and the slapback was sickening. Downward-facing dregs.
Her overripe perfume haunted the habitat. I called her name with no answer. Victoria? Buttercup? So this is my private Pompeii, I thought.
I tried to recall everything I had learned about our doormat in his short tenure with us. He used to be a dentist. Ok. Never disagreed about the weather. Fine. Always faced east. Never talked to the doorbell. In his room I found few personal items. A frame with a creased picture of a young doormat and a sharp-nosed bride. A champagne cork. Some coins. A tattered book of poems by that simple sandsnake Rumi laying open on the nightstand. I picked it up and read:
Out beyond our ideas of wrongdoing
And rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
My hole roared. Ever-glistening dewy field of fuckery.
I remembered myself as a child, the gimp on the sidelines watching sisters canter their thoroughbreds. The sadness in father’s eyes as he assessed me, his runtish heir. My cleverness with calculus, my war with our rutting poodle, and my great plans to leave and see the burning world.
All of my self-pity suddenly peeled, and I laughed at my life that had eaten me, imagining its indigestion. My revenge on its bowels. Freedom, at last.
Then one night, I heard sounds like I had never heard before. Like giant gears wrenching to wake some awful machine. The walls shook as though they were gagging on the sword of Damocles. I became nauseous with a sense of shifting gravity.
Dizzy, I clawed my way down the hallway to the source. Banged my head bloody on the door that withheld the circumstance. Let me in! Let me in! I cried. Please dear god, let me in!
And then a dawning splatter.
And the door creaked open.
And the stink of life slank through the jamb.
And the doormat bent down, kissed me on the forehead, and departed for who knows where with a knapsack full of silverware.
And there against the tufted headboard was Victoria, arms wet with the squirm of wriggly pups.
Broodish little dishrags three.
Say hello to your daddy, she said.
Down there, it’s your daddy.
And I burst.
And the full world swam in a warm fountain.
Tom Laplaige writes from the basement of a house with blue shutters. He is at work on his debut collection of short fiction.