The Poison and the Persian Carpet

A woman was slowly being poisoned by her husband. A glass of milk, arsenic lurking in its pearlescent depths. A cut of steak, delicately infused with cyanide. Just a trace at a time, day by day.

glass of milk
“Good night, Lina.” Flickr | CC

The wife knew something was wrong. She knew by her sunken eyes, her dulling hair, her nervous tics. She knew by the way her husband watched her eat. When she confronted him, he told her she was imagining things.

Beside the dining table stretched a Persian carpet, her husband’s pride and joy. Vermilion, burnt umber, and marigold writhed in a nauseating labyrinth, as hypnotic as bulbous eyes staring out from yellow wallpaper. The pattern was as pristine, the colors as vivid, as the day her husband brought the carpet home.

One evening, as the woman lifted a forkful of mercury-laced asparagus to her cracking lips, her eyes idly tracing one branch of the carpet’s fractal arabesques, her stomach heaved. She refused to swallow another bite. She lurched from her chair, fell to her hands and knees, and vomited the poisoned contents of her roiling stomach onto the carpet. The acidic pool soaked into the cloth, eating at the pattern, irreparably ruining it.

As the woman twitched on the floor, her muscles seizing and her throat constricting from the long-building toxicity in her body, her husband berated her for destroying the priceless Persian carpet.

That night, the husband held a cocktail party. His friends shook their heads in mournful condemnation of his wife’s behavior when he told them what had happened.

“Irrational females! Destroying her own house!” one man muttered as the husband gestured to the now-worthless rug. The woman sat weakly beside him in a high-backed chair. It was difficult for her to rise or speak.

“You could have made it to the bathroom,” a mustached man told her gravely. “That was just spiteful.”

“He’s poisoning me,” the woman tried to say, though her voice was strained, and she doubted that she was audible over the rumble of lamentation over the loss of the carpet. “I am being murdered.”

“Nonsense!” another friend bellowed. “And even if you were, the Christian thing to do would be to turn the other cheek, not destroy personal property!”

“You don’t want justice, you just want revenge,” another scolded her. “You obviously don’t deserve to be heard.”

Her husband agreed with them. But he treated his wife with a high-minded compassion that his friends applauded, pressing a cosmopolitan garnished with belladonna into her lax hand.

*                                             *                                             *

I realize that this story is reductive. It lumps together the thousands of peaceful protestors in Baltimore with those who were not peaceful, and it passes over the very real pain, injuries, and loss that result from destructive violence. I’m also aware that there are many reasons why a husband poisoning his wife would be a very poor metaphor for race relations in the United States, and I hope that you won’t take this story that way. The one point of connection that I’m trying to make is the disproportion between the vomit and the poison, the violence and the systemic problems that prompted it.

The carpet isn’t the main issue here. The poison is.

If you are looking for a way to respond to the recent events in Baltimore, why not help someone get their water running, as Sara Whitestone and Charles Davidson suggest?

[Photo credit: Steven Zucker via Flicker | CC | (cropped and resized)]

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