Art Pact 215 - Sub-basement

In the first cellar under the house there was a great woven wool rug, a heavy thing of rich but not bright colours, so constructed that it was just over one and a half times as long as it was wide, a feature that my mother tried to remind me on many occasions was the golden ratio much talked of in antiquity. As a child, erudite though I might have been, I was unprepared to deal with the full weight of the artistic and mathematical implications of this fact, and I dismissed it with a roll of the eyes every time after the first. The first time I heard it, of course, I nodded and became - as parlance has it - all ears, as attentive a young child as has ever hung upon the words of its dam or sire, recording the phrase for later use so that I might confound the expectations of my childhood friends or impress those more educated members of the adult class that I might meet. Teachers especially I delighted in amazing with my vocabulary and grasp on matters more usually reserved for the proddings of the intellectuals, and there was rarely a day in which I spouted some fact or another in an attempt to draw attention away from the dullards around me and more forcefully towards its rightful seat, namely myself. Equally frequently, I imagine, the more cynical masters would roll their eyes and mutter something about how one might best apply oneself to the teaching of the precocious, especially when said application involved the hands of the teacher and the gentle throat of the student in question. I now suffer no doubts that I was ill-liked amongst my tutors, and even at the time perhaps I carried fewer veils over my eyes than it might have seemed, but sometimes one must pretend that ones self-image is nothing more than objective truth, and as a child I did that very handily, and very happy I suppose it made me.

Back to the rug, however, for I have strayed so far from my subject that a stout party of young orienteers might find it difficult to make their way back there, and I have important information to impart about the rug - or more properly, of course, that which lay beneath it. It was not the rug itself, you see, with which I am ultimately concerned, but the door which it covered, a door of which I was unaware for the earliest years of my life, indeed, quite until I was in my twelfth year and on the cusp of teenagerhood, that tempestuous sea upon which many great minds are wrecked against the rocks of sexuality never to recover. I did not stumbled across it by accident, even, having to be shown the thing by my cousin, then some species of punk or other. I had simply assumed that the rug in question, having remained forever in place so long as I had lived in the house (and, by solipsistic extension, perhaps for the preceding eternity), and that it concealed beneath it nothing more exciting than the faux-wooden flooring which covered the rest of the cellar except for the small square of concrete on which the washing machine and tumble-dryer sat (thankfully covered from decent sight by a plasterboard partition wall and a slim door). It came as something of a surprise, then (and here the astute reader will understand that I am using - indeed, perhaps abusing, at least stretching to the very limits of its capacity - the common but gentlemanly gambit of understatement) for me to learn at the hands of my garishly-haired relative that rather than fake hardwood, the rug indeed covered actual wood, and not in the form of floorboards but that of a trapdoor, including recessed hinges and an inlaid ring-handle that became flush with its fitting when released. How many times I had, as a child, played upon that rug, unaware that merely an inch of wood separated me from some yawning void! I had rolled on the soft surface thousands of times, and never once had I felt the slightest hint of the metal-work beneath. I would, it is clear, have made a very poor fairy-tale princess!

Never let it be said, though, that I am a man incapable of adapting myself to changing circumstances or one who is easily stunned by revelations of mystery. I of course disclaimed any ignorance of the trapdoor's existence, and assured my rebellious cousin that it was common knowledge throughout the house, no more a mystery to me than my own nose was. My cousin, of course, may well not have believed me. She was (and remains) a perilously gullible person in the world at large, prone (as her punk phase shows) to falling prey to all nature of fads and cults, and it is a constant source of wonder to me (one that of course I do not show) that she continues to inhabit this small earth with the number of her natural predators that infest it. One would think that the sheer weight of fraudsters would drive such as she to extinction within a generation, but it seems that with one or more suckers born every minute (I feel Mr. Barnum would surely increase his estimate nowadays) those unfortunates like her benefit from protection in numbers. Put plainly, there are simply too many fools for all the hawks to destroy.

Having made such a grand show of my knowledge of the trapdoor's existence, I could hardly claim to be unaware of its contents, so I found myself in the unfortunate position of being forced to open it myself to demonstrate my apathy about the mystery below. It was therefore me (rather than my cousin, as I would have preferred), who pried the great steel ring up from its housing, grasped its curving top, and pulled up the trap to reveal the darkness of the sub-basement beyond. I did it in a flourish, as if a magician revealing the end of his trick. I think I can safely say that the result was just as astonishing as if I had pulled a live puma from a top-hat.


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