short story

The Yellow Rug

by Julianne Cordray

The grind and flash of the train strums at my nerves as it passes the window at high speed every five minutes like clockwork. You can practically count down to its next appearance along with the ticking of the small plastic clock that sits on the side table just below. It’s Tuesday at 2pm. . . now it’s 2:05. . . After a round or two of this, I notice a soft refuge to my right: a yellow area rug. A ragged rectangle, worn out and faded by years of dirt dragged in on city shoes. Just looking at it, imagining the muffled sound of those steps, dampens the noise outside. 

But it’s the color of the rug that pulls me in. I first learned about color psychology when I wrote a research paper on it in high school. Yellow: a happy and warm color. Now, it makes me think of camomile tea, which always seems to come in a yellow box. That makes sense, I think to myself as it washes over me. 

Yellow can also be an energizing color, as emphasized by an artist I once spoke to at length about a large-scale, mostly yellow drawing of his. He told me this as he gestured broadly with his arms, a twinkle in his eye. There was mention of lightning flashes, of sun rays. A feeling like being jolted awake – as I put it in the exhibition text I later wrote.

Sitting here, in front of the yellow rug in an otherwise sparsely furnished room, I feel both an electric rush and a gentle flow of warmth. Its placement seems intentional. Clearly, an effort has been made in its selection, even at the expense of other decor. If I stare long enough at its discolorations, its shadows, it starts to resemble a place of its own. 

I spin a yarn, while the rug’s persistent tugging at my eyes becomes slightly abrasive. It’s like a nightmare I once had about my grandma’s puke-green shag carpet morphing into the skin of someone’s face – a surface like a sponge. I woke up to my cheek pressed against the carpet, green fibers sticking to my mouth, imprinting themselves on my skin. Even so, I let myself sink deeper now, as I’m alternately reminded of pure light and putrid liquid. 

I can hear myself rambling on abstractly about an awkward exchange I had with a colleague last week. How it spirals in my mind like a clump of hair circling a shower drain. It gets stuck, and even when I think it’s finally dislodged, it bubbles back up again. Even now, as I sit here, I can feel it tickling at my throat, working its way down my spine – the same shiver that crawls over me whenever my skin brushes up against carpet. I say all of this solemnly. It seems contrived, but I swear to myself that there’s something real behind it, just off stage, just out of view. 

Mellow yellow – that’s also something they say. And I feel sedated the more intensely my eyes burrow into lush layers of gold like honey. Everything moves a bit more slowly, edges soften and blur. 

A question interjects and I shift into a more distant memory while staring intently at my feet – the right one bobs up and down at the ankle. My heel, tapping incessantly, hits the ground just next to the yellow rug. The edge of it grazes my shoe. But I don’t touch it. Not really. I only imagine what it would feel like to curl up on top of it like a cat.