Dining Room Floor

The day before our seventeenth anniversary, we somewhat impulsively decide to pull the carpet up from the dining room floor.

Home improvement projects are not our forte. Both of us know how to use a drill and a screwdriver, and we can, you know, put together furniture from Ikea, and that’s about it.

But a couple of google searches and a youtube video convince me that we could at least pull up the carpet and see what was underneath. If it was unusable, we’d throw an old rug over the whole thing or eat in the other room until we could get a professional to come help. It’s not like we are throwing a dinner party anytime soon.

The carpet is the cheap kind installed to sell the house, to make an old house look fresh and new. It is not the kind intended to catch the crumbs of rushed weeknight dinners, or to be tramped across with dirty feet several times a day, and we are not a family who takes our shoes off at the door. We don’t even try very had to keep the dirt out of the house. We are not inclined to tread lightly on a carpet, especially not a cream-colored carpet, easily stained, in a high traffic area with direct access to the kitchen and the back door.

So, we start pulling, prying up one corner first, hoping there might be something lovely underneath, and mostly just curious about what we might find. The pulling is satisfying somehow, the tiny ripple as the sharp points of the carpet strip let loose their grip. All four of us help, pulling or cutting or prying up the staples and the strips, managing not to impale ourselves on all those tiny nails. All of us – except Jonathan, who has another few inches before he faces this particular danger – whack our heads on the chandelier, no longer guarded by the table we had moved into the den.

The floor underneath is lovely, in fact. It’s a very old hardwood, probably original to the mid-century ranch this house used to be before the additions and renovations turned it into something else. The floor shows its age; there are a few broken boards, and some scratches. A realtor would likely advise us to cover it back up. It doesn’t really match the darker brown of the artificial wood floor in the kitchen next door.

I am surprised to find myself tearing up a bit when we pull up the last scrap of carpet and we can finally see the whole thing. My family rolls their eyes – I cry at the silliest things – but I feel like we have taken off its mask, and we finally get a peek at who this house really is. I imagine the footsteps of other families across that floor, the scuff of chairs pulled up to holiday meals, little feet that patter across and get bigger and slower with the passage of time. Somehow the wood, no longer muffled by the carpet, whispers those memories back to us.

We sweep and mop and put as much of the old carpet in the trash can as will fit, and leave the rest in a pile in the garage to be dealt with another day. We aren’t done yet; the baseboards need some work, and we have to do something about the edge of the floor as it transitions into the living room, projects that will push the limits of our home improvement skills and which we will likely put off for another few months from sheer inertia. But for now, just before we pull the table and the chairs back in, the late afternoon sun pours through the window onto the unguarded floor and it is radiant.

Dangers Everywhere

Gin and grapefruit juice, with extra lime, on the front porch at sunset after too many Zoom calls and too many problems with no answers. “It’s not the safest choice,” he says after we have all but decided to send the kids back to school in person. “We have to acknowledge that.”

I almost always make the safest choice.


At the pool last week – masked when we arrive for our reserved time to swim, keeping a constant eye out for people coming too close as the kids do handstands and flips – my mom touches my arm and points under water. “What is that?” she asks. I glance, and at first think it is the rock we’ve been using as a dive toy. We thought it had gone missing, which was embarrassing, because we probably shouldn’t have brought a rock to the pool in the first place, and now someone was going to stub their toe on it. I duck my head under to be sure it’s the rock, but it’s not, it’s a foot. A very small, very still foot. Two of them, actually, attached to a very small, very still body on the bottom of the pool.

And then I realize that no one but me seems to know that she – I decide immediately it’s a she, maybe 3 years old – is there. For a split second I wonder why no one seems to be missing a child, , but then adrenaline takes over and I am diving down to get her, realizing on the way down that when I bring her up she will not likely breathe again.

When I get to the bottom, and swim over her small lifeless feet to grab under her arms to lift her up, I discover that she does not have a head. This information takes some time to sink in, and my brain first tries to convince me that I have stumbled onto some gruesome crime, that things are even worse than I had feared, before I realize it is a mannequin. There never was a head, never life in those still, quiet feet.

I drag the body – plastic, not flesh – by the arm, deposit it on the edge of the pool, and look up toward the lifeguards, who seem unconcerned about the situation. One of them comes over to collect the mannequin, with just a glance toward me, and I gather that I have somehow interrupted some kind of training exercise. (I feel slightly guilty about this for awhile, until I decide that planting a child-size mannequin at the bottom of a pool full of unsuspecting people is a terrible idea.)

I have to sit down for a moment, then, to catch my breath; the dive to the bottom of the pool wasn’t long, barely five feet, but it takes a long time before my heart starts pounding.