You came to IKEA primarily for the air conditioning. You wanted to take a walk outside but it's much too hot for that, so here you are walking up an unserviceable escalator, beelining for the showroom. The faint muzak is gentle, genreless. You peruse the tufted sofas, cushions with dog silhouettes, houndstooth ottomans, leaf-shaped coffee tables in bright orange or blue – items of which none come even remotely close to your style. You prefer things to at least pretend to be of a certain vintage. This is, to be sure, an unmagical place. A romance killer. A place where decent ideas like democratic design come to die, and where the water glasses you buy cling together inseparably when stacked on top of one another.
Nevertheless, it is soothing for you to witness domesticity unfolding from room to room as a blatantly staged construct, where highrise city views appear through plastic windows and all the Swedish books minimally arranged on the shelves are indecipherable. Each object a cog in streamlined machination. Though you don't see much evidence of sustainable materials when it comes to the fake dangling evergreens, the pathway with its arrows set your mind at ease. Your direction is carefully demarcated to allow you to focus on making selections. There are friendly reminders in the restrooms as to how long to wash your hands (20 seconds). You are tempted by the picture of the salmon filet ($12.99) as the mellowing sun sets in the food court.
Nobody here knows you’re not interested in buying anything. You look interested enough, though. And that mormon-ish sack of a dress you're wearing is so baggy you look with child. The only person you ever wanted to have a child with is a person who quite abruptly decided not to give a shit about you. You knew you'd never care for anyone else that much, that unconditionally, again. Your intensity for that sort of thing is all used up. And now you look upon mothers with infants around these parts in equal parts tenderness and lament.
Last year, you came to the same store with your ex-husband, whom you married out of what has been diagnosed in these diagnostic times as "toxic gratitude." Or perhaps that's not a fair summation on either of you. It was he you came to in order to make decisions, since you rarely could make them on your own. It was him you took turns reading a book aloud with, and since you were both fairly animated readers, it was an entertaining pastime. Sometimes you would mock what you read, other times you brought yourselves to tears over the written word. You find it hard these days to read without someone to read for and/or with. Nothing to read in here, anyway, aside from the catalogue and the Scandi lit.
At any rate, you recall feigning mutual enthusiasm over your then husband acquiring a new mattress and dining room table. Throughout your marriage you had never had a dining room or a dining room table in his apartment replete with books and a frameless mattress relegated to the floor. You couldn’t imagine where a table could possibly go among all the books, so you didn't encourage him to buy anything that day, except for a lightweight cotton rug ($14.99). In the end, he decided against that, and then against you, too. You had wasted his precious time and money, and he didn't have much of either to begin with.
You haven't escaped a general feeling that you are taking up space that ought to be occupied by someone else. You are never the right person for anybody. You're the type someone dates before they can thereby recognize and cherish "the one." You're a prelude to the construed. Improperly assembled. Out of order.
Back then, you both managed to leave. You made a swift exit through the vast warehouse and then jetted out the carpark. Or actually, prior to that, he got a hot dog ($1.25) and you got a strawberry lemongrass smoothie ($2). At this moment, however, in your lonesome state, the arrows have stopped making sense. You’re set adrift in the midst of mushroom-shaped lamps and string lights. For months on end it seems you have been circling a sign that says "back to/regresar a/home organization" and another sign that says "market hall/mercado."
You’re mired in clocks telling disparate times, and exceptionally generic art in basic white and tacky metallic frames: world maps, deer heads, horses running by the seashore, an urban landscape with "happiness is 2 love" scrawled across it, an illustrative outline of a supposedly glamorous woman, a cartoon of a strawberry, more friggin horses.
It's around the neighboring pungent candles that you get nauseous. There's no evident room to flow into or exit from. You haven’t managed to locate the whereabouts of the alleged Geller stool either, with its bending legs. You suppose it has been discontinued, or has perhaps now become a vintage item, and since you can't be bothered to figure out how to use those self-service touch screens, searching for that stool among the otherwise uncharismatic varieties has become a daily hobby in willful futility. This act of attention lifts you momentarily out of your debilitating amiss-malaise.
You know things are happening behind your back, behind the displays. You're not in a position to know more beyond your intuition, which tells you you're going to be waiting a longer while yet to find your way out. Time is still passing, you're looking more haggard than ever, and you have cell phone service updating with daily news: a confusing mutiny, countless shootings and stabbings, a few unfortunate celeb deaths, wildfires, tourists stranded in airports, Taylor Swift, brain eating amoeba, and a revived nematode from Siberian permafrost. In other words, there's nothing much to look forward to on the outside.
Nobody has called to check in on you or texted to ask where are you long time no see wanna catch up. None of that. But you don't reach out to them either, so what can you expect in return.
It’s OK, though. You have almost everything you could possibly need: beds with variable firmness, running water, cafeteria with coffee at the ready, assorted snacks, even some real cream colored blouses and khaki slacks hanging in the bedroom showrooms that you have changed into. You're virtually part of the furniture now. You're virtually virtual. You don't ask for directions from the agreeably unobtrusive staff, since they never ask if you’re lost, and you don't want them to think you don't belong here.