Every Ikea is the same. Canton is the same as Bollingbrook is the same as Columbus. Even the space station’s Ikea has the big blue bags, the paper rulers, Småland for the kids.
We’re not a nation up here, but we remember holiday sales. It’s Labor Day. Bath mats and throw rugs are half off. Where would I put plastic spoons in my single room?
If Kay would have followed me, maybe we could have gotten a studio with a kitchen, a bathroom. Given the opportunity, what choice did I have? It’s getting harder to secure a spot, even a single room, on the space station. Shortages. Kay wanted to finish out her degree. I left.
I don’t go to Ikea for the holiday sales. I don’t go for the meatballs.
The showroom apartments are my favorite. I pick the perfect one. In an immaculate and useless shower, I twist the hot and cold knobs. The curtain is shut. There’s a tag on a towel that hangs from a hook. Vikfjärd.
I hear Kay lift the toilet’s seat, tinkle, rip tissue. She flushes but my pressure and temperature stay the same. This showroom bathroom has great pipes!
Back on Earth, more than a decade ago, over the Labor Day holiday weekend, Kay kissed me in a camper we rented. It sat on a little Michigan lake. We had no running water, no electricity. I still think about the cramped space.
What if I had moved to Ann Arbor, helped pay the rent for her one bedroom on Lawrence street? What if we had gotten a rat terrier? What if my uncle hadn’t known a guy who knew a woman who had access codes?
I tiptoe out of the shower and into the showroom’s living room. This is my living room, with the pink and perfect accent wall. I stand in front of it, my blue linen shirt complemented. My cut offs complemented. The books on my shelves are in Swedish. We Don’t Live Here Anymore. Couples. Euphoria. All in Swedish.
Kay slides down the black sofa, lets her long auburn hair trail like a streak that ends with her head, her body. Her cutoffs ride up. Her tank top bunches in her armpits.
I press buttons on a remote with no batteries for a cardboard TV. In my perfect showroom, everything happened different. This is my friheten. This is our gullklocka.
Kay unsticks herself from the couch, comes toward me. She adjusts the collar of my shirt but keeps her hand at my neck. She looks at the thick hairs coming out of my skin. She notices a mole she doesn’t know. When did you get that? I’ve always had this. She’s gummy with summer’s light, constant sweat. She pulls the seat of her cutoffs, dislodges a wedgie. Her body odor is starchy, like pasta cooking, and the tufts in her armpits trap it. I breathe more.
What if she would have accepted the invitation? What if we had two bedrooms but one bed?
We turn up the cardboard TV so we can hear it in our kitchen. It’s all straight white lines, in the wall’s tile, in the cabinet’s wood. We look like a cheap catalog in our cutoffs, sitting on our metal barstools. Råskog.
I let the water run while I peel spuds. Our potatoes will be cubed! The window is open and the air humid. Kay puts a thin pillow between her knees and the linoleum. She unbuttons my cutoffs and they fall to my feet. She drags down my boxer briefs. I laugh when she kisses my butt, but I stop when she uses her tongue.
When I turn around she scurries into our guest room. I kick off my bottoms and Donald Duck after her.
Kay pulls back the bedding and disappears into the ruffles of the king-size comforter. She’s been away, seeing family in South Bend. She’s been in another room, doing a crossword, getting every answer wrong. She’s been in the backyard, planting perennials, already eager for their reappearance. She’s been gone so long.
I stand in the doorway and look at the big, empty bed. At first glance, it just looks like a classic bed with a handcrafted feel in every detail. But beneath the surface, there’s a big secret: storage space. Perfect for storage that will last for years.
Tyler Meese’s fiction has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He is completing a collection of stories about the Midwest and outer space. He answers every email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.