Prompt Day #37: Have a modern day character stumble upon a strange secret passageway in a distinctly modern space.
The Laborer, The Nurse and The Organized IKEA Closet
Going to IKEA was Rob’s least favorite thing to do. The place was so damn big and he always managed to get lost. Julie, on the other hand, loved it. When it was her turn to pick their date activity (the therapist had suggested this; regular dates, taking turns at picking the location), it was either some chick-flick and dinner at Thai One On or it was a day at IKEA. Rob thought everything at IKEA looked essentially the same, Julie saw so many possibilities for their home. Rob tried to tell her that nothing ever looked the same at their house; Julie swore that this time, it would. It never did. And that was why she continued to insist on IKEA for her date choice.
So here they were again, wasting a perfectly good Saturday that could have easily been spent at the Tiger’s game or even trying their luck at one of the Casinos in Greektown—Rob’s typical choice for dates. Julie fussed about first in the kitchens and then in the closet organization section. Rob wondered if there really was horse meat in the meatballs. Julie wanted to paint the house with bright bold “cheery” colors like the greens and yellows in the modern kitchens. Rob was more comfortable with the subdued hues of earth tones. It really didn’t matter anymore though. Julie would get whatever she wanted. Julie made more money now, and she loved to remind him of that. So, when Julie wanted something Rob did not, she would say something like “I’ll just get it with my extra money” and it made Rob want to scream. He worked damn hard, but he was a laborer, she was a nurse. She was now a nurse manager and so she also believed she knew better than Rob too. Rob and Julie were the personification of the old saying “opposites attract” and somehow, through nine years of marriage, they’d made it work until Julie’s promotion.
“Rob! Look at this Buddha statue! Would you love it in the den? I think I want to do an Asian inspired make-over in there, what do you think?” She asked, holding up what looked to Rob like a man-frog hybrid. He thought it was time to try the horse meat.
“Whatever you want. I don’t care. I’m gonna go to the snack bar, you want anything?” He asked, already turning around. He didn’t even hear her answer.
When he’d finished with the meatballs—which were delicious and if they were horse meat, then that was his new favorite meat—he meandered about the store, taking his time finding her. He arrived in home décor but she was no longer there. He backtracked to the kitchens and then to closet organizers again, but no luck. He sat down on a bed in one of the display rooms and waited. If she was ready to go, she’d text him. He watched people, mostly couples. Some of the guys seemed just as happy as their wives to be there, but most had expressions he could relate to.
He got up and started opening the closets, pulling out the drawers, rearranging the canvas bins, and then stepping inside and closing the doors. He thought about staying in there until some poor schmuck opened the door but decided he might get kicked out. Just before he opened the door, though, a strip of light caught his eye. It was more than a strip, when he focused a bit more, he saw it was door shaped. Smaller than the door he came into the closet through but still, there it was, on the left hand side. And the light that was coming through was a different hue, more yellow and warm, than the harsh clear white of the fluorescents. He pushed on the smaller door and came out into a store that was definitely not IKEA.
“Oh, Robert! Where were you? I’ve been looking everywhere!” said Julie who was not exactly Julie. She looked like his wife and sounded like his wife, but she was wearing a dress straight out of the fifties and her hair was up in one of those old lady from church do’s. He looked around the store. It was still a furniture store, but just your run of the mill, average furniture store (except that the furniture reminded him of trips to his grandma’s house as a kid. The colors were soothing enough, browns and greens and blues. He wasn’t sure what to say to this Retro-Julie but she was still staring at him waiting for him to say something.
“Well, did you find anything?” He asked her.
“Well, sure, I know how much you love this place, but I was looking for you because the man was asking what our price range was and I didn’t know of course.” She smiled at him almost child-like. If the store hadn’t been so dramatically changed, he would have thought she was playing a good trick on him. But he didn’t think so.
“You know, I forgot to look at the checkbook before we came. Why don’t you show me the ones you found and we’ll look when we get home and we can decide then.” He said slowly, picking his words carefully. He hoped it sounded legit.
“Sure Dear. Right over here there are a couple I think you would really like” She said and took his arm. She was right. He loved both the chairs she’d picked out for him. Apparently, his was just worn out and she thought it was time they got him a new one. After all, she told him, “you work so hard all day, you should be able to come home and put your feet up.”
Home had also changed. The white picket fence out front added a nice touch. The muted colors of the wall paper gave the pace a cozy feel. He sat down in his chair while Julie made him supper. And then, she brought it to him and put it on a tray and put the tray in front of him, she turned on the TV for him, tuned it to Cops, kissed him on the cheek and went back to the kitchen!
“Oh, Mr. Patterson called you and asked if you could be at the plant tomorrow at eight instead of nine. He said he has some news for you. Do you think it might be about the promotion?” She asked, standing in the doorway, an apron wrapped around her dress and a dishcloth in her hand. Mr. Patterson (Don Patterson, who everyone called Donny) was indeed his boss’s name, but he certainly didn’t work at a plant.
“Yeah, maybe” he said and wondered where exactly he worked now.
“Can I drop you off, tomorrow is grocery day and I’d love to get an early start.” She said, solving that problem.
“I think that sounds reasonable.” He said paternalistically. Rob decided he could get used to this. He liked life a lot better on this side of IKEA’s organized closet.
As the days went by, Rob came to the realization that he was currently living in a parallel universe where morays and values and fashion were that of the fifties, while technology was still the modern 21st century stuff he couldn’t live happily without. It was Rob’s own personal heaven. Julie, like all his friends wives, didn’t work. She stayed at home and made cookies and dinner and waited on him hand and foot. She left all decisions up to him and since he came out of the IKEA closet, they hadn’t had a single fight. Why would they? His word was law on this side of the world.
He got the promotion. He was now foreman of the Pontiac GM plant, and with the extra he’d be bringing in, he decided to buy Julie a chair too, like that one show his mom used to watch All in the Family. He decided now would be a good time to bring up family again. Julie had insisted on putting off starting a family when she was in nursing school, and then it was too soon after she got hired and then it was too close to her chance at a promotion. It was never a good time in the old pre-closet days.
This Julie agreed enthusiastically. That night, though, something happened that never happened before. Rob couldn’t get an erection. Julie lay there, looking at him expectantly. He wondered if she was going to get up and help him out or if he was going to have to ask.
“I’m not sure what’s wrong” he said.
“It’s probably just all the stress of your new job. Don’t worry. It will work next time.” She said and pecked him on the cheek, rolled over and went to sleep. He could not believe it. What a prude! His Julie (as he had started to think of the old Julie) would not have accepted that. She would have done something! She would have worked it. She wouldn’t have laid there like a school girl. And if it still hadn’t worked, she would have made some sarcastic joke, they both would have laughed and the next morning, everything would have worked.
The next day, he asked they guys at work if their wives were very adventurous in bed. They looked at him as if he had beans growing out of his ears.
“You mean like in one of them dirty movies?” Joey asked.
“Well, I guess, I mean, you know…oral sex? Or maybe like doggie style or cowgirl or something? Do they do that stuff?” He asked slightly embarrassed.
“Oh, man, you’ve been watching some of that crazy stuff they got on the internet these days.” Hal said and laughed. “You better hope Julie don’t find out, or she won’t even be willing to take her garter belts off next time!”
When he got home that night, Julie had dinner ready and waiting. Roast beef. His favorite.
“Hey, Babe, you know what we haven’t had in a while? Vegetable lasagna. How about that tomorrow for dinner?” He asked
“But you don’t like it very much.” She said, confused.
“You do. It’s one of your favs.” He said
“But you don’t like it.” She repeated.
“It’s not all about me, though, I mean, you gotta speak up once in a while. You haven’t cracked a joke in forever, it’s not like you.” He said. Realizing that he really was missing her sarcasm and wit. Julie knew what she liked, what she wanted and she went for it. She was his partner, not his slave. She had her own thoughts and her own opinions and he missed that. He even missed the arguments. This version of Julie was like paper. She was shallow and didn’t seem to know what she wanted. Quite frankly, he realized, he didn’t like her.
“…is that ok?” She was saying something but he had missed it.
“What was that?” He asked.
“I said, I’ll make a meat lasagna instead. With red sauce. You like that better, but it will still be lasagna. Is that ok?” She looked at him hopefully.
“Sure, Jules. That’s fine.”
That night, he found himself impotent again and decided to ask for a blow job. After all, she did pretty much whatever he wanted, he doubted she would say no. She didn’t refuse; instead she asked what a blow job was. He told her not to worry about it. It was something one of the guys told him to ask for. He didn’t know either. He fell asleep to the memories of some of the best love making he’d ever had with a girl who insisted she get hers too. Man he missed that Julie.
One month later, Rob knew one of two thing had to happen: either he had to find a way back to his old life or he was going to shoot himself. This life was perfect on paper. A wife who loved him and did everything he asked. She never fought, never offered a different opinion and seemed to have no needs of her own. His job was now supervisor. He didn’t have any physical labor to do. He wasn’t tired at night, he was bored with his wife, couldn’t get an erection, and his life held no excitement anymore. There was no fighting, no flirting, no hot and heavy sex. At work there was no sweating, no sense of accomplishment at the end of a build. No raunchy nights out with the boys. His whole life was impotent. He was going back to IKEA if he could.
He went to the furniture store after work and perused the upright closets and cabinets. A salesman was immediately available and insisted on following him around, showing him this and that. There wasn’t even anyone else in the store. How in the world was he going to get into a closet without arousing suspicion? Finally, he explained to the salesman that he needed a closet as big as his last one. He said his last one allowed him to step inside and bed over at the waist to tie his shoes inside the closet. The man looked dubious but stood by as Rob got in and then out of every closet in the place. Not one of them had any secret doors that he could find. He was on his way out to buy a gun when the salesman yelled out to him. It turned out there was one more in the back. It was a large, deep closet, but it had recently been damaged while moving new furniture in. They were going to put it out next week in an “As Is” sale but if he wanted to take a look, they could certainly negotiate a price and do the sale today.
As soon as he got inside, Rob could see the bright white fluorescent glow outlining a large door in the back of the closet. He stepped through and was initially blinded by the intensity of the light.
“Oh my God, what the hell were you doing in there? What is wrong with you? You’re so embarrassing sometimes!” Julie smacked him across the arm. His eyes adjusted to the fluorescents and he saw a cart full of buddhas and orchids and art covered in cherry blossoms. And then he saw Jules. In her cut off jean shorts and pixie cut hair. He wanted to throw her down on the bed right there.
“You’re giving me the biggest boner. Let’s get this shit paid for, I want to take you home and ravish you!” He said, realizing that he did indeed have the biggest, most noticeable hard on, he’d ever had. She looked at him for a second, then looked down, then she laughed and blushed.
“Screw this shit, let’s get out of here right now!” His Julie said.