Portia MacIntosh shares a chapter from her new novel, How Not To Be A Bride.
I don’t know what hits me first: the smell of meatballs or the fist of an impatient child who, having clearly spent too much time in Ikea, is flailing around like a maniac in the hope his embarrassed parents will get a move on and take him to Toys R Us. I wonder, only for a second, whether adopting a similar tactic might work on my boyfriend, except I’ve probably done much worse to embarrass him in the past.
Trips to Ikea are a regular event for us since we bought our house – partly because we just spent most of our money buying a house and this is now our number-one social activity, but mostly because said house is what you’d euphemistically call a ‘fixer upper’. What I call it is a building site, but it was cheap, and my boyfriend, Leo, loves doing DIY, so it’s perfect for him. To be perfectly honest, I’d go as far as to say he loves Ikea too. Why else would we be here, dashing in through the exit door (something that is highly frowned upon, but is undoubtedly the most efficient way to work the place), the day before we’re set to go on holiday? Like, I don’t know what it is, but something about flat pack furniture just makes him come alive – get yourself a man who looks at you the way my boyfriend looks at the instructions for an Ikea coffee table.
‘OK, let’s split up to save some time,’ Leo suggests. I pull a face, because even I know you never leave a man behind in Ikea, especially when you’re going against the tide. Ikea is a signal dead zone so, if we separate, it will be hard to find each other. ‘I’ll get most of the things we need, all you need to do is grab a trolley and get a white SÄVEDAL door, 60×40.’
I feel my face contort with pure confusion.
‘SÄVEDAL,’ he repeats himself. ‘Make a note in your phone.’
‘Leo, I’m not an idiot. That… word you just said… 40×60.’
‘60×40, Mia,’ he corrects me. ‘Just grab one of the little pencils and write it down.’
‘Yeah, fine, go, go,’ I babble.
I watch Leo disappear into the crowd before turning my attention to the task at hand. I need a seve… seve… dal? I’ll just use one of the little computers dotted around to tell me where they are.
As I walk past the showrooms, I feel like I’m walking down the street, peeping in people’s living-room windows. Couples are sitting on the sofas, chatting like they would in the comfort of their own homes, as they deliberate which lamp to buy. There’s even a couple arguing in one of the dummy rooms, who both shoot me a filthy look for looking inside – the very thing the fake room is here for. In one of the dummy kitchens there’s a kid sitting under a worktop, visibly contemplating whether or not to take a bite out of a plastic apple, like a less bright Sir Isaac Newton. He decides it’s a good idea and raises it to his mouth, but his dad stops him just in time, scooping him up and planting him on his shoulders, six feet in the air where he can’t get in too much trouble.
I patiently wait my turn to use the computer, because Ikea is expert-level busy today. I mean, it’s always busy, but today it is bank holiday busy, and everyone and their spouse and 2.5 kids are here to get their hands on furniture and pieces of Daim cake. The only problem is, by the time my turn comes around,I’ve completely forgotten what I’m looking for. I type S E V, hoping it will suggest something. He said it was a door, right? And we’re shopping for things to build the kitchen. There’s no way he’d send me for an actual door, so it must be for a cupboard or something.
I glance behind me, only to see the queue growing longer, and increasingly more impatient. I try again, typing S A V, but I’m still not getting any hits. Defeated, I give up and try to find a yellow-and-bluestriped employee to help me out.
‘Excuse me,’ I say to a man sitting at a computer. ‘I wonder if you can help me? I’m after a door, for a kitchen, I think.’
‘Sure, what’s the product name?’ he replies helpfully.
‘Sev… sav… something, I don’t know, sorry,’ I reply apologetically.
A few punches of the keyboard and a quick look through their products and the employee knows exactly what I’m after.
‘Yes,’ I reply, a little too excitedly. ‘I need a white one, please.’
‘What size?’ he asks.
Shit. Leo was right, I should have written this down.
‘Erm… So, I think it’s 60×40 or 40×60. So, whichever one of those is a real size.’
‘We actually do both of those sizes, miss,’ the employee points out.
Double shit. ‘Erm…’
Come on, Mia. You’ve got this. Just think about what numbers he said – he even said them twice.
‘40×60?’ I tell him, although it sounds more like a question than an answer.
‘Are you sure?’ he laughs.
‘Positive,’ I reply.
With an unconvinced laugh, he tells me where to find what I need and, as I walk there, I can’t help but think about how much my life has changed since I moved back to the UK. If you’d told me four years ago, when I was living in the Hollywood Hills, hanging out with movie stars, and playing the dating game to the best of my ability, that I’d be living in Canterbury, in a house that needs a lot of work, spending my days procrastinating and my nights watching Netflix, I would have laughed in your face – and probably threatened to do something drastic to save myself from such a life. Don’t get me wrong. I love Leo so much, and I’m so lucky to have him, but my life has changed so much and I’m really starting to feel it.
My day-to-day life has changed, my hobbies have changed – even my looks have changed, which I can’t help but notice, standing here in front of this full-length ISFJORDEN mirror. Gone are the days I’d spend hours at the gym, eating clean and tanning regularly to maintain my toned, LA body, and since I stopped dropping triple digits on my long, blonde locks at a swanky salon, instead going to a cheaper, local place, I’ve had what’s known in the trade as a chemical cut, which basically means they’ve been using such strong peroxide on my hair that it has broken off, leaving me with much shorter locks. As superficial as it sounds, I took such confidence from these things, and now I feel kind of unremarkable by comparison. I don’t look bad, I just don’t look like me.
Finally through the checkout, I spy Leo standing over by the door, finishing up a hotdog. It took me all this time to find one item and here he is, his trolley piled high with things, finishing up his dinner. This is further proof that he’s some kind of Ikea wizard. He just seems to know how to manipulate the place, to bend it to his will, whether he’s modifying furniture or taking the little shortcuts he knows to get from sofas to plates in a matter of minutes.
‘There you are,’ he says as I approach him. ‘I was just about to come looking for you – I half expected to find you curled up in a bed somewhere.’
‘What would you have done then?’ I ask, adopting a more flirtatious tone.
‘Probably napped with you,’ he replies. ‘Maybe.’
I see that little glimmer in his eye that I love so much.
I laugh to myself. Sex in an Ikea bed, in Ikea, is probably Leo’s number-one fantasy. It would probably make his day to find me in one of the fake bedrooms, whispering sweet Swedish nothings into his ear before some post-coital meatballs.
‘OK, we need to go if you’re going to get to Boots before they close,’ Leo says with a clap of his hands.
I absolutely need to get to Boots before they close. It might feel like it’s been a really long time since we had sex, but there’s no time for flirting if I’m going to get the things I need for my trip tomorrow. Plus, we’re not going to have sex in Ikea, are we? Our naughty days are a thing of the past. Well, when you’ve been together for four years you don’t really do wild any more, do you?
‘Here, I got you one,’ Leo says, handing me a hotdog.
‘I’m OK, thanks,’ I reply. ‘I need to watch what I eat.’
‘No, you don’t. You’re as sexy as the day I met you,’ he insists sincerely.
‘I’m not really hungry,’ I reply, giving his arm a squeeze.
Leo shrugs his shoulders before eating it himself.
I know it’s easy to put on a little weight when you’re comfortable in a relationship, but my super-sexy boyfriend is just as hot as the day we first met. I suppose being a fireman helps with that. He has to keep fit, and the uniform still lights a fire in my downstairs. I, on the other hand, work from home, so I’m not as active as I used to be. I’m a healthy-ish weight; I’m just nowhere near as toned as I used to be. Finally at our car, Leo begins loading things into the boot as I plonk myself down in the passenger seat, exhaling deeply, relieved to have survived another trip to Ikea.
‘Erm, Mia,’ Leo calls from behind me.
‘You’ve got the wrong size,’ he tells me.
I massage my temples.
‘Can’t you make it work?’
‘I mean, it would be better to just have the right one. Shall I run back in?’
‘Leo, I need to get to Boots,’ I tell him.
‘I know, I know,’ he calls back. ‘I just really wanted to do some work on the kitchen today. Aren’t you sick of eating microwave food and takeaways?’
‘Well, yeah, but we’re going away tomorrow,’ I reply.
‘To Cornwall,’ he reminds me. ‘Where they have plenty of Boots… I’ll make sure we stop at one on the way to the beach house and you can even give me a list of what you want and I’ll get it… and I’ll buy you some Daim chocolate.’
‘OK, fine, go,’ I tell him. ‘I’ll stay here.’
Leo gives me a kiss on the cheek before dashing off back inside, leaving me sitting in the car. I know he just wants to get the house finished so that we can get on with living a happy life in it. I guess I’m just impatient and growing tired of the constant DIY.
Perhaps the kid with the helicopter arms was on to something. That’s why he’s probably in Toys R Us right now getting whatever toy he wants, and I’m still stuck here, in Ikea purgatory, waiting for a kitchen door.
Mia Valentina gave up her high-flying life in LA to move back to Kent over four years ago. But it turns out that life in the slow lane isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!
So when her boyfriend Leo proposes, she says yes, hoping it will bring some much needed sparkle back into her life.
The trouble is, Mia never wanted a big white wedding, just the happy ever after…
Portia MacIntosh has been ‘making stuff up’ for as long as she can remember – or so she says. Whether it was blaming her siblings for that broken vase when she was growing up, blagging her way backstage during her rock chick phase or, most recently, whatever justification she can fabricate to explain away those lunchtime cocktails, Portia just loves telling tales. After years working as a music journalist, Portia decided it was time to use her powers for good and started writing novels. Taking inspiration from her experiences on tour with bands, the real struggle of dating in your twenties and just trying to survive as an adult human female generally, Portia writes about what it’s really like for women who don’t find this life stuff as easy as it seems.