"I'm so sorry about this," I said as I tied the final knot in the Knoppa that I was using to bind Martin's arms and legs. "I really am." He didn't struggle or resist at all, which is good because he has fifty pounds on me and it wouldn't have been much of a fight. "It's not that I haven't imagined tying you up, because I have, lots of times, it was just never quite like this." That came out unexpectedly, but since he was already gagged with a Tuppler, he couldn't respond anyway and I figured what the hell.
"I don't really have a choice here, you know? I didn't expect you to find out, at least not so soon, and I'm just not ready to deal with it." I pulled the final knot tight and stood back to check my work. Martin muttered something that sounded like, "I love you." I know that's not what he said, but I responded, "I love you too."
I checked my watch. "My shift starts in two minutes. I have to go. I promise I'll be back as soon as I can and we'll work this out. I just need some time to think." I shoved the final Billy bookcase into place and he was gone, hidden completely in the furthest corner of the stockroom, behind the Värdes and the Barnsligs, as far back as you could go after making a left turn at the Arvids.
So right away we had a problem. I didn't want to take a hostage and I certainly hadn't planned very well for it. It's not like the cell I constructed out of the inventory of Billys was particularly strong, but there were a lot of them and they were in a faraway infrequently-visited corner of the stockroom and Martin was tied pretty well. All those times I helped customers secure things to the tops of their Hyundais finally paid off.
I had no idea what I was going to do; I couldn't just let him go, and I couldn't hold him forever. There had to be a way to convince him to keep my secret. It wasn't entirely his fault, after all. I had been a little high on marinated herring and didn't really think through the consequences of my actions. It had also been really late - around midnight - and we were sitting on the Klippan sofa in the 620-sq.-ft. apartment mockup and I think he was about to kiss me, and that's when I did it, just blurted it out.
I shook off the memory. There was no point in going over it again. I had work to do and technically my shift had already started. If it was a slow morning I could think about it while I worked. The truth is, there's no better place to go completely zen and let your thoughts fall into an orderly, productive pattern than the showroom at IKEA.
A few customers trickled into the store. It was the usual Tuesday morning crowd - moms with toddlers, senior citizens mostly. They didn't really need my help. That's okay, I was preoccupied.
About ten minutes later, as I was straightening the Ploka display, a man approached. He was late 30s, reasonably full head of hair, but not very well put together. "Can you give me a hand?" I turned to him and smiled calmly, surprised at my own composure.
"Of course," I reply. "Anything you need."
Three hours later I took my lunch break. It didn't occur to me to be worried until I'd almost reached the improvised enclosure, carrying a 10-meatball meal in one hand and a glass of lingonberry soda in the other. I set them down to move the Billy to reveal Martin, sitting in the same place I'd left him. His eyes widened in fear (or excitement?) when I got there, and quickly focused on the plate of food. I sat down a few feet away from him, the plate between us. "How are you? You're so lucky. It's crazy out there today." I realized that didn't come out quite right. "There was this guy. Recently separated. He needed an entire apartment of furniture and wanted to buy it all at once. He was looking at the Ektorp, but I steered him to the Kramfors and the Tullsta and then he ended up deciding on the Klingsbo on his own. You know, by the time he left he seemed… happy.
"It made me realize that I probably owe you an explanation for this whole situation." I thought about eating a meatball. I was hungry and could have used the protein, but instead I kept talking, afraid that if I stopped I'd never get it out. "A few months ago I was working at this place over on Magnolia and I hated it and I'd just ended a relationship and my father was sick and everything seemed so out of control. I used to come here at lunch and just sit in one of the floor plans and pretend that I lived there. Everything seemed so peaceful and orderly and it all made sense. The couple in that little house only had four plates and four bowls and eight outfits and they were right where they were supposed to be, and their whole life was all in order. One day, I sat down - it was on a Lervik, I remember that really well - and I just stayed. Forever. No one noticed. I didn't mean to start working or anything, but people would ask me questions, and…" I shrugged.
Martin stared at me for a while. Or, rather, we stared at each other. It really seemed like he understood and that maybe this had been the right thing after all. I'd untie him and we'd finally have that kiss and he'd… well, what, exactly? Move into the IKEA to be with me, sharing Fenomen-lit dinners of husmankost and knakerbrod? As it dawned on me that that scenario was unlikely, Martin's eyes left mine and drifted down to the plate of meatballs and congealing gravy that sat between us. I realized that in order for him to eat I'd have to remove the gag and I still couldn't be sure what he would do. Instead, I held the glass of lingonberry soda up so that the straw just slipped into the corner of his mouth and he drank.
After I left Martin for the second time and returned to the sales floor, things were worse than ever. Before lunch I had been certain that something could be worked out, that when I went back to see him suddenly the next step would be obvious and his time to think plus my time to think would have really cleared some stuff up.
But here I am again, restocking the Barnslig Flodhäst and helping a customer order a Pronomen, and when I told someone for the third time that the Fräck worked well with the Freden (which it clearly doesn't), I knew I was starting to lose it. This was not right. In fact, it was the very antithesis of what my IKEA world was supposed to be. Things were supposed to be simple and functional and maybe a bit whimsical here and there, but I couldn't reconcile any of those things with taking someone I loved hostage, tying him up, denying him sustenance, and entombing him in a dungeon of Billy bookcases. IKEA certainly encourages product multi-tasking, but this probably wasn't what they had in mind.
The ultimate blame here lies with me. I violated perhaps the most sacred rule of them all and I should have seen it coming. It's why I ended up here in the first place. Opening myself up to anyone was fundamentally incompatible with my new world, and now the walls of that world were collapsing around me. I didn't know what to do. None of it made sense here in this paradise of clean lines and tasteful, muted colors, where even the containers we use to hold our trash tell us that this is not trash at all, but a carefully-considered by-product of our well-strategized lives.
I spent hours straightening and re-ordering and making sure that the handles of the Kavalkads were all turned in exactly the same direction. I eliminated any signs of the customers who sat on the Malm to test the firmness of the Sultan Lade slatted bed base. I almost lost it completely when I saw that someone had put a Förhöja in the Ljuvlig kitchen; it was so obviously wrong and so completely aesthetically offensive in every way that I took everything out of the glass-front Akurum cupboards - I mean everything - and re-did it all from the beginning until there was nothing more to do. Nothing. Everything was exactly how it was supposed to be and I managed, for just one second, to forget about him. It. My mistake.
As I pushed through the swinging stockroom doors, I knew something was wrong. Everything in the front was in the same place it had been when I left, but toward the back some fundamental constant was different, and different in such a way that it took me a moment of stunned silence to absorb it.
I made that final left turn at the Arvids and a pulsing pain began somewhere behind my eyes, pushed out through my inner ear, and finally shoved me back against a towering wall of Persisks… the Billys were gone. All of them. Every last one, and with them, of course, my captive, my secret, my life.
It wasn't even possible. The Billy, of everything in the IKEA world, is the most eternal and unchanging. All you need is a place to put your things: A shelf or two, walls to hold them, and a solid wooden back that lifted the Billy above every simpering cardboard-backed imitation found at Target and Wal-Mart and, in some parts of the Midwest, Shopko. The Billy said, "Here. Place your things. Arrange them in a pleasing manner, just so. Leave them and I will guard them and keep them separate and neat. I am Billy." Billy was my god.
And then I saw a paper at my feet. I held it in my shaking hand and read it through a haze of confusion and betrayal. Design changes… phasing out… updating… it was blasphemy; sacrilege; and a terrible, terrible, marketing decision all in one: the Billy was no more. And what of Martin? There was the Knoppa and the Tuppler I'd used to bind him and next to them a Skärpt knife block with one pulled out, now cast aside. Even while I stood there trying to re-order my entire universe, the future was approaching. I could hear the footsteps.
About the Author
Danielle Wolff is a screenwriter whose work can be seen this year on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Ultimate Spider-Man. She wrote this story before IKEA announced they were changing the real Billy bookcase and is available for consultation on future furniture redesign decisions.