Bad Day at IKEA

Richard Peabody


A few hours before April Stevens' philandering husband finally left her, she strollered the kids over to the IKEA store and promptly lost Bear.


Bear was a raggedy gray stuffed ragamuffin, passed down from April’s older sister Janet to April, and then to April’s daughters Emily and finally Easter, known as Pie for short. Emily had never been very attached to Bear. He’d lost an eye along the way, been left out in the rain, squashed by traffic in the street, and run through the sprinkler and washing machine so many times he’d become a miracle worthy of the best survivor narratives. No Heroine cult or splendiferous sewing circle was going to be able to adhere one more patch to his disintegrating hide. April would be hard pressed to find a single remaining thread of the bear she’d come to know and love, which is precisely why Emily had passed the rough-hewn object on to her little sister, knowing for a fact that she would be getting Felicity, an American Girl Doll, at Christmas. So Bear may have been expendable and seen better days but Pie loved Bear because he was a legendary misfit and an outcast. That’s how she felt already at three, though she didn’t have the precise grasp of words to make herself understood. 


April had gone to IKEA to finalize preparations for her husband’s 40th birthday party.  Preston had long opined that he didn’t understand why only kids were allowed to frolic in the colorful ball rooms at IKEA. He wanted to take off his shoes and roll around, too. Despite the fact that the more April researched play rooms like the ones at IKEA and McDonalds, the more the rumors about people finding all kinds of horrible things submerged beneath the red and blue and yellow balls—from syringes to hardened feces--seemed to be true. But Preston was an artist and a dreamer, and considerations like health and litigation were deemed unnecessary roadblocks to his freedom of expression.


The IKEA staff had been leery of an adult party, and their wrinkled brows only relented after April agreed to pay more than $1,000 for a full hour and signed numerous waivers. Further, April had arranged for sushi to be delivered, along with a bartender. The entire thing was to be a surprise.


While the girls chased each other around the ball room and the mat room, April made sure the IKEA staff understood that 30 adults would be transforming the fishbowl of the store into an adult party area at precisely 7 pm. The girls were upset that they weren’t going to be attending, but they were to be part of the pre-party party, at home, where they’d give Preston a mural they’d spent a week working on in secret, which included rainbows and tulips and puppy dogs and dolphins. As well as outlines of the girl’s bodies, even Bear’s, filled in with rubber stamps and stickers.  April was very proud of the effort and imagination that had gone into the mural and hoped Preston would appreciate it. He’d been pretty distant lately, and April suspected he was going to push her soon to try for a boy, a third child. He grew up with a brother and it was clear to her that he felt uncomfortable around his own daughters. Did she really want to be fat and constipated again for nine months? She was ambivalent. They’d traveled quite a distance since she’d been his T.A.




Back in College Park, Preston, Artist-in-Residence and star attraction for the new Fine Arts Department, was engaged in scheduled late afternoon meetings with senior students, and his encounter with surreal sculptor Piri Lindquist had been like something out of a dream. Her efforts during the semester had been fairly rudimentary in terms of color and space, and he’d been thoroughly disappointed by her attempts to capture the surrealist gestalt. So to have her standing there in his gleaming new office was a bit of a downer. That is, at least until she opened her mouth and said the long-imagined—“Professor Stevens, I’d do anything for an A in this class.”


Preston had spent a summer in Vicuna in the Upper Elqui valley of Chile. He’d been entranced by the Torre Bauer, a medieval German-style tower that a German-born mayor had imported stone by stone in 1905. And he’d become addicted to Pisco, the strong national spirit of Chile. When Piri made her proposal, Preston opened one of the two remaining bottles of Ruta Norte he’d brought back, and scavenged vainly to find two glasses.


 “I have glasses in my studio. Let me show you my new installation,” she said.


Preston gleefully followed her into the bowels of the Fine Arts building, a Circle of Art Hell he tended to avoid during the semester. His nose was thoroughly burned out from decades spent with oil paint and paint thinner, so that he normally didn’t notice strange scents even in this context, yet here among the stunted art projects of doomed Painting 101 students, he had a new appreciation for benzene and brimstone. One of Piri’s classmates was trying to recreate the burning city of Centralia, Pennsylvania--a nightmare of twisted shapes, sinkholes, smoke, burning coal, and ash. Even Preston had to admire the devious nature of the work, though spending ten seconds with the piece was more time than he felt the artist deserved. He’d never think of the piece again, though his curiosity about the actual town was renewed.


“Here we are,” Piri said, stopping in front of a colossal coil of corrugated silver and red sheet metal folded like a labyrinthine paperweight and large enough to practically fill a 10’ by 20’ space.


“Why, it’s an actual room,” he said, awed. “A space within a structure.”


Piri smiled, handed him a glass, and said, “Follow me.”


He watched her stoop slightly, revealing entwined roses tattooed on the bare strip of skin above her waist, and enter the cleft in the twists and turns of silver and red metal, disappearing altogether into invisible inner workings.


That’s not a room, you dolt, it’s a vagina, Preston realized, as he followed close behind. Piri, god bless her, had just given his waning libido a jolt of more than 500 volts. Now this was his idea of a 40th birthday present.


Deep inside the intricate folds of the sheet metal vagina in the basement Circle of Art Hell in the Fine Arts building, Preston entered a mysterious cocoon of a room. Piri was already disrobing. The curved space was suffused by light exuding from a fold in the metal, revealing a futuristic-looking bed with a low-slung aluminum frame, plus an iPod stuck into a docking unit with speaker system vibrating to techno music by a group, he would later learn, that was known as Aphex Twin.


Preston filled the glass with the frothy yellow grape brandy and handed it to Piri, who turned around to reveal an athletic hairy body, reminiscent of some of the gals he’d fantasized about while cruising the web site in a fit of midnight despair. He fixated on the jagged black lightning bolt tattoos on either side of her unshaved pussy, lightning bolts acting as directionals, leading the way to her landing strip.


She took a sip.


“What do you call this installation?” he asked.


“I call it ‘Preston’s giving me an A.’ ”


Her eyes became glittering prizes he longed to possess.




Now, Pisco is a strong drink that comes on pretty fast and is not for the faint- hearted. Even somebody with Piri’s long history of collegiate alcohol abuse might be surprised, and it was pretty clear she’d gotten a little more than she’d bargained for at first blush.


So while Preston was determined to push and push until he reached China, or the womb, whichever came first, Piri tried to lock her eyes on anything substantial that would stop her spinning head. She tried the ballet gambit, fixing on a spot, but there was faint hope of that in the metallic curvature above her head. She’d neglected lunch in her eagerness to lock down her grade, and they’d polished off the bottle of Pisco Sour. The semester was coming to a close and she’d been very worried. Her art had made no impact on the faculty or her peers, save for the lunatic who’d dubbed himself DJ Ripple. He was the one behind the fiery homage to the Centralia mine fire. Piri was getting so queasy. Puking at a time like this was definitely going to cost her a grade point. So as Preston continued to push, Piri tried gamely, like all sailors do on a stormy sea, to keep the roiling Pisco Sour inside her.




DJ Ripple had long ago given up any and all hope of getting a single B in his art classes. He was looking at solid C’s and worse. So with a week to go in the semester, his Goth girlfriend off to Ocean City with her BFFs, he tried to cram for his Art History final. Nothing doing. Resigned to his fate he went off to IKEA. He’d surprise Goth girl with something new. A whisk? A spider plant? A cracked mirror? He knew he’d get an idea once he walked around the place.




April had a difficult time keeping the guest list to 30. She’d invited a mix of faculty wives, some of Preston’s more civilized artist buddies, and Silver Spring neighbors. Preston hadn’t mentioned any students, but she had lined one up to look after the girls during the party.


April took a shower with her daughters, let them play with her makeup while she got dressed, and checked her watch. Where was the babysitter? Where was Preston? And where on earth had her cell phone got to?


That’s when the screaming started. That’s when Pie noticed that Bear was missing. Pie was hysterical. April tried to soothe her. Emily even tried to soothe her. But Pie wasn’t having any of it. She wanted Bear and she wanted Bear right now. So April located the cordless house phone and called IKEA and asked if any of the ballroom staff had noticed a stuffed bear. It was nearly impossible to hear them over Pie’s constant screaming. She had somebody look in the parking lot. No. She had somebody look through the ballroom. Nada. No babysitter. No Bear. April felt like stuffing her head in the oven.


Then she had a brainstorm. She’d get Preston to buy a new doll. He’d have to get two—one for Emily as well. She knew that Preston was capable of buying two stuffed hippos or aardvarks. But she’d make him see her way. The new doll had to be something powerful enough to distract and conquer the still screaming Pie Pie.


She called Preston at the office. No answer. The phone just rang and rang. She called his cell. Nothing. She called Piri, the student she’d lined up to babysit.




Preston had finally reached a point with Piri that he’d never managed with any other woman. He’d somehow lost the condom inside her. Exhausted, his cock raw and painful to the touch from the friction of her hairy steel wool briar patch, he gave up. This was new. He’d pushed and pushed and pulled and pounded and he still couldn’t get off. He collapsed beside her and his eyes shut.




Piri’s cell phone was ringing. She managed to wake up and extract herself out from under the beached whale of her art professor. What a disappointment.


“Hello?” she whispered.


“Piri? Where are you? The surprise party starts in half an hour.”


“Shit,” she said as the lost condom slipped partway out of her.




“I forgot all about it, Mrs. Stevens. I’m so sorry. I’ll be right there.”


 “Too late for that. Can you meet us at IKEA? I’ll transfer the kids there. Okay?”


 “Absolutely. I’m on my way.”


“And have you seen Preston? Do you have any idea where he is? He was supposed to be home an hour ago.”




DJ Ripple likes the blue and yellow IKEA building. He walks past what looks like a party in the ball room wishing he’d had that idea. You can rent the ballroom? Wow, amazing. He walks around the store and finds nothing that makes his kind of statement. Hell, he has to pee. He wanders off to find the bathrooms and despairs when he sees the tiny yellow double-sided sign on the floor. Somebody’s cleaning the Men’s room. The other bathrooms are clear across the building, and he really needs to go right now. He knocks on the Women’s room. No response. He looks around. Nobody’s watching. He disappears inside and locks the door. He takes a long pee and then washes his hands. In the mirror he notices something on the toilet tank inside one of the stalls. A beat-up stuffed bear. The thing has more stitches than Frankenstein’s monster. This is perfect. Goth girl will adore it.




Preston won’t wake up. Piri shakes him, shakes him again. God, is he still breathing? She puts an ear to his chest. Whew, yes. But he’s out like no man she’s ever witnessed before. She’s got to go. Fuck it. She’ll figure a way out of this predicament later. She’ll tell him it was the best sex she’s ever had. No wait, he’ll know that’s a lie. Better to go the other direction. Tell him she’s disappointed they can’t do it again. That should ensure the grade. She climbs back into her jeans and fringed T-shirt and finds her way back out into the studio.


The minute she emerges and hits the foul odor of DJ Ripple’s Centralia project she loses control of the gorge inside her and crawls from the sheet metal wreckage to an accompanying spray of vomit. Oh god, she wants to die.


DJ Ripple applauds. “Damn, that was fantastic. You should do that every time you come out of there. People would pay to see that.”


“Fuck you. Hand me a towel.”


All of the towels he finds are filthy.


“There aren’t any.”


“Ahhhhh,” she screams.


DJ Ripple turns on a faucet and wets a paper towel. He squeezes it out and walks it over to where Piri has rolled away from her spew and onto her back like so much road kill.


“What the fuck happened to you?”


“You wouldn’t believe me,” she said. Piri cleaned up as well as she could. “Brilliant,” she said.


She lifted her arms and DJ Ripple helped her stand and then stagger to the sink, which she turns on full blast and buries her face in, before taking a long drink.


“Hey, help me out. I’m late and I’m supposed to be babysitting Professor Stevens’ kids.”


“So? You need a ride?”


“No, but he does,” and she points at the sheet metal vagina.




DJ Ripple scratches his head. What did she say? He hangs Bear by the neck with some gray duct tape mid-center over his assemblage. Classic. He’ll bring Goth girl over when she gets back. Tell her he has a surprise for her. This will be great.


DJ Ripple is a large man, and the idea of crawling into Piri’s metal cunt, because he’s way too tall to make it standing up, to find god knows what, just doesn’t sit too well. Now he hears somebody groaning. Great. He turns another fold in the sheet metal and his skull belt with all of the metal studs and key rings dings off the wall and hooks onto something. He tries to go forward. Nope. He inches back, and that’s another nope. 




Guests have begun nibbling on sushi and mingling. Shoes have come off and a couple of the more adventurous partygoers have climbed into the slides and maze structures in the ball room. Alcohol is flowing. Sloe gin fizz, whiskey sours, and Glenmorangie, while others content themselves with more traditional sake, or even Ichiban beer.


Emily and Pie beg their mother to play in the ball room and she relents, looking at her watch, trying a guest’s cell phone. Still no Preston. Pie screamed the entire way to IKEA but once she had the opportunity to play in the ball room she became her old ebullient self. The girls are sliding into the balls, avoiding the adults, and having a splendid time.




Piri had heard a little about the surprise party, but since she was to be home with the girls, she had no idea about the lavish spread Mrs. Stevens has arranged. She apologized to her and explained that another friend of hers, also a student, would be bringing Preston shortly. At least she hoped DJ Ripple showed soon.


“Have some sushi,” Mrs. Stevens directed. “There’s some Sprite and bottled water as well. Let the kids play another ten minutes or so, and here,” she handed Piri $100. “Find a toy store and buy them each a new doll. We lost Bear, Pie’s pride and joy, today. Offer her a new stuffed bear but if she has her heart set on something else within reason that’s fine. Okay?”


“Got it.” Piri said, and then it was clear that she was dismissed. Fine. The sushi looked lovely but she knew she couldn’t handle anything but kappa rolls in her condition. She tried one, drank some bottled water. Palatable. Such a pity. All of this free sushi and she couldn’t have any.




Preston woke up with a crick in his neck, one arm asleep, and excruciating pain in his cock. Why did he want a woman with a natural pussy? He needed his head examined.


Piri was gone. What time was it? He located his cell phone. The charge had run down and it wouldn’t light up when he opened it. He sat up and put one bare foot on the lost condom. He sighed. Preston tried gingerly to get his underwear on but the pain was too excruciating. He tried to remember everything. Piri had been fantastic. Hadn’t she? Well, she certainly looked great.


“A little help?”


What? Somebody was yelling. Who the hell was that? Preston left his underwear on the bed, slipped his pants on, and buttoned his shirt. Then he stooped and tried to find his way out of the labyrinth.


“Who is it?” he shouted back.


“Who are you?” the voice came back.


And then Preston saw the problem. It was the thuggish kid who went by the stupid pseudonym. DJ something or other.  And his fat ass was stuck, blocking the exit.


“Uhhh. Hi, Professor—”


“Can you move?”




“Should I give you a push?”




Preston took his 175 pounds and tried to shoulder DJ Ripple’s easily 250 pounds. Nothing budged. He tried to pull him forward. Nothing doing.


“What are you doing here, anyway?” he asked the student.


“I suppose I could ask you the same question.”




“Piri said I was to drive you to IKEA.”


Preston was baffled. “IKEA? What for?”


“No idea.”


“So you’re supposed to give me a ride?”


“That’s what she said.”


“I have a better idea.” If the student stretched out and made himself as flat as possible, there might be barely enough room for Preston to climb over top of him.


This worked to perfection except that every time his cock rubbed against his Dockers, he was in agony. Once Preston was on the other side, he unhooked one of the key rings on the student’s belt, which had somehow become stuck on a rivet, and the two men made their way out to the car.




Preston walked right past Bear without even looking up.




The DJ kid drove a beat-up Tercel. When he opened the front door, a mountain of trash cascaded onto the pavement. Then he spent five minutes apologizing for the mess and another five shoveling it all into the backseat. Preston felt scrunched in the car. He had no idea how the larger student managed.     


“I want you to drive me home so I can pack and then I’d like a lift to BWI.”


“The airport?”


“Yeah, I’ve got a flight to catch.”


“You do?”


“Yeah I’m going to Chile.” He hoped his passport was in order. Was it even possible to just show up at the airport and leave in these days of Homeland Security? Why not? He’d fly down to Vicuna for a few weeks. Tell April he’d had a midlife crisis and had to reassess things. Then she’d fly the family down to join him and they’d spend the summer months down there. He liked the plan.  He’d email his final grades to the Department.


The DJ kid raced down Route 1 toward IKEA and the Beltway, and pulled over near Berwyn Heights into a motel parking lot.


“What’s going on?”


“I want an A.”


Preston looked at the kid. “That’s blackmail.”


“Yes, I believe it is.”


“Okay, fine, you’ve got an A.”


DJ smiled and sped off.


What a dunce, Preston thought. He doesn’t have it in writing. It’s his word against mine. Amazing. He’s got a D if I don’t flunk him.




Piri had a difficult time getting the girls away from IKEA. She can tell that Mrs. Stevens is particularly stressed. And Piri’s pissed at DJ Ripple for not bringing Preston. Where the hell are they? Her cell says it’s 8 pm now. It takes Piri twenty minutes to install the car seats. She’s never messed with them before and it’s a disaster. She doesn’t know how to use a locking clip and she’s about to scream when a mother of three sees her travails and comes to her aid. Finally underway, she tries Preston’s phone. It’s ringing. She hears him pick up.     


“Where the hell are you?” Piri yells.




April notices an IKEA clerk walking a cell phone over to her. Preston. Something’s happened. The clerk hands her the phone.


“Hi, Mrs. Stevens. Has your husband shown up yet?”    


It’s Piri. “No, where is he?” 


“One of my friends was picking him up right after I left College Park. Look, I’ll take the girls by and see if maybe their car broke down.”


April closed the phone. A silver Cingular just like mine, she thought.  She walked it back to the clerk who shook his head, no.


“Oh no Ma’m. You left that phone here at this morning’s meeting. We forgot all about it until it rang.”


“But this isn’t my phone. My phone has black Sharpie on it from when Emily was three..."  April stopped. She scrolled down through the phonebook. There she was. This is Preston’s phone. But Piri called. . . ? “That rank bastard,” she said, stomping a red ball flat, and then she reached up and yanked her daughters' wonderful mural off the wall.




It takes awhile, but Piri convinces the girls that she has a chic modern playhouse they must see at the college where their daddy teaches. That’s met with a truly lukewarm reception until she also promises McDonald’s immediately afterward. Both girls cheer, and now they’re excited and willing to go anywhere. Piri knows that the right thing to do is to make this as exciting and mysterious as she can without scaring the girls. So she tells them to close their eyes, and she takes each by the hand and leads them across the studio until they get to the sheet metal structure. However, she’s forgotten the stench of DJ Ripple’s Centralia project, which makes both girls flinch, open their eyes, and then scream.


Piri looks at the girls. Pie is pointing to something. DJ Ripple has hung something nasty and gray over the center of his demented project.


“Bear,” Pie screams, “Bear.” And she charges into the messy assemblage.


Emily grabs her arm. “No, don’t.”


“Oh god, no, child. Don’t run in there. It’s not safe. The artist has booby-trapped this thing with holes you can fall through.”


Piri gets the folding yellow ladder from the wall and opens it up. Pie is hysterical. Screaming. She’s so red it looks like she’s going to pop blood vessels in her face. Emily is crying now, too. The stench. What was she thinking? Kids can’t handle something like this. And what the hell is DJ Ripple doing with Bear? 


She climbs the ladder. She can’t lean out far enough to reach Bear.


“Emily, listen to me. I need your help.”


Emily nods.


“See the broom?” Piri points.


Emily nods again.


“Can you fetch it for me? That’s a big girl. Take your sister with you.”


So Emily bravely makes a beeline for the rear wall, grabs the broom and returns with Pie in tow. She hands the broom up to Piri.


Now Piri is able to swing the broom out and draw Bear over close enough to stretch and grab hold. She drops the broom into DJ Ripple’s tar pit hellhole. Oh well, tough. And then she gets a firm hold of Bear’s leg and yanks as hard as she possibly can.




Goth girl is beside herself. DJ Ripple leads her into the studio with a flashlight, promising a surprise so splendid, she’ll take it with her everywhere she goes, forever. The room is completely dark and spooky. Something smells. Ugh. Did he buy her a ring? Her girlfriends put him down quite a bit at Ocean City, but she was loyal. He’s a little misguided, she thinks, but he has a lot of potential. Their sex life could be better, though she does cut him some slack. He has been stressed-out trying to complete his assemblage. She went to Centralia with him and took photos so he could try to capture what it felt like. She knows this was a brilliant idea but realizes DJ’s down on himself because he just doesn’t have the money or the materials to really render his vision. That’s okay. After they’re married they’ll move back to Glen Burnie and it’ll all work out.


“Here ya go, hon,” he says, “Now stand still. Don’t move. I’m going to go back and switch the light on. Open your eyes when I say so, and look up, okay?”




She’s so excited she’s got goose bumps up and down her arms under her leather jacket. “Hurry up.” She’s actually quivering.


“Here ya go, Ta-dah.”


The light comes on and Goth girl looks up to find? What? She starts to cry. What a shithead. Her girlfriends were right.


DJ Ripple runs the final couple of feet to her side, “See,” he says, putting one arm around her waist, raising the other arm in the air, “didn’t I tell you—"   


Goth girl steps back and slaps him as hard as she can. And then she punches him in the stomach and double-times it for the door. 


DJ Ripple (aka Elihu Lawrence McPeters) blinks his eyes. This can’t be. Above his ambitious assemblage hangs a pair of black jockey shorts stuffed with cotton batting from which a long distended condom hangs like an elephant’s dangling trunk.



Read Next: Father Figure by Caleb Leisure




Richard Peabody is a French toast addict and native Washingtonian. He also edits Gargoyle Magazine and has published a novella, two books of short
stories, six books of poems, plus an e-book, and edited (or co-edited)
nineteen anthologies. He teaches fiction writing for the Johns Hopkins
Advanced Studies Program.


This story was published in Issue 8 of The Literarian