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Nice and Mild


ISSUE:  Summer 2017

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

This is going to be—no, I don’t want to be categorical—this could be the start of a virtuous circle. My psychologist has told me that I need to say positive things to myself, only I don’t want to be too positive, as that might just make things worse. But I can say this: My life is a mess and I’m going to try to sort it out, starting with the small things. Then later, I’ll be able to deal with bigger, more complicated things; buying blinds is a lifeline that’s been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves. 


I’m going to IKEA to buy blinds for my son. He’s been complaining about it for over six months now, the fact that he doesn’t have blinds, so the sun shines straight onto his computer screen. And now I’m going to sort it out. I’ve been saying for the past six months that I’ll buy blinds, and every time my wife’s said to me, I can do it, if you like, I’ve said, No, I will sort it out. And now I’m going to do it. It’s a nice, mild autumn day and I’m trying to hold on to that, a simple thought; that it’s nice and mild. At home, the DVR is recording the match between Anna Kournikova and Serena Williams. I try to hold on to that: The very fact that I’m recording the match and not watching it live is the start of the virtuous circle that buying the blinds was going to start, and what’s more, I’ve come here on my own and no one—that’s to say, my wife—knows that I’m here. I didn’t say anything about what I was going to do, I didn’t even say I was going out; she was in the garden no doubt in her windproof jacket raking the leaves, so I ran out. I want to surprise her in the same way that I’m going to surprise myself. She won’t know anything about it, she’ll just go into our son’s room and see the blinds hanging there and realize that I am starting to sort things out. I don’t reflect at all on the fact that I’m basically sneaking off to sort things out, and don’t see it as clearly contradictory. It shows initiative. I’m showing myself that all is not lost, which will have positive consequences over time. At home, Anna Kournikova is hitting tennis balls over a net, and I’m not there to watch it, I’m here, and I’ve been driving around the parking lot for a while now trying to find a space near the perimeter, and I’ve managed; several times I’ve felt small waves of claustrophobia and thought, I have to get away from here, before it’s too late, before the cars, the people, and the buildings are on top of me and smother me, until my heart explodes with a whistling nothing, but I’ve weathered the storm, I’ve talked to myself, said simple things like: I’m going to buy blinds. My life is a mess and I want to try to sort it out, starting with the small things. I repeat: I’m going to buy blinds. Remind myself that everything will be normal, everything will be fine. I will sort it out. I’m going to go in, find the blinds, pay, and leave. At home, Anna Kournikova is hitting tennis balls over a net. And I am not there to watch. I am here, I open the car door, get out, it’s nice and mild, close the car door, try not to pull an ironic face because I’m thinking such simple, positive things, I try not to see myself from the outside, I try not to think, Idiot, idiot, get away from here, can’t you see that being here and thinking positive thoughts is just building up to an enormous anticlimax, it’s so obvious, you have to get away, it’s going to happen, get out of here, and don’t try to pretend that you’ll preempt the anticlimax by saying it will happen and thereby prevent it from happening, there’s no escape from the way the world has organized today for you. On my way across the parking lot, which I scan nervously from behind dark glasses, trying to ignore the fact that it’s full, I think about Anna Kournikova, Anna Kournikova in a short blue dress, her strong thighs, the grunt as her racket hits the hard yellow ball and sends it over the net to the other side, her face, the concentration, the hot red sand she’s standing on—or is it a grass court? Be just as concentrated, just as determined, a single-minded bugger: straight in, straight to the blinds, straight out. The ball, I think. I’m almost moved by the thought.


Because you never know how things might turn out, you never know how anything will turn out, tomorrow all the walls might fall down, the room disappear, tomorrow you might have gone to pieces, not managed to keep things together, you might stand there looking at your wife in her windproof jacket out in the garden on a day when everything about her is so faint that you can see right through her. If she’s standing in the garden in front of the pear tree in her windproof jacket, all you can see is the pear tree. The knotted trunk. The twisted branches. The clustering leaves. A small dog that runs across the field behind the tree, and a magpie that takes flight. She raises her hand to wave, but you don’t see her and move away from the window, withdraw into the room. The doors to IKEA slide open, you go in. Try to focus. You’re in IKEA and head upstairs. You just have to concentrate on simple tasks, that you’re here to buy blinds, that you’re walking up the stairs. I always lose any perception of depth when I’m wearing sunglasses, which makes things difficult on stairs, so I take them off and try to put them in the breast pocket of my denim jacket, but miss and they just kind of slide down the front of my jacket, shit, I have to pay attention to what I’m doing. I look down at the breast pocket as my hand guides the sunglasses toward the pocket, then I trip, I trip on the stairs and fall in a very inelegant way just as two teenage girls pass me and giggle because I, an old man, have tripped and am lying sprawled out on the stairs. Don’t take it as a sign, don’t think, Now everything has fallen, get up. Stand still for a moment, don’t rush on as though you were embarrassed and trying to get away in the hope that no one saw you, take your fall with composure and dignity and almost make a point of it by standing there polishing your glasses, which of course—of course—are now scratched. You’ve fallen and you know it, and it doesn’t matter, except that it hurt, naturally (demonstrate this by touching your knee and pulling a face and whistling through your teeth). You can stand there a while longer, maybe smile wryly to yourself, then you can start to climb the stairs slowly while you think that never has Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter been better demonstrated, no, it was Baudelaire, of course, Baudelaire’s theory of laughter, which is based on the idea (and you have to show that you’re thinking, that the fall has given you a certain insight, by looking up slightly to the side and smiling to yourself, maybe smile and look down the stairs, maybe nod, once, up and down, but that might perhaps be a bit much) that it is never the one who slips and falls on the street who laughs, but the person walking by who sees it, unless, Baudelaire says, the person who falls is a philosopher and able to reflect on his fall, able to see himself from the outside. You laugh a little. You reflect on your fall and laugh a little. That, I think as I grimace to myself in a mirror that is suddenly there, is how you should take a fall on the stairs at IKEA, you pathetic bloody idiot. My knee is throbbing. My heart is thumping. I stop at the top of the stairs, put my sunglasses in my pocket.


There are so many people at IKEA today, why did I come here on a day when there are so many people? I feel naked without my sunglasses, I try putting them on again, but it’s too silly, and in any case, it’s difficult to see anything with them on indoors, they make you trip and they’re scratched, it looks ridiculous, I put them in the breast pocket of my denim jacket, fuck that I should fall, my knee hurts a bit, but I try not to limp. I try not to limp through the numerous kitchen, living room, and bedroom interiors, and then I suddenly spot the neighbors. They’re standing discussing a couple of transparent salad bowls, and I almost run and hide behind the poster display racks. You have to pass through that section to get to the blinds, and I look through the posters while I wait for them not to notice me, to decide whether or not to take the salad bowls and move on, I go through sunsets and Monet’s lilies, and the thought that I’m standing here hiding makes me want to scream. Today, when you wanted to sort everything out and breathe, to start the virtuous circle that has already started by recording Anna Kournikova on the DVR, you have to stop hiding here behind the posters, you have to go and find the damn blinds, you have to say hello to the neighbors, say that you think the salad bowls are very nice, say everything is fine when they ask how things are, and then carry on. I take a deep breath, step out; the neighbors have moved on. I put on my sunglasses. At home, Anna Kournikova is belting yellow balls over the net. At home, my wife is out in the garden or wherever she’s standing in her windproof jacket, crying because she thinks that I can’t breathe. At home, my wife stands looking down at her hands, which are so helplessly pale, she closes her eyes, pulls her hair back tight from her temples, to stop herself from crying because she thinks that I can’t breathe, that she is smothering me, which is why I can’t face doing anything, why I sit on the sofa for most of the day and watch TV and feel that I’m turning into an old man and that life, in short, is over. She’s found an old photo of us, put it in a frame on the mantelpiece, quite casually. As if she suddenly had a frame to spare and needed a picture and just happened to find this one. It’s a good picture. She’s looking down with a shy smile, and I’m looking straight at her, and it’s easy to see that I love her. Our heads are in sync in the photograph, we seem to be leaning gently toward each other, if you just saw the outline of our heads, they might look like two mountain ridges feeding into each other and there’s a nice, mild light around our hair. (No, it’s not that I can’t breathe!) But now I’m going to sort it out and she won’t know anything about it, she’ll just go into the room and see the blinds hanging there. I’ll sort that out first, and then the rest. I’m going to get blinds for my son, that’s what I’m going to get. The sunlight floods into his room through the window, unhindered, hits the computer screen and makes it hard for him to see. And now I’m going to sort it out.


Unbelievable: My wife is standing over there by the blinds. I’m walking through the glassware and cutlery and salad bowls when I see my wife standing over by the blinds together with the neighbors and an IKEA employee. She’s standing by the blinds. At home, Anna Kournikova is standing in a short blue dress hitting yellow tennis balls over the net. Her thighs are powerful and brown. At home, the DVR is whirring in the living room, and the rake is leaning against the pear tree, or the side of the house, or somewhere else. No one is standing pulling her hair back from her temples and no one is sitting apathetically watching TV. I’m wearing my scratched sunglasses and I’m in IKEA looking at my wife, who has got there before me, and I’m wondering how on Earth I can get away without her seeing me, I should go over and say “long time no see”—or something funny like that, but I’m embarrassed. I should have done this six months ago. And now I was going to sort it out. I look at her, and hesitate as I look at her. She looks so different standing here in her own life for a moment, there’s something about the way she looks at the IKEA employee, something in her face, or perhaps more something about her cheeks, that says she doesn’t know anything about blinds, that she trusts him implicitly, but that she doesn’t know if she’s given him the right information, she’s no doubt forgotten to check how wide the window is, and I can see her discussing it with the neighbors, because they have exactly the same windows as us, they point to one of the blinds, and I stare, I stare at her cheeks that look so naked. She’s so beautiful. And then, when she notices me, as I’m more or less reversing, without realizing that that’s what I’m doing, as quietly as I can, into a table of see-through salad bowls, and the salad bowls just keep falling and falling, she just smiles. She actually smiles. 

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