Tuesdays they go to Ikea for lunch. Mac and cheese for Winston, fish for his mother. Afterwards they walk through the showroom. “Or else you get fat,” Winston’s mother says. When Winston sits on a sofa, he rests his head and closes his eyes. Beside him his mother hums the theme of a popular dating game show. Moments later, he hears her unzip her purse and say to him, “Hey Mr. Armani!” When Winston opens his eyes, out comes her wallet and then the photo, which she contemplates with a fond grunt. She holds it out to him and says, “See?” Winston closes his eyes and listens to his belly gurgle.
When he graduated from Queensway Academy for Special Needs, his mother made an appointment with a photographer. She hadn’t liked Winston’s graduation photo (“You look sleepy”) and instructed the photographer to take many pictures. In most of them Winston also looked sleepy, except for one, where he stood stone faced, his right index finger hooked into a blazer flung over his shoulder. The blazer was the photographer’s idea.
“He looks like a model in a Giorgio Armani ad,” the photographer told Winston’s mother.
“What?” she said.
The photographer repeated the name, a sound like sweet silken bean curd sliding down the throat.
Winston’s mother paid for many copies of the photo, which she mailed to relatives in Vancouver, Chengdu, everywhere. She kept one in her wallet.
On the showroom sofa her eyes are closed. Along her cheekbones light brown spots extend to her lids and the half moons beneath, which are the color of plums.
When her eyes open she says, “Wake up! No sleeping at Ikea.”
They walk along the showroom path, Winston counting the sections until Snövirr, fingers pressed to his pant leg. Living room, Office, Dining room, Bedroom. An elderly couple talks with an Ikea team member, a man in a yellow polo shirt who strokes a low bookshelf like an obedient dog. Every Tuesday Winston sees the man, but the man never sees him; or when he does he looks away quickly, as if looking at Winston is a bad idea.
A white girl with red hair bunched on her head squats beside a coffee table. When Winston slows down to watch her, his mother says, “Keep walking.”
Her hair is like Caitlin’s, a ball of silky yarn tottering on her head. Yesterday in the elevator Caitlin held out her arm and said, “Look—summer is almost over and I don’t have a tan.”
“You work hard,” said Winston’s mother and unzipped her purse. Caitlin was a waitress and university student. “In Management,” Winston’s mother has told him more than once, “very good program.” Like Winston, Caitlin lives with her parents.
When his mother showed the photo, Caitlin said, “What a great pic! You’re so handsome, Winston.” She said it nicely but not very seriously, like when waiters introduce themselves but aren’t really your friend, as his mother reminds him. Still, Caitlin’s compliment made Winston laugh, until his mother squeezed his bicep hard. “He is excited because next week he starts work,” she told Caitlin.
When they reach Office Winston sits on a swivel chair and spreads his hands across the desk. Next Tuesday he will not be at Ikea but at work. “You take away the dirty trays and wipe them clean,” his mother tells him every day. Winston remembers the photo of a handsome man in a light gray suit; his mother looked it up on the library computer. “See? Mr Armani’s model,” she said. The man was seated at a marble table watching a faraway place, a relaxed man at work.
Winston’s father worked at a desk in Chengdu. In Canada he worked in a box factory, but now he spends the day in bed, twitching and murmuring under a sheet patterned with upside-down tulips.
Winston pushes off the desk and spins in the chair until Ikea becomes a blur. “Careful,” says his mother, and when he slows down he sees the girl with red hair grow smaller among the desks, like a cowgirl in a desert landscape.
“Winston!” his mother says. But when he turns to her she has nothing more to add, face like the time at Sam Woo’s restaurant when Winston lashed his fingers to the chair because he did not want to leave, and afterwards she said, “We cannot take you anywhere.” So no more Sam Woo, but Ikea is ok. At Ikea people are not so nosy. Families stretch out on the furniture, pretending to enjoy a special moment at home. At Ikea you can wander around all day and only buy lunch.
“Remember,” says Winston’s mother, “next week at work you cannot stare.” Winston imagines himself in a suit holding out a clean tray to the girl with red hair and not staring, a relaxed man at work.
He spots the girl again in Dining. Usually Winston and his mother sit at a table, where he pretends to serve her tea, and she says “You are a good son.” But today he keeps walking.
“Where are you going, Mr Armani?” she asks.
In Bedroom he sits on the king mattress and simple black frame. A hanging placard sways unevenly as he lies down and stares at the letters S-N-Ö-V-I-R-R.
Beside him his mother sits on Fjalled, plum eyes small, as if sitting is an exhausting activity. She points to the headboard of Winston’s bed. “Not such a good price, look at the crack.” She slips her hand width-wise between the headboard and mattress, as Winston edges up to look into the gap.
When Winston asked for the bed as a graduation present his mother said, “Where does it go? Single is better for you, you are not fat.” He got the Wii instead, which is nice but not solid and real like a bed. When he bowls on the Wii, gestures fluid and silent, he feels as imaginary as the ball that rolls down the alley and disappears into the dark space at the end of the screen.
Above him the swaying placard moves like a secret pendulum. The bed is a soft pleasure. He imagines it in his room, where it would be a plush island, a refuge, the most important piece of furniture you will ever buy an Ikea team member once told his mother. Does his father twitching under the upside-down tulips enjoy his big bed, or the girl with red hair hers? She must have one, all grown ups do. “Grown ups work,” his mother has told him. And next week Winston will work, but he will not have the bed.
His mother is lying down, mouth open like a carp’s. But she is not ashamed because she is asleep.
Beside her the purse is open, the wallet’s edge sticking out. Winston checks her plum eyelids, sits up, and slips the wallet from her purse. Inside are plastic cards, one with a black and white photo of his mother before her eyes were plums, when they were startled oysters instead. Behind it is Armani Winston. He removes the photo and slips it into his pocket, then returns the wallet to the purse.
Lying down, he imagines showing the photo to the red-haired girl. What a great pic! But she is nowhere.
What will happen when his mother discovers that the photo is missing? Her eyes are still closed but now so is her mouth, like a polite carp.
Winston twists onto his stomach and slides up to the headboard. He stares into the gap and drops the photo in, where it lands with a discreet thunk, a cool face on a dark ledge.
Now he will be at Ikea next Tuesday, he will be here for a long time, hidden behind the mattress’ coiled depths. People will lie down on the bed, drawn to its elegance and good price. One day the bed will be moved and the photo discovered. A polo-shirted team member will pick it up and say, What is this? The photo will be passed around among the team members. So handsome, another team member will say, Just like an Armani ad, and another will ask, But who is it? Winston will make them wonder.
He leans towards his mother—her eyelids glossy beneath the lights, beautiful plums—and whispers, “Wake up.”