A Short Story
Drove to the Northside today – to finally see The Great Furniture Shop for myself. Saw the craziest thing in the carpark. A man – couldn’t tell if he looked either in desperate need of a drink or in desperate need to stop – pushing a trolley thing on the path outside the shop. On the trolley was the biggest feckin’ set of shelves I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how far he’d pushed them – but they were a monster of a thing. He was struggling – exhausted like – he just keeled over when I was looking at him. A couple of us stopped to see if he was alright. I bought him some meatballs and, eventually, he came around a bit and started talking a bit. Went on a lot about how he’d ‘lost everything’. He then told me a story – a crazy story. I tried to make him feel better – was going to tell him that he still had his health – but changed mid-sentence after looking at him again. I ended up saying “You still have your … shelves”. Bad idea. “Where are they!” he shouted like a maniac. I pointed out the window to where they were … but they were gone. Probably taken by some of the local kids for a bonfire or something. But yer man just slowly stood up – still looking out the window – and said “I go to seek the shelves that fled from me.” Two lads at the next table had been listening and started laughing at him to themselves. But then he was gone.
Anyway – that was my day. How are you? Did they get all of the tumor?
Nodin Orbis was was by birth a Dubliner but by Zodiac sign and an accident of birth both a Leo and a Pisces. His parents were wealthy to the point of financial paralysis and couldn’t pay for his education or upbringing. They did the next best thing and sent him off to be raised by an old woman who had a donkey they were rather fond of because of his name (which they had forgotten). The old woman didn’t have much in the way of possessions and Nodin slept in a drawer until he was eighteen years old – though much of that was broken up into nightly instalments.
When Nodin was of age, he sallied into the world (mainly forth) to seek his fortune, not remembering where he had left it. His parents had died – mainly from fatalities – but had willed to him enough money for him to buy a penthouse suite in Manhattan – which equated, in boom-time Dublin, to enough money for a one bedroom bedsit in Rathmines – and their old furniture – filled, as it was, with memories and loose change – which, when found, became memories of loose change.
Nodin’s bedsit was rather simple by design and complicated in its simplicity. He had inherited his parent’s bed and, once they had been removed from it, it had proved quite comfortable. Beside the small kitchenette was his parent’s old kitchen table – which held many fond memories for him (he and the table had twice visited the circus together). But comfortable though the bedsit was, it lacked proper storage.
Nodin, having grown up sleeping in a drawer, had harboured dreams of inheriting the drawer unit from the old woman when she died. Unfortunately, however, he wanted nothing to do with it when he discovered she had been keeping the donkey inside the drawers. He just didn’t want to have to pull an old woman’s ass out of her drawers.
But what would he do? There was a space that cried out for … for something. Shelves. A drawer unit. Even a china cabinet. Nodin looked high and low for the right piece of furniture to augment and complete his bedsit and, by extension, his life. But he couldn’t find what he was looking for. The more he looked and the less he found, the more frustrated he became. What started one day as a doodle on the kitchen table (the drawing, hygienic kind) morphed into a rudimentary plan for a storage unit. Soon, there were plans strewn all across his table. He became obsessed. By night he’d draw and by day he’d also draw. He began to look in shops to find a unit that matched his plans, but nowhere lived up to his expectations. Chauffeured to near madness, Nodin hatched upon a plan that to a normal human would seem vile and repugnant – but, to the insanity porridge he now called a brain, seemed perfectly normal: He would buy several sets of shelves and hack them together into the ultimate storage leviathan. “I’ll build my own!”, he declared with all the excitement of a freshly barked dog realising that barking is repeatable.
In the dark of night, people passing on the footpath below the bedsit window could see a dim light illuminating the shades. Occasionally, the shadow of a man could be glimpsed – moving – hauling geometric shapes – working. Those who lived in the building could hear things – grim sawings – purposeful hammerings – the resonant scrape of heavy furniture dragged unwillingly across a wooden floor. Many thought he must be building something in there – especially since the sign on his door said “I’m building something in here”. What was he up to? For three weeks, Nodin remained inside his bedsit without setting a foot outside. Hands occasionally. Head strangely often. But never a foot. His beard had grown long – especially since he had outsourced its growing to a local Mufti. He now received regular photos of its progress and felt somehow manlier.
And then Nodin’s hammer fell silent. He had finished. His eyes fixed upon the grotesque form standing in the middle of his floor. “Storage,” he whispered. “I have storage”. His heart swelled with pride and excessive cholesterol.
The piece of furniture consisted of elements of fifteen different shelving units. A main trunk – originally a pine-laminate book-case – provided seven shelves. A smaller set of display shelves – yellow – were fixed on at the side at the top and at an angle. The base was once an elegant white shoe rack – not quite as wide as the book case – but wide enough for a three foot shoe and a pair of side-stacked flip flops. Affixed to the other side was a long thin red unit designed for a child’s bedroom. And on the back, a funky retro orange shelf unit that didn’t look sturdy enough to store anything heavier than a gentleman’s watch or maybe some pilchards. Some pieces had been put together with hands that were clearly expertised in something else. Other pieces had been sewn roughly together in the manner that an unskilled blacksmith might sew a pigskin football to a miniature schnauzer.
But it was missing something. It didn’t look … lively enough. Nodin took out a small paint brush, stencils and some decals. A Fleur de Lis decal made it look elegant, he thought – but not yet there. He painted on some red go-faster stripes onto the main book case. Better. And then he had a flash of brilliance. Working with the tiny paint brush and yellow glitter paint, Nodin painted on a prominent (though off centre) lightning bolt that any five year old double amputee would be proud of. He stepped back and, with drama and aplomb, threw his arms into the air. “It’s Alive!”
The unit was so monstrous in size that it dominated his entire bedsit. Nodin attempted to move it into position into the space he had left – but it was too big. In order to keep it, he’d have to leave it where it was in the centre of the room.
The first problem that Nodin noticed was the complete lack of floor space. If he wanted to keep his shelves, he would have to get rid of something else. Nodin realised that the table would have to go. With tears in his eyes, Nodin moved the table down to a skip in the car park – a tangible link to his childhood scrapped harder than a Minnesotan at scrap-book camp. Although proud of his storage achievement, Nodin felt his first pang of regret as he ascended the stairs back to the bedsit.
That night, Nodin could not sleep. Despite the removal of the table, the room still felt crowded. The bed, thought Nodin. If I want to keep the unit, I’ll need to get rid of my only other piece of furniture.
The next morning, as Nodin binned the last vestige of his childhood, he felt a part of his soul atrophy. Was it worth it?
Nodin returned to the bedsit and sat on the floor staring up at the unit (he was staring – not the floor). But no – Nodin was sure that the tough choices he had made – sacrificing his family for the gift of storage – had been worth it.
Nodin collected his shelvable possessions – mainly copy books filled with his storage design plans, a pair of flip flops and a three foot shoe – and began to stack. When everything had been placed, however, he noticed something. Something dreadful. The unit didn’t work well as a shelving unit.
The books would not stand up and kept falling over. The giant shoe looked out of place. The flip flops flopped. Nodin fell to his knees.
“What have I done!” he cried. “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.” He now saw the unit with fresh eyes, the eye delivery man having just made his usual Thursday rounds. Where once he saw beauty Nodin now saw disfigurement. Where once he saw functionality he now saw flaw. And where once he saw something he loved he now saw something as unwelcome as a haemorrhoid plume lost in a blueberry factory.
A broken man, Nodin sat in his lonely, family-less room and watched the imaginary vultures of despondency circle and swoop to eat his discarded rodents of happiness.
For days, Nodin lay about in misery and pyjamas – his life a bad combination of ruined and over. He stared up at the monster – his only possession. It looked to out of place. It matched nothing…matched nothing thought Nodin. It matched nothing. The cogs of Nodin’s brain turned like a slow mule train on a rusty Ferris-wheel. It matched nothing he thought again. I must create something that will match it – to complete both its life and mine. I must create another unit of equal malformation. To make the world balance. A yin for its yang. A Bonnie for its Clyde. A Banana Slug for its Banana Slug.
With heavy heart and heavier lungs, Nodin returned to The Great Furniture Shop and purchased another shrewdness of shelving, caravan of cabinets and a cacophony of cupboards. Once again he began to saw and to hammer, to drag and to shape. Every nail that he drove brought him an inch further into misery. The aberrant form grew before his eyes. A stand-alone wardrobe acquired a mock Victorian travel chest and a mirrored bathroom cabinet. A Jewellery box was sewn to the wardrobe door. But it was the attempt to attach a miniature filing cabinet that proved too much for Nodin to deal with. In a fit of madness, he screamed as tears rolled down his anguished cheeks. He took a lump hammer and swung wildly – destroying what he had created. He fell to the ground – a broken man, robed in the shadow of the original monstrous unit.
Nodin loaded the monstrosity onto a hand cart. He turned the key in the lock of his bedsit knowing that he would never return. The cart ahead of him, he began to push it – North – always North – back towards the shop from whence its ghastly parts had come.
After weeks of pushing, Nodin finally arrived at The Great Furniture Shop, collapsing on the footpath outside from malnutrition, from exhaustion and from gravity.
Wally watched through the great panoramic window as Nodin trudged onward – his greatcoat fraying, his neck scarved against the elements – handcart – now unladen – pushed ahead of him.
“What a feckin’ eejit,” thought Wally as he popped the last cold meatball into his mouth, his mind already beginning to correct the design mistakes made by Nodin …