'Flat-Packed Love' is a story about DIY furniture and spatial awareness.
It was originally performed in February 2016 at London's premier spoken-word evening Liars' League. It was read by Grace Cookey-Gam at the Liars' League MATE & DATE event on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 at The Phoenix, Cavendish Square, London.
Below is a video of the reading, performed by Grace Cookey-Gam.
‘So, where do we start?’ He claps his hands together excitedly, and posts a wide grin in my direction, appropriating all the space in the room.
‘With the instructions?’ I motion to the pamphlet on the floor, which was expelled from the packaging when he decided to rip it open. Upon it is an illustration of the metal-framed bed, perfectly constructed, symmetrical, resolved. Above the picture, ‘SOMN’ is printed in austere capital letters. I don’t know how you pronounce it. He leaps across the wood and metal bars strewn asunder on the floor – as I said, his doing – and falls to his knees to inspect the booklet. Why is he on my floor? I wonder to myself. Two other people offered to help me, and I selected him. And now he is poring over this instruction pamphlet in earnest, scratching his stubbled chin side-to-side like a grotesque caricature.
The last time we were together, I had procrastinated the day away in his bed, crying, lying, hysterically, for near enough five hours, whilst he paced up and down, shouting obscenities, throwing the casual ‘fuck’s sake’ or ‘bitch’ in my face amidst a flurry of other insults and put downs. Then he would sit at the foot of the bed, head in hands for a while, and we would make up and have a heartfelt chat, and fuck with all the heart ripped out, then devolve like a knee-jerk reaction to the beginning of the process, picking up the argument wherever it was we left it off. Three quarters of the way into this marathon and I wasn’t even really arguing any longer, simply prolonging the cycle, seeing if he’d continue to rise to the bait, react like a Pavlovian cur rampaging around, tearing at his hair and cursing to the skies with absolute angst. It was like clockwork, how his behaviour went from lassitude to lust, to loathing and then back again. And it was fun to push it, it was fun to watch – men are so stupid sometimes. We broke up soon after that. And now, he is sitting on my floor, inspecting these instructions.
‘I hate these things,’ he says. ‘I mean what angle and direction is that meant to be going in?’ He prods a finger to the diagrammatical arrow on the page. A little cartoon man composed of perfect edges smiles back at him, a better engineer than he. He’s easily perturbed when he doesn’t understand. ‘It’s not like we live in this 2D, flat-world. How are you meant to understand this?’
I saunter over to him, because I also want to see the instructions. Try and grasp those abstract planes to which the diagrams allude. And he’s right for once; the arrows are ambiguous and their direction is all a bit skewed and squashed on the cheap recycled paper. He rushes through the pages annoyed, expecting some sort of Euclidian elucidation to fall upon him, trying at odds to get his mind around the end product that the front cover so perfectly envisages. And then I remember why I chose him.
After much fraught thought of how and where to begin, we start. With the base. Four metal barriers which create a large rectangle sitting on my wooden floor. We bicker and bark at one another laying them out. He grabs each one forcefully and motions the wrong way round. I assure him that he is not following the instructions, so he checks the pamphlet, sees that my method is correct, and then silently complies.
‘Lift it up,’ I say, which he interprets as ‘pull it away from me’ so it falls onto the floor with a reverberating clang. It is excruciatingly annoying, a mistake I only have time for once, although I suffer it again and again. But eventually the frame is in place and stands in the dead centre of my bedroom.
‘I guess it’s starting to look like the picture…’ He glances from the built frame, to the booklet, back to the frame. I don’t imagine he was a precocious child. ‘Shouldn't be that difficult to do the rest… put it to good use.’ I can hear him smiling at me through his commentary while I work on securing the legs to the frame. And it is a smile that sounds like expectation, reward and conquest. Especially coming from him. It’s also a smile that reminds me of all the snide asides and metered little remarks he would level me with in the past, when goading me in front of his friends or colleagues, trying to get a rise out of my discomfort. It is a loud smile that scalds my ears. So loud that although the room is still and silent, I consciously clatter the allen key against the metal, sending a shudder around the frame he’s standing inside. He stays there watching me work. Proud about his lack of involvement compared to overall achievement – a decent metaphor for his part in our relationship I guess.
I unroll the wooden slats onto the frame; clunking locomotion. He whips out his phone and punches in a silent text, glued to the screen with his face wreathed in a wry smile; no doubt another unsuspecting girl stuck between his robust good looks and alluring charm. I think back, ever so briefly, to my infatuation with him and his artillery of coy smiles and jokes and relentless nuanced compliments and affectations. Was it a malfunction of mine to be so gullible, so easily ensnared? Quite possibly. The beginning of our romance, as with all good romances, was a whirlwind no doubt; but winds that strong always leave destruction in their wake. I’ve become immune to his charm offensive. Not long now.
We place the headboard into the allotted slot with relative ease. The mattress though, he throws that onto the bed with a rugged and rapid disregard which annoys me. I tell him it’s the wrong way round. ‘There isn’t a wrong way round…What are you talking about, it’s a mattress.’ He’s right, I guess, so I let him have this final small victory. And with the expository assurance of a talking head from a daytime TV advert for accident claims, he says, ‘Besides, you have a bed! It even looks like the picture.’ He is dressed in that categorical grin again, positively beaming at me. I smile falsely in return.
Downstairs, concocting some ‘celebratory’ refreshments, I wonder whether to go through with it. Why do it? A throwback perhaps? A final chance for oneupmanship? Our relationship perfectly, utterly summarised and compartmentalised to a defining waste. Yes, that’s it. I feel slightly better as I drop in the powder and listen to the effervescent white noise from his glass. Back upstairs, I find him predictably unfolded on the bed waiting for my return. Furtively, I sit down next to him, feeling his eyes dissecting the nape of my neck, running down my back, over my arm handing him his drink.Finally my eyes turn toward his, knowingly, suggestively. We clink glasses and smile. It is ever so pleasant, drinks in hand, sun streaming through the netted curtains. I glance at him with giddiness. He leans towards me, perched on one elbow, to kiss me. But I beckon him to drink more. Drink more. I place my glass down on the wooden floor and impatiently take his, almost empty, from his hand.
He gazes at me with a longing intensity, squinting slightly in the bright daylight of the room. I spring up and pin his arms down by the wrists; he tries to resist but he’s only pretending – he always liked to be governed. I hoist my leg over his frame, straddling him steadfast, back straight. He still gazes up at me and for an instant, as I place my hands around his head, I feel slight pangs of uncertainty. Because even though he is consigned to my desire, the sex was always good, and I kind of desire that, as much as my antipathy wants to be sated. Still, too late now.
I lean down, close my eyes and kiss him with pursed lips. One long, final, deep dark kiss. He responds, trying to move his arms, but they are pinned down; complacent, accepting, defeated. A moment passes. And as I come up and inspect his handsome face, his eyes roll backward in ecstasy and his mouth falls open slowly with a soporific sigh. I put my ear to his chest, hear his heartbeat fluttering, falling, disintegrating, and sit up, pulling his eyelids down with my index and ring finger. Now the work begins.
I take his left arm, a heavy and unflinching dead weight, and pull it carefully across his chest and down his side. I arrange his hand neatly wrapping his torso. Next, his right arm, doing the same and placing it over the other. He looks like a mummy. His arms flop down a bit, but I fuss over them until they remain in place. After all, this needs to be done precisely. I climb on top of him again, holding his torso between my legs, admire the serene reverie and angelic calm on his face, before clasping his head firmly between my hands and turning some 195 degrees to the right. I have to force it, but eventually everything sort of clicks into place. I spring up, enthused by the energy the liquor has afforded me and continue. I turn him onto his chest, and then the hardest part; a sort of ‘Marinelli bend’. I don’t have an instruction manual to work from and can’t quite remember the technique. It doesn’t want to fold back you see, but with a little force, I manage to push with all my weight against the legs until the muscle, vertebrae and sinuous fibre give with a mellifluous rip, a few snap, crackle and pops and everything folds neatly on top of the torso.
A slight flourish here. A quick rearrangement there. A deft origamic flattening follows. Soon enough, I am getting somewhere. It starts to fold easily, no longer really resembling itself. More a Dahmer polaroid, a Korova milk maiden; I must be doing it right. Before long, the strange limbic contortion of concave and convex couplings, this organic object d’art, begins to flatten as I push and stretch it out with my strength. I inspect every fold and surface, and stand up from the bed to admire my work. Whatever he was is now a perfectly smooth plane. A tabula rasa. A malleable plank, of sorts, lying square on my bed. With slight difficulty I slide the heavy, hardy mass from the mattress back into the cardboard box the bed came in. It just about fits. I close it up and stand back to revel in my own success; my own spatial awareness.
As I drag the box, plank inside, down the stairs, listening to the clockwork thud of it falling on every step, a memory of waiting for him in the rain falls on my mind and I smile. The forecast is set for showers this evening. And the bin men aren’t due until Wednesday. I take it down the path and place it on the pavement against the wrought-iron fence, dusting off my hands whilst surveying the silent suburban street.
And then, beaming, I go back inside and race up the stairs, two at a time. I jump on my new bed and lie flat-out.
Words: John Vicious