(This is an installment in a serial story. To read “Magic” from the beginning, click here.)
After breakfast, Sarah made a list of all the things her new flat needed, and headed out to see if she could find some of them. She was reluctant to move her car and lose her parking place, but she knew she couldn’t carry a nightstand and a dresser home on BART.
The heavy fog that had rolled in came as a surprise after the shafts of sunlight that had greeted her when she awoke.
“I guess this is what Michael meant when he said ‘If you don’t like San Francisco’s weather, just wait an hour,'” she thought to herself, peering up through her windshield at the sky.
The closest Ikea store was in Emeryville, over the Bay Bridge and as her little Honda crossed over San Francisco Bay, she tried not to be distracted by the fog-softened views of the Oakland skyline and ships on the water. As she arrived in the East Bay, it was beginning to drizzle.
“If I ever wondered what people in the Bay Area do on rainy Sundays, now I know,” Sarah muttered, as she jockeyed for a place in the crowed parking garage.
Even though the store was packed with people, she was happy to find that the layout wasn’t much different from the Twin Cities store. After stopping at the cafe for a latte, she headed off in search of bedroom furniture. The choices almost overwhelmed her, and she was tempted to buy the exact same items she had sold in Minnesota, but then she noticed a white dresser and nightstand that were entirely different than the streamlined modern pieces she had already owned. While they weren’t like anything she had chosen before, she understood how they would compliment the white moldings in her carefully painted bedroom. She checked the specs carefully to make sure the boxes would fit in her little hatchback because this was a lesson she had learned the hard way. On her way out of the store, she picked up a shower curtain, bathroom rug, clothes hangers, and some throw pillows for the living room. Even though the pillows were bright and modern with big graphic flowers on them, she thought they would make an interesting counterpoint to her antique sofa.
The rain had stopped by the time she got home, but what had seemed like a simple trip had taken more than three hours. She was relieved to find another parking place near the Victorian’s front door. Michael arrived, striding up the street, just as she was starting to unload the car. “Look at you, decorator girl,” he teased. “Let me help you haul the goods upstairs.”
He wrestled the boxes up to the landing while she carried the bags. “Need help assembling these?” he asked.
“Oh, I’ve done it so many times,” Sarah said. “I could work for Ikea.”
Michael laughed. “I understand.”
“And,” she added, “this is why I made of point of giving myself nearly two weeks to move in before I have to report to my new job.”
“Are you getting to know the neighborhood?”
Again, scenes from the night before at The Women’s Room danced in her head.
“I think I am.”
After the chaos of the store, she was relieved by the quiet in her apartment. She listened carefully and peeked around the flat, but didn’t see any sign of the cat.
She opened the carton that held her new nightstand and spread out the directions and began to put it together. It didn’t take long and soon she carried it into the bedroom. She carefully lifted the lamp off the final sealed packing box that it had been standing on, and lifted the box onto her bed. She moved the new table under the window and stood the lamp on it. It looked exactly the way she had pictured it would, and she stood, arms crossed, admiring it.
Her attention drifted to the sealed box on the bed.
She had already unpacked her hanging clothes, and her folded clothes were in boxes on the floor of the closet, awaiting her new dresser.
She couldn’t remember what was in this box, which was clearly labeled “bedroom” in her own hand, written with the big purple marker she had used to label all her moving boxes. She tried to remember what was missing, but nothing came to mind.
She began putting the new hangers in her closet, and flipped through the few dresses hanging there.
“I wonder what Lupa meant on her invitation by “wear something festive”? she wondered aloud. After what she had seen the night before, she felt like almost anything would be fine, but the more flamboyant, the better. Her closet of winter wool skirts and dark knits would be perfect for her new university job, but were hardly right for a party. They made her feel competent and stylish, but certainly not sexy or festive.
She heard the cat pad into the room and felt it rub against her ankles. Absently, Sarah reached down and picked it up. As she looked at the closet, she could see the cat in her arms, but when she looked down, her arms were empty, filled only with weight and the sensation of a cat. She carefully placed it on the bed.
She had to rummage around in a drawer to find the little orange box cutter she had used when she unpacked the kitchen.
“How can something get lost in a kitchen I just unpacked?” she thought. When she finally located it, she went into the bedroom and carefully opened the last packing box. The first thing she saw was her old faded college sweatshirt, neatly folded.
“Oh, of course,” she said, and lifted it to her face, inhaling deeply. To her surprise, it still smelled like Minnesota, like the cedar paneling that lined her closet there, and faintly of mothballs. Her eyes filled with tears. Even though she was sure taking the job in San Francisco was the right move, this was the farthest from her family that she had ever lived, and she knew in her heart she wasn’t going home anytime soon.
But her moment of homesickness was broken when she noticed the red tissue paper under the sweatshirt. She didn’t remember packing anything in tissue.
Carefully, she lifted the item out of the box and noticed that there were more items underneath it, each wrapped in a different colored tissue paper, the wrappings carefully folded and held in place with adhesive silver stars. She unwrapped the first item and sucked in her breath. It was an ivory silk blouse. She couldn’t tell if it was an antique, but it was beautifully crafted, like an old-fashioned camisole, sleeveless, with pin-tucks running the length of the front, and tiny jade buttons with rhinestones.
She was confused. This blouse wasn’t hers, and yet it was in the same box with her sweatshirt. Again she looked at the box, clearly labeled in her writing. She removed the next item, which was larger and heavier, wrapped in royal blue. She unfolded the paper to find a pair of wide-legged, cuffed trousers of the softest velvet she had ever felt. They were bottle green and shimmered softly in the light of her bedside lamp. The next item was wrapped in lilac paper. It slid inside the wrapping paper as she broke the star seal to find a wide cream-colored silk scarf beaded in a swirling pattern with iridescent cream-colored beads. Silk threads fringed the ends. She draped it around her neck, and it was sensuous, the cool silk both weighted into place by the beading, and yet seeming to slip against her skin with a life of its own. A pale green package yielded a gossamer bra and panty set, also in cream colored silk. They were just her size. Deep in the box, wrapped in rose, she found cream-colored lace stockings and a matching garter belt. A final purple tissue-wrapped bundle revealed an exquisite pair of black ankle boots, the leather beautifully punched and stitched, the heels only moderately high, but provocatively curved in the Louis style.
These were clothes beyond Sarah’s wildest dreams, certainly unlike anything she had ever owned. Garments like these were worn by movie stars and royalty, she was sure. And yet everything was exactly what she would have chosen for herself if she had ever had the opportunity to shop for such things. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the cat curl up on the velvet trousers and she picked it up and set it gently on the floor, picking a few long white hairs off the velvet.
She thought about calling the moving company, but then remembered that this was one of the boxes that came with her, in her own car.
“How could that be?” she wondered.
She spread the luxurious clothes out on the bed, and reached for the packing box to set it on the floor. Although she thought it was empty, she heard it rattle and looked inside. In the bottom of the box, not wrapped in tissue – as though tossed in as an afterthought – were four pairs of bottle-green velvet cuffs, attached to long, heavy golden chains.
(To be continued)