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Everything Must Go by Belinda Bauer

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Everything Must Go is a short story written by crime writer Belinda Bauer exclusively for Stylist's summer fiction special. Print out this page to take her story with you to read at leisure, or take a look at all of our exclusive short stories here.

Twice a week I take the twins to Ikea and leave them there. If I could do it more often, I would, but I’m afraid the women in the crèche would call social services if I did it as often as I’d like. Which is twice a day, to be honest. I get them up and change them and feed them – and then often change them again.

Those boys could poo for England. I remember thinking – when I was young and stupid – that when I had children I’d re-use terry nappies the way our mothers did, and save the planet. But when dirty nappies happen to you, it’s so terrible, so disgusting, so endlessly breath-holdingly foul, that the planet seems a very small price to pay for the luxury of just chucking the whole sack of crap in the bin. The road to Landfill is paved with good intentions.

It takes me half an hour to get ready – making myself look as good as I can on three hours of sleep – and another half hour to get them in the car. If they sit too close they bite each other; if they sit too far apart, they scream. I usually do it one day together and one day apart, ignoring my mirrors and hoping they’ll realise the futility of both responses, but they never do. I’ve known smarter goldfish personally.

They’re both teething, so are constantly red and fractious, and they bare Nosferatu teeth at anyone who makes an ‘aaah, twins!’ approach. People recoil, and I don’t blame them. Even the women in the crèche never look happy to see the twins, and they’re supposed to adore children. Aren’t they? But then again, who knows what goes on in the head of someone who chooses to work in a crèche?

I give them the boys, and they give me the kind of buzzer you get to let you know your toasted teacake is ready at the M&S café. I always feel like Jack handing over a cow for a handful of magic beans, because the buzzer is a bargain: it can be ignored for an entire hour, and is a lot calmer when it finally wakes up. I’m sure I never get a full hour’s worth before it goes off, summoning me back to take custody. But it’s better than nothing.

Once they’ve got the boys and I’ve got the buzzer, I start to feel like me again. Not much, but a little bit. I go upstairs, take a pencil and a paper tape measure with me as a cover, so I look like a real customer.

Ikea’s a maze of pyramidal proportions. It’s a prescriptive passage – a strict alimentary canal which swallows you at the door, forces you down the throat and into the bowels of the shop, where you are compelled to snatch up things you don’t want or need, on the sole basis of their outrageous value for money. Then it shits you out at the checkout, where you realise that even tealights and plastic spoons cost plenty if you buy them in multiples of a thousand.

But even Ikea cannot escape building regulations, and I know every shortcut, every dodge, every ‘Emergency Exit Only’, that takes me to the bedroom department in a matter of yards as the crow flies – if the crow were flying up an escalator, behind some mirrors, and emerging from the camouflage of cupboards next to the beds like something from Narnia.

On the way I always check my hair and make-up in a mirror. I need to look respectable at least – classy at best. Not having the twins in my possession takes five years off me, which is better than Botox. Once I’ve brushed up and dabbed on some Chanel No.5, I spend a few minutes browsing the beds – casing the joint. I measure a few legs, wobble a few headboards, examine a few price tags. I sit on one. Often I’ll bounce, with a small frown I’ve composed in the bathroom mirror. Deep fiscal consideration and impending approval.

Then I slip off my shoes and lie down.

When I first did it, it took me maybe 10 minutes to fall asleep. Now I’m there almost before my eyes have properly closed. Deep and dreamless and carefree. The sleep of the child I used to be. Only yesterday, it seems. If only today…

Once a staff member woke me up. “Are you all right?” she said. “Oh yes,” I said, “this bed is so comfy I just drifted off while trying it.” We both laughed, but I saw her looking at my Gucci handbag, which is fake but convincing, and my Jimmy Choos, which are real, and worn almost exclusively for my trips to Ikea. If I were in a trackie and trainers, I’d be out on my arse, but the rich are allowed to be eccentric. The rich might spend money.

This time the buzzer wakes me. It tolls for me.

I can hear the twins screaming from the top of the stairs. The buzzer vibrates angrily in my rigid hand, and the crèche woman comes to the door and scans the shop desperately – for me, I’m sure. She looks five years older.

I turn away and look at the freezer full of Swedish meatballs and pots of that weird pale gravy. They’d take ages to find the buzzer under there. I’d be long gone. But where? My brain is out of ideas. I used to be smart. I used to think fast. I used not to be a goldfish.

And then I’m handing in the buzzer and putting the boys in their buggy, and heading back past the freezer towards the exit in a jagged cloud of shrieking and kicking and biting. I look over my shoulder at the Swedish meatballs and think – maybe next time.

Darkside is out now (£12.99, Bantam)

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