When it came to house hunting in Dublin, downgrading to a one bedroom flat had been our savior. But it also left us with one glaring problem. We only had one bedroom. If there had been space, we would have bought a sleeper sofa for ourselves and given Briton the room as his own. But since the living room was literally too narrow to fold out a bed, we were going to be sharing.
In the first weeks we made up a bed each evening for him on the floor of the bedroom with the couch cushions, wrapping the sheets I had brought with us around and around and then tucking him in under layers of blankets. The walls and floor of the three hundred year old building radiated cold.
Eventually I began to feel like a negligent mother, and got tired of sitting on the cushion-less couch every night. I started scouring catalogues and online sites for a bed that would fit. I unrolled and re-rolled my cloth tape measure, trying out different combinations, measuring every bed I came across. The room was too narrow by three inches to fit both our full bed and a twin. The ceiling was too low for a loft bed that would straddle our bed and the “shorty loft” that I thought was going to be perfect was too low, the bottom resting on the top of our mattress. Nothing fit.
Once upon a time, Will would simply have pulled out his table saw, made a quick trip to Lowe’s and bam, insta-bed. But the table saw was in storage in Missouri and Lowe’s was definitely not an easy drive these days. We kept thinking, and sitting on the un-couch.
One afternoon when we set out to explore and took the wrong train the wrong way, we ended up in the outskirts of Dublin. We were in the parking lot of a suburban strip mall, with a big DIY store right in the center. It wasn’t big like Lowe’s is big, but compared with Mr. Martin’s hardware store on Rathmines Road with its magnificent jumble of household junk, it was huge. And they delivered.
Before climbing back on the train, we had ordered two sheets of plywood, cut down to size, and a bag full of varnishes, hinges, paints and screws. In addition to a narrow platform bed, Will and I planned to build a folding screen to separate the two beds and a new top for our dining room table, which was just a hair too small for three people to eat around without having to hold our elbows in like trussed chickens.
Later that week, after a burly man hauled my wood up from his stubby white van, I spent three afternoons staining the table a deep orange. I applied coat after coat of polyurethane until it was thick and glossy and hopefully chocolate milk-proof. The screen, we painted with pale green milk paint on our side and a mural of blue skies, green hills and thin grey roads across the other.
On top of the low platform we put the most hard won part of Briton’s new bed; a six inch thick foam mattress.
I’d found the mattress on one of my wandering days, when I would feel stir-crazy and hop on a bus to find somewhere new. We had just spent an hour in a dim and tatty toyshop on the other side of the River Liffey. I’d dragged Briton kicking and screaming from the store because I didn’t buy Percy the train, and he “really needed Percy because Thomas was lonely and Henry needed another green train to be friends with and don’t you love me mommy?” Frustrated and disoriented, I’d emerged from the store and turned right instead of left. I had walked several blocks trying to talk down the squirming two year old in the stroller before I realized my error. By then Briton had worked himself into a post-tantrum, pre-nap stupor…and I had a chance to figure out where we were.
The river was now behind me instead of to my right. All along the street, as far as I could see, were furniture stores. Aha, I thought, a bed at last! But after pawing through two or three crowded stores I found nothing narrow enough. I was just about to backtrack and find my way home when I saw it. The narrow upholstering shop had a giant neon green beanbag hanging limply in the window above an elegant baroque chair with sumptuous damask cushions. Painted directly on the window in red lettering: CUSTOM MATTRESSES.
Fluff filled the air inside, as if a feather pillow had exploded seconds before I’d opened the door. It swirled and drifted and never seemed to land. From the back of the shop came the unmistakable thumping of an industrial sewing machine. Jobs to be done were stacked chock-a-block in one corner with bags of fabric and owners’ names pinned or taped to them. Finished pieces, wrapped in layers of plastic, sat in a neat row near the door. A cardboard sign hung from the ceiling above a gargantuan pile of bright fabric orbs, BEANBAGS, ANY COLOR, ANY SIZE. The thumping stopped and a small man in thick glasses bustled around the corner. “Ah yes, how can I help you, ma’am?”
“I wondered about the mattresses?” I turned to indicate the sign in the window.
“Yes, ma’am, we’ve several thicknesses of good dense foam, we cut it to size and sew a ticking for it as well.” He scuttled behind the counter and lifted up a large board with several blocks of white and green foam mounted to it, ranging from 1/4 inch to 10 inches thick.
“What would you recommend for a child’s bed?” I asked.
“I’d say the six inch, ma’am. And the white foam, not the green. The green is quite firm, it’s better for chairs and such. I’d feel it was too hard for the young man.” He nodded to Briton, who had escaped the stroller and was hard at work trying to catch some of the fuzz floating in the air around him.
I gave him the dimensions I needed, now seared in my brain from all the bed perusing, and he gave me a price. “I can have it ready for you in an hour if you like,” he said, already pulling down an enormous sheet of foam from a high shelf.
I did like. We went to the toyshop to wait.
More than an hour but less than two later, we were heading out the door. The mattress had been covered in heavy black striped cotton, rolled tightly and wrapped around with tape. It was heavier and more awkward than I had thought it would be, but manageable.
“Will I call ye a cab?” the storekeeper asked as I paid.
“Oh, no, I’ll be fine, I’m sure I can get one down the road.” And with the roll swaying on top of the stroller hood, I bumped backward down the step and onto the street.
I would soon regret not taking him up on that offer.
I loved Dublin taxis. The drivers are friendly, knowledgeable about their city, both directions-wise and history-wise, and there are always plenty of them…except at rush hour. From eight to ten in the morning and five to seven at night, it’s almost impossible to get a taxi. Without realizing it, I had stretched our little trip right into the heart of the evening rush. I could not get a taxi. I tried. I made pathetic faces and waved enthusiastically. Most of them looked pityingly at me but shrugged and drove on, their lights out and their back seats occupied.
I started walking.
I crossed the river at the Ha’penny Bridge, which was flat out stupid because it has steps going up and down. But I didn’t have the energy to walk down the quay to the next bridge while balancing the mattress in front of me. Instead I bumped backward up one side, turned around and bumped down the other, reasoning with myself that I could cut through Temple Bar and make up for the steps. Despite its cobbled streets, I reassured myself, it would be worth it to shorten the trip and get quickly to a popular taxi rank on the other side. And I could always use the sidewalk, if it was wide enough.
Halfway along the bumpy road I began to swear, first to myself, then out loud. I was furious. Furious at this city that had no taxis, furious at our apartment for not having a bed, furious at Will for being at work and not here, furious at this damn street for having so many damn bumps.
My hand ached where the loop of tape cut into my skin. I tried carrying it on my back, my hip, balanced on end between the stroller handles. I consider making Briton walk so I could put the wretched thing in the seat of the stroller but stopped myself realizing that I would just end up carrying him. Finally, Temple Bar behind me, I made it to the taxi rank on Dame Street. A dozen or more people stood in line and not a single taxi stopped in the fifteen minutes that I waited there.
I walked on, up the long, low incline of Great Georges Street, which turned into Aungier Street and then into Wexford and Lower Camden and Richmond Street. Will called and got an earful about the horribleness of mattresses and taxis and life in general.
The stroller, Briton, the mattress and I crossed the Canal where the dirty white swans sat curled up on the banks, heads tucked under wings against the growing cold. Up Lower Rathmines Road into Rathmines proper. I was beyond tired. Briton had thankfully fallen asleep and could not hear me mumbling curses at everyone and everything. At the corner that led to our road was a taxi rank with a line of taxis placidly waiting as if there had never been a rush at all. Even though I was only a quarter mile from home, I slipped Briton out of his stroller and climbed in to one, letting the driver fold up my stroller and shove the mattress into the seat next to him. My hands shook with anger and hunger and utter exhaustion.
“How long ‘ave you carried that?” The driver asked, reading my face.
“Too far!” I snapped, and then instantly felt bad. “Sorry,” I took a deep breath, trying to get my aching muscles to relax as we drove toward home. “From Parnell Street.”
“On t’other side of the quay?”
“And ye could’nt get a taxi.” He nodded knowingly. “Sure it’s been a mad rush today. You must be whacked.”
“Yes, whacked, that’s exactly what I am.” We pulled in front of the house. I gave in when he insisted on carrying the stroller and mattress up the steep steps and down the hall for me.
Leaving the mattress at the foot of our stairs, too tired even to carry it up to the bedroom, I rummaged a snack for Briton, sat him down with a pile of trains, and collapsed on the couch.
When Will walked in the door five minutes later, he wordlessly pulled a tall can of my favorite hard cider from his pocket, cracked it open and handed it to me.
“So!” he said, after the can was empty. “We get to sit on a normal couch tonight! Now all we need is a TV.”