Watchword too

Objectivism. 1872. Tendency to lay stress upon what is objective or external to the mind; the philosophical doctrine that knowledge of the non-ego is prior in sequence and importance to that of the ego; the character (in a work of art, etc.) of being objective. So Objectivist, one who holds the doctrine of objectivism.

The watchword for the day is objectivism.

There is a place where the simplest activity seems an insurmountable obstacle. It is easy to find; difficult, sometimes, to escape from. Foothills of good intentions are overshadowed by ranges of decision making. Beyond those, far off and so high that their frigid peaks seem to float in the blue, the summits of action are an impossible goal.

Getting up, for example.

At university Jonathan spent a whole term in bed. The sheets were pale blue and made of nylon that scratched his legs when he moved, but he lay there anyway, watching the clock.

“Ten more minutes,” he thought. “I’ll get up at half past.”

But at half past the will to be doing still eluded him. He extended the deadline by a quarter of an hour and a quarter of an hour. Finally he reached that slippery moment somewhere between eleven thirty and twelve, when still time becomes too late now and after lunch, comfortably far off, takes over from in the morning.

The house belonged to Neil, a friend of a school friend, younger than Jonathan and still in his freshman year. It lay at the blunt end of a close on the wrong side of the Oxford ring road, its pebble dash bay windows looking out onto a ragged lawn and a short drive with a tufted spine of weeds. In the middle of the grass an old fashioned push-me pull-you mower had been standing abandoned for so long that green shoots were climbing up between the rusting blades.

Neil’s parents had bought the place, somewhere for their son to stay while he was at college. Neil’s parents were unreasonably rich. There were two large upstairs rooms and a box room which Neil used for his photography. Jonathan rented the bedroom at the front of the house. It had a window which looked down onto the turning circle at the end of the close, the neighbours’ driveways radiating off it like spokes on a wheel. His desk stood in the bay, an old drop-leaf dining table with barley twist legs. At night when he sat there his lamp-lit face was reflected in the glass on three sides.

He could almost imagine himself back at home, only months ago it sometimes seemed. In fact it was more than two years. Jonathan had done his school work on the dressing table in his parents’ bedroom. He had pushed his mother’s small collection of pots to one side, or heaped them on the wide, candlewick-coated bed, closed the wings of the looking-glass and piled his books on the narrow surface. Homework for him was accompanied by the faint smell of face powder. Sometimes, stuck for a word, he would open the mirror and set its hinged ends parallel to one another. Then he could lean forward on his elbows and squint sideways to see his profile repeated down a curving green corridor.

Neil’s house was better. In Neil’s house he had space. If he stacked his papers at the far corners of the work surface he had to stand to reach them. He built bookshelves out of bricks and planks salvaged from a skip a few streets away. There was an armchair in the corner, covered with a tartan rug, but the rest was still a rented room. A creaking double bed took up most of the floor and a darkly veneered wardrobe held his clothes, when they were clean. If he brushed against it in passing it rocked on uneven legs and the hangers inside jangled softly.

On the inside of the wardrobe door there was a mirror. It was fixed to the wood with brass corner pieces. Not really brass, though, because they were corroded, with tiny nubbins of rust pushing through the dull surface.  The lower end was at waist height and the silvering was faintly bronzed with age and patched with dark freckles. When Jonathan looked at his reflection he saw not so much his own face as the depths around it: the wall behind, the corner of the unmade bed to one side, beyond reach.

“That’s what’s weird about mirrors,” he thought. “It’s not that you can see yourself. You can do that any time. Hold up your hand.” To prove the point he did it, spread his fingers and stared at them. His nails needed cutting. He looked back at his reflection. “In a mirror you can see the space around yourself.”

In fact, he could barely see his own face at all. A number of photographs had been stuck to the glass with loops masking tape and his other self peered round them like an inquisitive neighbour parting the blinds. The pictures were arranged in rows. The last five were photo-booth passport shots. Before that most of them seemed to have come from family groups. In each case the figure of a boy had been cut away from its siblings, with manicure scissors judging by the scalloped edges. The ghosts of sundered mothers, fathers and sisters lingered on in a hand, a coat sleeve, the edge of a skirt.

The first showed a baby. It was held by a woman and she was feeding it from a curved glass bottle, holding it at a distance on the points of her knees. Her face could not be seen, but her pose suggested that she had not yet made up her mind what she thought about the independent scrap of flesh she found on her hands. In each photograph the child seemed a little older. By the seventh or eighth the features had settled enough to become recognisably the same as the ones that looked out of the glass between the squares of emulsion.

There were twenty snaps in all. The last had been taken by a machine on the station platform early in the term. In what had become a birthday ritual, Jonathan had gone out before breakfast, before even the commuters started milling in the booking hall. He had ducked into the booth, pulled the coarse green curtain round behind his head and spun the seat until his eyes, reflected in the glass that covered the camera lens, were level with the guide marks on the wall. Then he fed coins into the slot. As always, the wait was a few seconds longer than he expected, long enough for the first nudge of doubt. Was the machine working? Then four thumps of light, the first taking him by surprise. He did not change his pose or his expression between them.
After the final flash he got up and watched a pigeon stumbling alertly between the tracks while machinery hummed and chemicals dripped. As his strip was extruded from the slot, damp and rubbery, the bird flew up with a clap of wings and the down train ground in.

About Malachi

All metaphor Malachi, stilts and all.
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