An Object Lesson: A Study in Aesthetics 

Carl Woodford adjusted the knot of his tie fastidiously and stared at the long, angular figure occupying the space beyond his wardrobe mirror. His reflected face was shorn of emotion and hung mask-like above the wide expanse of jacket. For him, neatness was not an optional extra to be worn along with a best suit. Rather, it fitted tidily into the very folds of his skin. Motionless, he stood and stared hard at his alter ego.

"Was that the beginning of a nervous twitch?" he thought, catching sight of a slight, involuntary movement at the corner of his glass mouth. The mere breath of life across the still surface of the frozen image... it wasn't the movement itself that upset him, rather its uncontrolled or, even worse, uncontrollable nature.

Woodford quickly adjusted his tie and locked the apparition away in its dark cell. Everything in the room was in its place, carefully positioned to achieve the correct pattern, which hung as perfect as the lifeless form waiting amid the jackets and empty hangers. Yet, Woodford stood beyond the perimeter of his world. The very act of bringing into being had excluded him.

The room itself had become his enemy. Each day it waited, behind locked doors, to taunt him on his return from the bustle of the city... heavy with a web of silent relationships, strung between chairs, tables and other objects of functional value. Even the eyes of the porcelain cat were caught forever in stilled hatred, its triangular ears twisted forward to catch the first grate of metal as the key scraped against the shards of the lock.

Beyond the window, gradually becoming opaque with dust, Cardiff dipped its feet in the dirty river. Women, long legs bare and brown between denim hems and open-toed sandals, giggled in pairs. Along the city streets, the dark smell of musk lingered on the air long after the mid-day women had passed.

Suddenly, Woodford felt hungry and the smell of fresh coffee, drift ing from the open-air cafe, drew him towards it. Instinct held him like a child sensing an un-opened parcel.

Sitting in the curve of the hard plastic seat, beneath a summer sky boxed in by the climb of tall buildings which served to draw the heat, he became a 'camera obscura'... an unreflecting mechanism for recording all movement and stilling it into perfection. Through him, the room extended its influence beyond the boundary of its walls and pierced the city to the suddeness of its heart.

A woman, at a nearby table, gazed at him across the rim of the delicate china cup she caressed with her long, sensuous fingers. Provokingly they teased the stiff twist of the handle, almost yielding it into submission. A wisp of steam rose to veil the soft features of her face, as a smile crept mischievously across the scarlet promise of her lips. Confident of his attention, she leant forward slightly and allowed the thin fabric of her blouse to slip from her rising cleavage, which trembled slightly beneath his gaze.

A need tugged deep within Woodford's being.... but the room's influence was too strong.

"Here was a moment to record, to preserve," he thought.

She looked again, confused by his reaction, and then rose unsure to become lost in the city's embrace.

A stocky, white-coated man pulled down the shutters on the counter and slammed the heavy bolts into place. Slowly, people drifted from the tables and sparrows began their darting raids beneath the chairs. Yet, for Woodford, the memory remained faithfully recorded beyond the fading influence of time.

Frail sunlight filtered through the panes and picked out the motes of dust that traced silken lines between the furniture. A fly beat its wings, in desperation, against the glass, carving an epitaph of futility upon the dust. Soon the snagged corners of net closed over the silent insect and restored order.

Woodford returned to the room and struggled once more against the elasticity of the mesh that strived to exclude him. Moving his hand towards his pocket proved an effort and, when achieved, the brittleness of the glass bottle surprised him and caused his fingers to shrink from contact. Within the room, it had joined forces with the other inanimate objects and re-shaped its character to form part of the spreading web of relationships that excluded him. He forced his hand back into contact, feeling the heavy pressure of resistance dampening his movements, and finally brought the pill-bottle into the open. "It was almost the moment".

Surprisingly, in those leaden seconds, the detail of the room grew massive and sudden... colours exploded in his mind and the shapes of each object took on an exquisite, almost sexual, beauty.

Woodford slipped the yellow pills into his hand. They looked bitter and final. "Now the hostility would end... the long relationship begin."

Beyond the window, the city slipped into evening dress. Girls hurried, their heels clicking the pavement, towards waiting embraces. A warm smell of vinegar, laced with aftershave, haunted the air. Pink-mouthed, an anthracite cat hissed at passing feet.... Short-lived, the insects of sense danced diaphanously and were forever gone.