Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In Praise of Simple Objects: The Coffee Percolator, the Telephone and the Clock

In my book Apart From Love, Ben senses from the start that Anita, his father’s new wife, may be lonely in the old apartment where he grew up. She is surrounded by yellowing pictures, besieged by forgotten history, which must seem distant to her, because it belongs to others. 
If you had to design a movie set to bring this situation to life, what furniture would you use? What objects would you place on the furniture? How old would these objects be? Whose style do they reflect? How would these objects appear in daylight? In the dark? In what ways would the sight and sound of them create a mood for the characters?
I chose all the objects in the story to reflect a dated taste--that of the previous wife, Natasha--so as to force Anita into surviving in a world that she had no hand in creating. Here is one of the earlier descriptions of her use of the coffee percolator:
Now there she stands, by the counter, measuring the coarsely ground coffee, one tablespoon then another, right into the basket of our coffee percolator. He groans, which sounds like a bubble over a flame.
The telephone cord is described in another chapter as a snake: 
The cord is stretching tensely in midair, or slithering behind his back as he goes back to hobbling to and fro across the floor. 
The Clock appears numerous times, at daylight and at all hours of the night, to punctuate a mood of anticipation. So you know that when it would finally ring its alarm, it would bring the characters to an abrupt halt. Of course, it is not a digital clock--much too sleek and simple!--but an old alarm clock with the little hammer on top:
Under the glass crystal, the black hand moves around the dial, from one minute mark to the next. It advances with a measured beat, the beat of loss, life, fear...
At first, all’s black around me—except for the two luminous tips, which mark the hands of the alarm clock down there, in the hall...
For him, all them sounds are being drowned out by the tick, the incessant tick, tick, tick of the old alarm clock. The little hammer on top of it is idle, and so is the twin bells. They’re just hanging there, left and right of the hammer, reflecting this whole room, and the piano, and us, too. We seem so unlike ourselves, bent out of shape in their brass finish. 
So tense, so distorted, so small. 

 "A feast for the armchair psychologist. 
Reveals insights that can touch and frighten each of us"


  1. I like the mention of the coarsely-ground coffee! Perhaps, there would be a dusty little framed painting of a lighthouse or ship. Old codgers seem to like those.

  2. I got your imagination going! You are populating the place with your own details, and it all fits!

  3. a bucket of old umbrella's by the door...yellowing pull-down plastic blinds...old oriental rugs, tons of books...a fat cat, there has to be an old fat cat

  4. Surely there is a permanent mark/mar on the counter that has a story behind it--a distant memory...

  5. I'd use heavy, Depression-era furniture, the kind with clawed feet. Maybe a glass and dark cherry china closet.

  6. Thank you Reticulan. There is an old piano taking up a lot of space in the living room.