There's No Accounting for Taste

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Write about someone who critiques things for a living, or acts like they do.... view prompt

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Friendship Funny Contemporary

I could close my eyes and count to ten and with a bit of luck he’ll be gone when I open them again. On the other hand I could try the expeliare spell from Harry Potter and hope that he will disappear in a puff of smoke, back to his boring house with the white walls, the polished parquet and the le Corbusier chaise longue that looks so elegant but is impossible to sit on.

Even the floors are painted white and there are no rugs to absorb the sound so that the house constantly echoes to the sound of people moving around. There are no curtains, so you can see the bones of the house, as he puts it, and if I am invited there for drinks or dinner I make sure to put on my warmest cashmere sweater for fear of hyperthermia. I should be kinder but he brings out the worst in me.

I have known John for more than thirty years, almost as long as I have been an architect and interior designer. My house has been featured in magazines and on television programmes and I have been asked to give master classes to students on how to fuse the old and the new in designs for modern living.

I love to mix antique furniture and modern art and as a friend of mine who hadn’t visited in a long time said recently: “silting up nicely, I see.” The two rooms are divided by folding doors and the high ceilings allow me to stack pictures all the way up, with eighteenth century portraits in the dining room and more modern art in the drawing room. I have a collection of curiosities made of wood and glass and bronze, carefully arranged on tables and chests. The same friend looked around and tried to define my style which he described as “eclectic bordering on the eccentric”. Minimalist it certainly isn’t but it is rich and warm and inviting and when the fire is light there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

”John is one of my oldest friends. Every week he calls for coffee and looks around in that dismissive way of his, making me feel that I know nothing. “I. don’t know how you can live with all this stuff. Is there actually any room for people in this house?” This, from a man who is so notoriously mean that he hides in the kitchen if anybody calls around lunchtime, in case he would have to offer them something to eat.

He is a teacher and the perfect embodiment of the old saying: Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach and those who can’t teach, teach others how to teach. In his own mind he is an expert on modern design and unforgiving in his criticism of anything resembling comfort. To my mind his style is more brutalist than minimalist but in his eyes every new building in Dublin is either a masterpiece or pastiche.

He also has an eye like a gimlet and I know that he has spotted the pair of blue and white Chinese plates that I just bought at the antiques fair. I had hoped he wouldn’t notice but, no such luck. “I see these are new” he says. When I go over to the fireplace to poke the fire he takes a sneaky look at the back, when he thinks I can’t see him, to see if there is a maker’s mark, or a price tag. But I can see his reflection in the regency mirror over the fireplace. “Eighteenth century, Qianlong period” I say, knowing that this will irritate him beyond words. Despite his much vaunted commitment to minimalism he is above all a snob and every carefully curated piece of furniture in his chilly house has to have the label of a modern classic designer as proof of his knowledge and good taste.

He has an opinion on everything and no tolerance of anything that doesn’t fit with his views. Like all dogmatists there is an edge of cruelty to his comments. There is something of the Taliban about him in his puritanism. “I would just get rid of all this junk,” he says.  “I mean, when you go who’s going to want it?”

John is sitting on the small two seater sofa by the window that overlooks the garden. It is covered in a particularly rich purple and red silk from Pierre Frey and in an idle moment it crosses my mind that if I smashed him over the head with the large Imari vase that is sitting on the sideboard the blood would hardly be noticeable.

He is endlessly condescending about people who go on package holidays while, as a teacher, he is able to spend two months on a Greek island returning in late August with the best tan in Dublin. OK, I confess. As a redhead with pale skin and freckles, I am jealous of people who never even sunburn and yes, he does have great tennis player legs.

Everything he wears is black and while he insists that it’s because he doesn’t have time for fashion I secretly believe that this is because it makes him stand out even more against his all white interior. In an attempt at conversation I make the mistake of asking him if he has been to see the new exhibition of Dutch painting in the National Gallery. For my trouble I am rewarded with a five minute lecture on why the gallery has lost its way with its constant focus on bourgeois representational art. I know what he is going to say before he says it because I saw the catalogue from the Tate on his coffee table. They should be exploring the work of more modern experimental artists like Maxim Malevich. “That’s the kind of art that interests me and that’s what I would buy if I had the money.”

“But, John,” I say. If you had one of his white on white pictures in your house it would be invisible.”

Judging by the look he gives me I feel I may have overstepped the mark! However, after all this time he is not going to change and neither am I. Perfection is not of this world and while at times he makes me grind my teeth, I am actually very fond of him.

“More coffee?”

April 12, 2022 22:32

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3 comments

Aeris Walker
23:14 Apr 21, 2022

Your descriptions were so concise and rich that it was very easy to conjure up images of these hoity-toity designers and their unique styles. The tone of your story was very reflective and thoughtful, but didn’t have much of an event/conflict. If you were going for something along the lines of the narrator having a type of “epiphany” by the end, where they realized this person would never change but that they’d tolerate them in spite of it, then the style worked, but could have made a bigger punch—maybe by incorporating just one small deta...

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Jim Loughran
20:26 Apr 25, 2022

thanks for the feedback. I fully agree with you. I took it to the point where our hero recognisesq that friendship overrides everything though I could have developed an even to make this realisation more explicit. I am writing a detective novel at the moment so wanted to do this as a quick exercise. best wishes Jim

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Aeris Walker
21:44 Apr 25, 2022

Oh that’s awesome! I bet the novel will be excellent if your descriptions and settings are as good as what you wrote in this short story.

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