Today I caught myself staring at a plate. Not a decorative plate you understand. It wasn’t some kitsch monstrosity slap-dashed with paint splotches in the vague shape of a flower, nor some painfully abstract sketch in an imitation of Miro, or even some sterile-blue china ready to crack at a misplaced whisper (all of which decorated our old lounge at one point or another). No, this was a simple piece of plain white crockery.
Minutes before it held my gaze it held my breakfast. Two rashers of bacon and an egg. That’s not my usual breakfast you understand. The bacon’s bought for a BLT that’s always more L and T than B, and the eggs are for chocolate chip cookies. However, I’d run out of milk the previous evening and hence had nothing to wet my muesli with but water, and I wasn’t trying that again anytime soon. As such, I was forced by circumstance and a lack of foresight to eat a manly concoction of protein and grease.
I ate absently, as I usually do, mind otherwise occupied by solemn fantasies and trivial ethics. In fact, it took me about an hour between finishing my meal to realise that my plate was empty. As you may have guessed, I’m not a morning person.
I took the plate to the sink and ran the tap, running a weak stream over the congealed brown and yellow left by pig-flesh and yolk. As I looked down to seek the sponge I saw that the excess dirt had drifted but had left a complex strata behind, stark shades of brown against the white. It was at this point I paused. The plate held flatly between thumbs and fingers, arms extended stiffly over the sink, my eyes were transfixed by the lines and curves that waxed and twisted on the dish’s surface, the by-product of my near-mechanical ingestion.
I swirled the remaining water around the plate, some of the shapes shifted and dropped, but most endured, showing me that this structure was somehow basic. It would not be so easily shifted. Like the coffee dregs at the base of my cooling cup, my mind slowly slugged into motion and I wondered why I was so captivated. There was no particular reason to it, no prophet’s face appeared in the crumbs of bacon, no divine message, scrambled or otherwise, sprung from my egg’s remains. So what, then, had captured my attention?
As I reflected, I realised that I was searching for some pattern in the stains. I recalled the Miro plate from our old lounge (very out of place in a room of faux Victorian charm) and tried to dissect mine similarly, disassembling the abstract whole to search for lines and shapes of concrete certainty. I recalled the floral monstrosities (dabbed by someone who had once seen a Monet in a coffee table book) and tried to step back from the basic, disconnected daubs and search for a coherent whole from a distance. I traced the yolky curves to find the Golden Spiral, measured between the grease spots to discover fractals, I even examined the negative space of the white ceramic to see if the answer I sought was evident in absence rather than presence.
However, no matter what I tried, it all failed. Despite the fact that my mind, through both reason and heuristics, is designed to find order where it is and project it where it’s lacking, I could not find the faintest pattern in the utter chaos left by my breakfast. And yet, the unsettling notion that there really should be one weighed on my stomach as heavily as a full-English.
Then I realised that I was despairing over a dirty plate and wiped away the mess with a single sweep of the sponge.