When Christopher Howe married Liz Barrows - a trainee lawyer - they agreed that he would stay at home while she would go out to work. It was how he wanted it. He didn't like the outside world, with its unpredictability, its irregularities, and its misalignments. These latter troubled him the most, for he was obsessed with parallelism and perpendicularity; the sight of any two straight surfaces neither parallel nor perpendicular to one another never failed to wind him up. Accordingly, he spent most of his life in the controlled environment of his house, leaving it only to visit certain geometrically tolerable shops within walking distance. The house itself was geometrically perfect: every cupboard, every table, every painting, every book, everything, was aligned with the utmost precision.

With one exception. When they moved in, they inherited most of the furniture and fittings, including the living room carpet and settee. The previous occupants had had the settee at a very slight angle to the wall, and in the years they'd lived there, its four legs had moulded permanent depressions into the carpet. Consequently, the settee was fixed in its bad position, because whenever it was nudged slightly, it slid back. There was no question of nudging it beyond the depressions, because it was hemmed in from all sides, and there was nowhere else in that cramped little living room where it could realistically go.

The misalignment was tiny, but Christopher could easily discern it. It had irked him when they moved in all those months ago, and it had irked him a fraction more every day since. He'd rowed with Liz about it quite recently, demanding that they buy a new carpet and/or a new settee, but she - the trouser wearer - had refused, on the grounds that they couldn't afford such things yet. The settee was staying.

Today was a day too far for Christopher. When he walked into the living room, he broke down, falling helplessly onto the settee. He cried his eyes out. He needed everything in his world to be aligned! He needed the settee to be aligned! He needed to rescue the settee!

Something suddenly occurred to him. He stopped shaking and his tears abruptly ceased. What if, rather than the settee being misaligned in his otherwise-aligned little world, the settee was actually the central object of reference, and it was the world around it that was misaligned? In such a framework, the settee would by definition be aligned, and therefore rescued. Yes! Christopher smiled and hugged the settee. The new framework replaced the old one in his mind.

But then Christopher gasped as the consequences of his new way of thinking forced themselves upon him. Everything around him was now misaligned! Everything! He curled up into a ball on the settee and buried his face in the backrest. He clenched his teeth and tried to breathe slowly. He was adrift on this settee in a world gone mad. He knew he could never leave the settee; he was trapped on it as surely as if he were super-morbidly obese.

Several hours later, at six o'clock, Liz came home. She opened the front door and walked in, dumping her coat and handbag on a chest of drawers. She frowned when she didn't smell cooking. "Where's my dinner?" she shouted.

Christopher heard her. He'd barely moved an inch all afternoon, and for the last half hour he'd been fighting the urge to urinate. The word dinner made him realise that he was hungry as well - very hungry. He turned his head and looked about him, squinting at the harsh sight of the misaligned room. He saw some flowers in a vase on the occasional table by the settee. They'll do, he thought. He reached out and brought the vase into his chest, spilling half the water in the process. He drank the remainder, and then stuffed the flowers stalks-first into his mouth. While he was mashing these stalks between his teeth, he unzipped his fly and pulled his penis through, intending to urinate into the vase. But he wasn't watching what he was doing down there, and the stream flowed instead onto the carpet.

Liz, having ascertained that her husband wasn't in the kitchen, now entered the living room. "Christopher!"

Christopher, the flowers hanging out of his mouth and the urine flowing out of his penis, studied this female intruder. He thought he should recognise her, but he didn't. He waited for her to say something more, but she stayed silent. She'd been a hazy vision to begin with through his squinting eyes, but now she was starting to disappear. Christopher pushed the flower heads into his mouth and ate them. With his bladder relieved and his hunger lessened, he rolled against the backrest and closed his eyes. He had a conviction that the flowers would be replaced regularly, so that was his food and drink taken care of. He saw the feasibility of his new life of motionlessness, and he was contented. He rubbed his head from side to side against the padding, enjoying the sound it made in his ears - a sound that masked his wife's sullen footsteps as she walked slowly away.