Grey morning. Not a good album title. “The Shape Of Speed” or “Howlin’ Bones” are both preferable, but they do not describe the view out of my window. I’ve washed my trousers and am ready to start investigating the camera again. If Captain Scott and his men had been equipped with digital cameras, the world could have watched them freeze to death, online, live from the Antarctic. We live in a pornocracy—everything has to be on a screen to be truly experienced. For a while now, a future has been envisaged where we no longer touch each other; because we’re too diseased, or too misshapen through lack of exercise, or too solipsistic, or just because the traffic outside is too bad. But we’re so well connected. …
I live in my ivory cone and feed on bad news. You hear only what you want to hear. It’s no good telling George W. Bush that he is an eco-terrorist and a threat to world peace, because he cannot see that he is.
“You must be mistaken, good buddy,” he might say. “I think you mean those bad folks over there, in the Evil Tent.”
It all makes sense when there isn’t any. For instance, Michèle and I were dining the other night in a West London restaurant with two friends of ours from North Carolina. This couple, J. and K., recently moved to a housing corral in the Raleigh-Durham area. The sheriff, they were told, is a fair-minded man called Mr. Greaves, but he’s away a lot. When J. and K. first found the house—a light, airy, wooden building in a semicircle of others—they were very pleased. They have two small children, and they noted that school was in walking distance. The ring of houses stands near a wood, and the trees grow tall around there. The atmosphere of the place seemed good—K. talked to us of a piquant, fresh scent in the air—and K.’s new job was imminent, so they decided to buy the place. Oddly, however, K. said that they hadn’t set eyes on a single neighbor before they moved in. But move in they did, and it wasn’t long before a knock came on the door. J. opened it, to see a thin-faced man, looking, as J. told us, a bit like Hank Williams. It was Sheriff Greaves.
” ‘M Sheryv Greeyves, ‘n’ I brung y’all a liyel gyerft,” he intoned mournfully and handed J. a brown paper parcel that looked as though it contained a salmon.
Sheriff Greaves reversed out of the doorway into the Carolina twilight before J. could even say a word. So J. closed the door and walked toward the kitchen with his package when the door was knocked on again.
“I thought we had a doorbell,” muttered J. as he spun back.
“I’ve got it, honey,” said K., and she opened the door.
Three figures stood in the doorway. K. told us, in a surprisingly composed voice, that they were a woman and two children, dressed much as K. and her children dress, but each with a squirrel’s head where a human one would be.
“Hi!” said the woman. “I’m Lori, this is Dan, and this is li’l Jennifer.”
“Hello,” said K. She called more loudly: “Honey, we’ve got guests, right outside the house.”
At this point their own children, T. and M., both appeared behind their mother and began checking out their squirrel-headed visitors.
“Well, hell-oh!” said the woman—her voice was clear and unmuffled, K. told us; she didn’t seem to be masked—”We’ve come to welcome you to Beech Grove Corral and invite you our Appliance Party! Lori, Dan, Jenny,” and here she indicated each of her brood and herself. K. saw that they all had grey paws on their hands and feet. The visiting child-squirrels said nothing, but K. could see the hallway light reflected in their lustrous black eyes. As she stared, she saw the mouth of one of them—Jennifer—convulse open, followed by a tongue flicking out briefly beneath a pair of yellow rodent’s teeth.
By now J. had returned and stood next to his wife. With their kids at their feet, they looked as if they’d asked the squirrels to come round and take a family tableau portrait.
“Halloween,” J. hissed to K.
“Oh … right …” K. wasn’t so sure and started wheeling numbers through her mind. The mother squirrel was speaking again. This time her voice sounded like a sped-up tape:
“So let’s get going here! Come ON! All RIGHT!”
Here she put out her paws, and K. was unnerved to see her daughter and son passively lift up their hands to the intruder. Lori beamed a seamless rodent grin at her neighbor:
“Ok, K——: I’ve got T– and M— here—we’ll be right next do-or!”
“How does she know our names already?” K. whispered fiercely to J.
Just then, the phone rang. J. turned to pick it up from the wall by the kitchen. K. saw her children being hopped next door by Lori the squirrel. Dan and Jenny were already halfway up a tree. …