Blackness outside; in reality, a very dirty orange sky, just before dawn, shot through with a hint of purple. The liquid twitter of birds in stereo outside my window means that there must be at least two birds left.
Michèle sweetly labored till 1 a.m. to connect the camera to the computer, but to no avail. Despite her awesome gifts of logic and deduction, and the last-minute phone ministering of Lori from Microsoft, this week’s journal must conclude without any pictures. You just have to take my word for it that everything happened as I described.
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, our friend J. was standing outside his neighbour’s kitchen window one evening a month or so ago. Through the glass he could see his wife K. and their two children talking to some giant squirrels. The squirrels had obviously given their human guests some refreshment, as K. had a slice of multicolored Betty Crocker cake in one hand and a goblet of red wine in the other. J. felt unable to enter the scene before him; it was as if there was a membrane stretched between himself and what he saw. Sitting at the restaurant table in Richmond the other night, he told us, “It was almost like they were fish in a tank, and I was outside, watching. If I’d gone in, I’d have got my clothes all wet.”
J. watched the scenario unfolding with opiate grace before him. The squirrels, in a simple, unfussy way, were showing his wife a series of household appliances. Whisks, spatulas, waffle-irons, egg-cups, and heat-proof enamel bowls (but no crockery or cutlery, J. noted) were delicately waved beneath K.’s nose as though she might wish to sample their bouquets.
Sitting opposite him in the restaurant, K. concluded the story. “The thing was, nobody mentioned anything, you know? In terms of, like, them being what they were—I mean, squirrels, right?—and us being people. We stood there for an hour, maybe—I don’t know, an hour and a half, even—and they just showed us whisks and beaters and grinders and stuff …”
K. twirled the stem of her wineglass and stared at the tablecloth as if she had her next sentence written on it.
“Did they … try to sell you anything?” asked Michèle
K. looked across at her, then K. and J. both began to speak at once.
“Well I …”
“I can’t say—no, you go ahead, honey.”
“That’s the darnedest thing,” said K., taking some more wine. “They showed me those things, like it was booty they had captured, or something. But there was no … pressure, you know? Then the kids showed up—they’d been in the basement or somewhere—and it was ‘Time to go home! See you!’ and then we were back home again. Everybody acted so normal. As if we were one of them!”
“What was in that package?” I asked J. “The one you got from Sheriff Greaves.”
“I left it, didn’t I? Must have left it against Lori’s wall.” (Lori being the squirrel-headed neighbour who had invited our friends next door.) “Next day it was gone. Could have been a model airplane, maybe … or one of those long fishes, like a salmon.” J. shook his head gently, and for a moment he looked tired and slightly sad. “I don’t know, Robyn.”
Next day at school, and every morning after that, K. and J.’s children have found everything as it should be. The flag with the 50 acorns is run up the pole, and all the children salute. No problem.
Soon afterward, we said our farewells, and J. and K. hopped away into the night.
The meaning of life: Everybody knows the purpose of life: shopping. If we didn’t buy things then the economy would go flat and we would all starve. But the meaning of life is more elusive. I would say, and this is a shot in dark here, that many years ago there was a thing, and then that thing came apart, and the meaning of life is to put it back together again. Because, as long as they remain separate, the individual pieces of that thing are in pain. This is not to be confused with family values; a family is only worth what you pay for it. Nor should it be co-opted by national pride: Pride is just the flipside of shame, and we’ve heard both sides of that record too many times.
All you need is love.
Any improvement on that?
In memory of Karl, who was alive this time last week.