Good Reading : December January 2006
DECEMBER 2005 • JANUARY 2006 ı goodreading 61 marked ON/OFF. Suddenly the screen seemed to vanish from her window, as if it had been whipped away by a gust of wind. Light beamed in again through the glass, making Jeanette blink. But it was not the light of Rusborough South. Where the hell was Rusborough South? The shop across the road was gone. The dismal streets the colour of used kitty litter were gone. The bus shelter with the poster about saying no to domestic violence was gone. Instead, the world outside had changed to a scene of startling beauty. The house had seemingly relocated itself right in the middle of a spacious country garden, the sort you might see in a TV documentary about Beatrix Potter or somebody like that. There were trellises with tomatoes growing on them, and rusty watering cans, and little stone paths leading into rosebushes, and rickety sheds half-lost in thicket. Much love had obviously been poured into the design and the tending of this place, but nature was getting the best of it now, gently but insistently spilling over the borders with lush weeds and wild- flowers. At its wildest peripheries the garden merged (just about at the point where the Rusborough shop ought to be) into a vast sloping meadow that stretched endlessly into the distance. The tall grass of that meadow rippled like great feathery waves in the breeze. In the sky above, an undulating V- for mation of white geese was floating along, golden in the sunlight. Entranced, Jeanette moved closer to the window, right up to the win- dowsill. The smudges on the glass were just as they had been for weeks, years maybe. Beyond them, the world really was what it appeared to be, radiant and tranquil. The perspective changed subtly just the way it should, when she turned her head or looked down. Just underneath the window, a discarded slipper had moss growing on it, and flower petals were being scattered across the ground by a tiny sparrow. Jeanette pressed her nose against the glass and tried to peek sideways, to see the joins. All she could see was some kind of ivy she didn’t have a name for, nuzzling at the edges of the window, dark green with a spot of russet red at the heart of each leaf. Her ear, so close now to the glass, heard the little beak of that spar- row quite clearly, the infinitely subtle rustle of the leaves, the distant honking of the geese. ‘It’s a video, right?’ she said shakily. To keep her awe at bay, she closed her eyes and tried to see the view through her window objectively. She imagined it as a sort of endless re-run of the same film of a country garden, with the same birds flying the same circuit at intervals like in those shop window displays at Christmas, those mechanical tableaux in which Santa Claus lowered a sack of presents into a chimney endlessly with- out ever letting it go. ‘No, it’s not a video,’ mur mured the saleswoman. ‘Well, some sort of film anyway,’ said Jeanette, opening her eyes again. The geese were out of sight now, but the golden light was deepening. ‘How long does it go for?’ The saleswoman chuckled indul- gently, as though a small child had just asked her when the sun would fall back to the ground. ‘It goes forever,’ she said. ‘It’s not any kind of film. It’s a real place, and this is what it’s like there, right now, at this very moment.’ Jeanette struggled with the idea.The sparrow had jumped onto the windowsill. It was utterly, vividly real. It opened its minuscule mouth and chirped, then shiv- ered its wings, shedding a couple of fluffs. ‘You mean … I’m looking into somebody else’s back garden?’ asked Jeanette. ‘In a way,’ said the saleswoman, opening her leatherbound folder and leafing through its waterproofed pages. ‘This is a satellite broadcast of … let me see … the grounds of the Old Priory, in Northward Hill, Rochester. This is what is happening there right now.’ Jeanette became suddenly aware that she was gaping like an idiot. She closed her mouth and frowned, trying to look cynical and unimpressed. ‘Well,’ she said, staring out across the meadows. ‘There’s not a great deal happening there, is there?’ ‘That’s a matter of opinion, of course,’ conceded the saleswoman. ‘We do have Outlooks which view onto more … eventful landscapes. There is the Blue Surge Outlook, which broadcasts the view through the lighthouse at Curlew Point, Cruidlossie, the third- stormiest beach in the British Isles. For those who like trains, we have the Great Valley Crossing Outlook, which has three major railways running serv- ices past it. For animal lovers, we have the Room To Roam Outlook, viewing onto an organic sheep farm in Wales …’ Jeanette was watching her little sparrow hop away across the garden, and the saleswoman’s voice was a twit- ter in the background. ‘Mm?’ she said. ‘Oh well actually, this is … fine.’ ‘It’s particularly lovely at night,’ added the saleswoman in a soft, beguil- ing tone. ‘Owls come out. They catch mice in the garden.’ ‘Owls?’ echoed Jeanette. She had never seen an owl. She had seen a lot of things. She’d seen kids sniffing glue, she’d once stumbled onto an attempted The world outside had changed to a scene of startling beauty. The house had seemingly relocated itself right in the middle of a spacious country garden.