What is your name? he asks. Scheherazade. He will never know if it is true. That night they drive to the desert. The house is left empty, save for the cat. It wanders the streets like a small spectre in black felt, or a breeze blown bin bag. Vague shapes on a dark night can be interpreted as anything. For a thousand days it encounters adventure and adversity fit to fill a thousand pages, before returning to find a single lit window in the highest room. The cat becomes a casserole, prepared by the new owner, and its pelt a pair of fine warm socks. They arent worn for long however: the wearer chokes on an avocado, chosen on a perverse whim.
An undertaker and an estate agent line their pockets, the world continues to revolve, and then there is someone else, sitting in an armchair. He is reading a book. It contains a story that begins with a drive to the desert. He has almost reached the part containing an amusing but fatal misunderstanding but then he rises from his seat, perturbed by a nocturnal creak. He takes out his gun, stuffed into a rip in the chairs lining. He has already lost one good television set to thieves and doesnt intend to lose another. As the door swings open he fires once and is blasted in return. The bullet passes through his heart and shatters a goldfish bowl behind him. As she, her husband, and, most tragically, the goldfish lie dying, his wife wonders why she assumed her spouse was asleep in his box-room when she embarked on her pistol toting burglar hunt. The man considers that he did not slip enough sedatives into his wifes tea that evening. The goldfish contemplates that it was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chalk outlines are drawn and erased, stains scrubbed and, after the moon has chased the sun and the sun the moon a few times, normal service is resumed.
A very old man lives in the house now. He enjoys hallucinogens frequently and waters the carpet with a battered tin watering can, having scattered grass-seeds joyfully throughout. Eventually, in a moment of grand inspiration, he cracks the floorboards, takes a drill to the foundations, and plants a tree in the sitting room. For him the propertys value has increased immeasurably but to his landlord not even a little. The tree is of an endangered species and cannot legally be removed. Bamboozled by the serene bastard, his landlord eventually ceases swearing and, sighing in tearful resignation, writes the house off as a loss. The very old man leaves the next day, his work there done. The tree grows taller, the seasons fade into one another, and in the desert a man and woman lie on a car bonnet, watching aeroplanes pass overhead. What is your name? he asks. She questions him in return, Does it matter? Trails crisscross the sky. The man and woman look for pictures in the clouds.
The house remains empty, aside from the ghost of the goldfish, sadly lamenting its fate to the tree, which in turn laments the fact that it is fluent in goldfish. Lamentations continue until the tree is dry and leafless and, after the application of an axe, lawnmower, and exorcist, actual human people again occupy the house. Their purchase was swayed by the novelty of a tree trunk coffee table, which proves impractical but a conversation piece nonetheless. One of these people professes an aversion to spiders, leading one day to the irritation of the other. Why must I be the one with the rolled up newspaper? he cries, Why must I be the one to bear the bad karma of all these tiny murders? She purses her lips and says nothing, secretly believing that she was once a spider and he another man with another rolled up newspaper, hoping that in the next life those roles will be reversed. The spider wistfully remembers the days when it was a cat; oh, what days they were. Then a forceful tabloid blow interrupts its reverie and it becomes something else entirely. A few months later both human people are mown down by an articulated lorry. In court, the driver claims his vision was obscured by a news sheet blown on to the windshield, and is acquitted of all charges. Somewhere else, the wind picks up dust from the dunes and it dances in a thousand and one swirling patterns.
The house changes hands many more times, once to an exceptionally bad trapeze artist who still insists on following his dream despite the fact that it has broken every bone in his body at least twice, another time to a wrathful comedian prone to attacking hecklers, then to a highly successful crack cocaine gang who eventually leave because they feel the neighbourhood has gone downhill. Finally it is sold to a nice young scriptwriter who lives there with her partner without incident and dies in contentment at the age of one hundred years, eleven months, and twenty-eight days. While living there she writes her magnum opus, an adaptation of another work, which meets widespread acclaim and smashes many a box-office record. It concerns an ordinary suburban house and the lives of the people that live there over the years. Meanwhile wars are fought and lost or won; and humanity loses regardless. Pioneers invent exciting new methods of recreational time wasting. Seconds continue to contribute to minutes, which in turn build hours, days, and years.
The house goes through more owners: a spy who has switched sides so many times that he has forgotten who he works for, a chef obsessed with making the worlds tiniest pizza: invisible to the naked eye. The house is converted into a guesthouse, a shop selling fancy-dress costumes, a dental surgery; at one point it becomes the headquarters of a team of con artists who manage to fool even themselves. It is torn down to make way for a telecommunications mast, which is in turn torn down by an angry mob armed with pitchforks and flaming torches that claim it is cooking their childrens brains with radiation. A house is built in its place, identical in every detail to the one that came before it.
A man and woman drive through the desert in a dusty black convertible. A voice on the radio speaks of a corrupt and tyrannical dictator, of how he is buying big shiny attack helicopters and crowd control flamethrowers from governments that really ought to know better, to the outrage of human rights organisations everywhere. He was once a spider, before that a cat. The radio is switched off, and the woman speaks. So? Arent you going to ask me? The desert stretches on and on in all directions, as if there is nothing else out there and never was. The man shrugs. Does it matter? She turns to the road ahead. If it is quiet enough, you can hear anything. If it is dark enough, you can see anything. When she turns again he is gone.