“London,” said my beautiful friend, “is infested with foxes. They get at my garden, they dig things up, they leave their little messes … it’s awful! And at night they bark, like seals, raspy and quick. Last week one hopped my garden wall, right there at the back. I can’t let the cats outside after dark.”
I went for a ramble. A fox darted from an alley, zipped under a Vauxhall, and disappeared into a storm drain. Later I saw one in the underground, tail like a flag, trotting off into the tunnels. That night, entangled with my beautiful friend in sheets so soft they flowed, I heard one bark. Raspy, yes. And lonely.
I wanted to trap them, take them away, both for their sake and to spare my friend the agony of living in a city infested by foxes — but there were so many! Where to begin?
Before catching the long flight home to the U.S., I gave my friend mortar, a trowel, and a pallet of bricks. “Wait for me,” I implored, “and build a higher wall.”
One year later, I visited London again. This time it was infested with gorillas. “It’s awful,” said my languorous friend, as she poured a waterfall of pure white sugar into the depths of her steaming tea. “They’re everywhere, and they’re so strong, like enormous children. They damage everything they touch.”
When I went out, I discovered gorillas at the Wimbledon tobacconists, examining the hail of morning news with critical, crinkled eyes. A young male sat in a King’s Cross off-license, crushing pints of Tetley’s Bitter with his massive, pink-gray toes; the place smelled of yeast, and foamy suds draped the shelves in all directions. Passing through Brixton, I spotted two females furtively attempting to converse with the harried commuters in sign language, and outside of Green Park an entire gorilla family followed the horse guards and took turns sniffing the horses’ bottoms.
I gave my exemplary friend a parting gift: a bespectacled teddy bear with tufty brown fur, very unlike a gorilla. “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear,” I said, dropping the comma to be sure she’d spot the joke. “I already miss your laugh.”
On my next visit, I discovered London to be overrun with poets. “Oh,” complained my sated friend, “it was wonderful for a week or so, but now? You can’t go anywhere without getting The Idylls of the King hurled at you. And all these vast sentiments of love, you can hardly breathe. It’s awful.”
I went out and discovered she had not exaggerated. Poets of all sizes and descriptions recited from every street corner. They gathered by the hundreds on Hampstead Heath. In St. Paul’s they drowned out the services, and at St. Martin-in-the-Fields they were down on their knees perfecting brass rubbings and crowding out the regular homeless population. They quoted Wordsworth and Goethe and Shakespeare and Goss; they leveled Levine at you one minute, Sappho the next, then Neruda and Milne, Marvell and Sandberg, all in spitfire fashion, littering pyrrhics and spondees like so many gum wrappers. Bullets of poetry, bam, blam, wham! Stein, Homer, Tucker! Keats, Pound, Brooke! A constant snowstorm of earth-rending, heart-shattering words.
I also noted a plethora of gorilla-skin boots and fuzzy silver-black chapeaus, but opted not to buy. For my long-suffering friend, I left an envelope, stamped, addressed to Outer Space. “We must be messages in bottles,” I explained.
“Must we?” she said, and I, chagrined, wept into her shoulder.
When I returned the next year, there wasn’t a poet to be found. “London,” said my wistful friend, “is swarming with table-tennis tournaments.”
I thought about this, then made my announcement: “I do not have a return ticket.”
“How will you get home?”
“I love you,” I said.
“Don’t you want to go out? See the horrors for yourself?”
Such a smile, then: not raspy or damaging or stuffed with Taliesynic meaning, but a warm smile nonetheless. We married within the week, and the bells rang out just as they do on Christmas Day, but spontaneously, with no one there to pull the ropes.
“Would you call me insane if I said I missed the foxes?” asked my wife. “If I were to say, ‘Here, they need more foxes’?”
But we stood alone in London, for everyone else had gone. Now London is infested with us.