It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in July. Louise, Giles and Janet had a picnic in a small field at the edge of the woods. After they'd finished their strawberries and cream, jam tarts and salmon sandwiches, Giles turned on the radio to hear the commentary on a football match. The team he supported were tormented by diverse manifestations of misfortune, from partially-sighted officials to a pitch invasion by a man who put a bucket over their goalkeeper's head. But the enforced laziness made it difficult for Giles to care. He couldn't even smile at the commentator's description of attempts to remove the bucket.
Janet decided to make a stand against the lethargy by going for a walk. She was gone for half an hour. When she returned to the picnic rug she said to Giles, "I found this peanut. I thought you might want to use it."
She gave him the peanut. He examined it closely, and an idea came to mind. His grandmother was once given a pheasant by a neighbour who loved doing anything he could do with a gun. He'd even discovered a way to shine his shoes by firing a gun. Giles's grandmother couldn't eat a creature after seeing its face, so she had the bird stuffed instead. But she couldn't stop seeing the face then. She felt that the eyes were always following her, and that the bird was looking at her accusingly, as if she was complicit in its death. So she removed the eyes and she kept them in a box. She put a patch over one of the pheasant's empty eye sockets. She was going to put a patch over the other one as well, but it didn't seem likely that a bird would have two eye patches. It wouldn't have survived for long enough to become plump enough for her neighbour to shoot it, and her neighbour would never have shot a creature with two eye patches anyway. It would have been like shooting fish in a barrel, which seems like a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon until you realise you're making holes in your barrel.
She tried lots of things to fill the eye socket. Marbles, bits of chewing gum and mashed potatoes all failed. She eventually settled on a diamond. Giles inherited the bird, and he hated it because the diamond was too ostentatious. He didn't like anything that elevated the material world. This is why he decided to put the peanut into the pheasant's eye socket. He felt that he was making an important statement by replacing a diamond with a humble peanut.
Giles and Louise had a visitor a few days after their picnic. When Giles answered the doorbell a middle-aged woman was standing on the doorstep, and she looked angry. She said, "I've heard from a reliable source that you have something that belongs to me. A peanut."
Giles didn't want to give up the peanut. He said, "I'm afraid your source is mistaken."
"I trust my source. She hasn't let me down in the past."
"There's a first time for everything. Being in possession of other people's peanuts isn't something I've ever aspired to."
"There's a first time for that as well."
"Maybe next week."
The woman went away without her peanut. Giles said to Louise, "How exactly did Janet acquire the peanut?"
"Didn't you ask her?"
"I assumed she had gone to a shop, bought a packet of peanuts and eaten all but one of them. I very nearly ate it, until I realised that it was just the thing I needed for the pheasant."
"I thought she'd found it stuck in some mud. That's where she finds most of the things she thinks other people might use. I was disappointed when you didn't eat it."
"I suppose we should find out where she got it."
Janet was in Switzerland on business, but he managed to contact her on the phone. She said she found the peanut on a plate on a picnic rug. A note on the plate said 'This belongs to Rita'. Janet believed that a peanut doesn't belong to anyone, so she took it. Giles thought she had done the right thing.
Rita returned on the following evening. She said, "My source is certain that you have the peanut. Certain."
"Well she's wrong," Giles said. "And anyway, it's only a peanut. It's wrong to be too attached to any material object."
"Why are you so attached to it?"
"Because... I'm not attached to anything. There's an important principle here. Two important principles. Firstly, you can't really own a peanut."
"Of course you can. If you can own a house or a car or a dog you can own a peanut."
"You can own these things, but you shouldn't really possess them. And it doesn't really matter, because the second important principle is... Well, the second principle is that you can own these things but you shouldn't really possess them."
"Doesn't that contradict the first principle, that you can't really own a peanut?"
"The point is this: you might have possessions but you should be able to let them go, and not be in the slightest bit concerned about their loss."
"Another important principle is that you shouldn't let people steal for you. I was just about to eat that peanut when I was informed of something I had to see, so I went to investigate. It was a message carved on a tree. It was a deeply offensive message, though we had to admire the craftsmanship. And when I came back the peanut was gone. I want to retrieve it because someone stole it from me."
"I'll make you an offer. I'll give you a diamond instead of the peanut."
"No. I want the peanut."
"I can make you a better offer. I'll give you two glass eyes. They used to belong to a pheasant."
"If the pheasant had two glass eyes, how was he able to see?"
"He acquired the eyes after his death."
She thought about the offer for about a minute before saying, "I'll take the eyes."
Giles congratulated her on valuing two glass pheasant eyes and a peanut more than a diamond. He said he admired her character. They had an interesting conversation about society's immersion in material things, and they found that they held similar views on many issues. She invited him around to her house to see the glass eyes in their new context.
He called around two days later, and she took him to the eyes' new home in her living room. A few years before this, she had bought a one-eyed stuffed peacock at an auction. She used to have it in her living room, but it made people feel uncomfortable so she put it in her attic. With the pheasant eyes she could bring the peacock back down to the living room. She put one of the pheasant eyes into the empty eye socket and she kept the other one on the plate where the peanut had been, next to the note that said 'This belongs to Rita'. The peacock with odd eyes was guarding the plate with the peanut. Giles found the scene disturbing. He had to go home to the re-assuring gaze of the single-peanut-eyed pheasant.