Write or Die

May 4, 2008

America, you may have noticed, is in the grip of a competition mania. Competition - life blood of children's games, drug of choice for childish adults. Yeah, I said it.

It makes for interesting television. Chefs, dress designers, ballroom dance teams (with "stars" from forgotten sitcoms and yesterday's news) ... So far no neurosurgeons or air traffic controllers. 

With such a fertile field, why have no television producers risen to the challenge of seeking out "America's Top Writer!"

At the moment it isn't the purpose of this site to fill that gap. That's not to say the idea isn't attractive in itself. There's something comfortable about being free of the responsibility of drawing one's own conclusions based on one's own informed subjective judgement. Note the danger words in that last sentence: free. responsibility. informed. A triad of anxiety at this particular time.

About twelve years ago the British writer Martin Amis included in his novel The Information the following exchange between a Chicago talk-radio host and his guest, an obscure writer named Richard Tull: 
"Don't you wish sometimes," said Dub, "that writing were just like sports?  That you could just go out there and see who'd win? See who's better. Measurably. With all the stats.

"Richard thought about it. "Yeah," he said.
Yeah, says Richard Tull, believing heartily that all the stats would point to his superiority over his former friend, the world's favorite talentless scrivener Gwyn Barry.  The Information, it's worth noting, was harshly received by critics when it came out. Sad to say, it was not even selected for Ophrah's club as Gwyn Barry's Amelior certainly would have been.

Well, there will be no stats here. What there will be is some of my current writing, offered to unwary interweb wanderers. And some of your writing, too, if you care to send any. And if I happen to like it.

If you would like to comment on my stuff, please do so.  I'll be happy to read yours. Send me anything you're working on and I'll either comment on it in a reply, or maybe post it if you give me permission. 

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lord Lightly [work in progress]

Give me a day or two — I’ve always been able to bounce back. Just give me a decent night’s sleep. The kid who saved me smells nice. The mother ... I don’t know. She's got that tight-lipped “I’ve-had-all-I-can-take look. My first job, I guess, will be to make her forget whatever it is that’s eating her. It’ll be a long probation.

Talk about bouncing back, my thoughts are bouncing like tennis balls at an old folks home. How’s my girl Ming doing? What will happen to the Lightly kids? Elmer takes care of himself, always has. A terrier like me will always look like a pup, the way ponies look like young horses, but I've had my tail to the wall ever since I first shoved my way to my mother's teat. Other dogs, other people, have always struck me as children. Even Old Lightly.

It's hard to imagine that only two weeks ago he and I were out making the best of a fine Sunday afternoon. Dog heaven, with a sky of burnished cobalt and a prismatic universe of leaves aflame in gorgeous death. We missed the omen passing over us with the migrating hawks. Both of us felt young that scintillating day, and one of us was pretty drunk.

I’m no drinker, so that leaves the dark-eyed, silver-haired Lightly. At his best he had an aloof, even aristocratic presence. He was intelligent and good-looking. Born into affluence but cut off from his father's will (let me tell you know how I know all this: like most dogs, I listen and look.) before building affluence of his own practicing law. He shared a bed each night with the first serious mistake he had made in life, and this had led to his second mistake which was hidden in pints, fifths, and half-gallons from attic to garage. These are my opinions, and this is all you will hear of them.

Here is all I'll say about myself. I’m a mutt. A shelter mutt. No pedigree. Maybe that’s why I have a tough hide. I’ve been called “cute” in the insufferable human terminology, probably because I’m one of those terriers who always looks like he’s laughing. I’m not. I remember hearing once, when I was a purblind little mewing pup, that my mother was a terrier of some kind and my father was a standard poodle. Picture an unusually reserved terrier with legs slightly longer than average, with a curly coat of white with gray patches on my ears, back and hindquarters. I have no papers except the medical stuff saying my bite won’t kill you. No genealogy, no family history. And only one set of owners — the Lightlys — until my breakup with that clan, and now this lady and her wonderfully aromatic daughter, who, I hope, will soon get tired of playing with my ears.

My ancestors aren’t in any Dutch paintings or Egyptian hieroglphics, which is fine with me. Most of the dogs I’ve known with pedigrees that, to hear them tell it, go back to the fall of Rome, are crazier than fruit bats.

Getting back to my last day with old Lightly, I was out in the yard, frisking around, pretending to hunt rats. There weren’t any, of course. But I’m a ratter in my bones. My heritage may not be registered in DeBrett’s peerage, but I was born to rat. And that was a rat-banging day if ever there was one. I was whipping through the twigs and leaves, ripping up sod, and snarling like le loup garou. You just can’t beat ratting on an Indian summer afternoon. To an onlooker was probably a funny little mutt making a fuss out of nothing. In my mind, though, I was Henry the Fifth at Agincourt, my Crispin Day pep talk ringing into the sky. Imagination is everything. Everything.

Watch those who lose their imagination, two-legged or four. An epiphanic Sunday summons their souls, yet suffocating yet sit they , in their long hair, drooling like fools, sprawling in overheated rooms with their dullard masters, mesmerized by a football game on a screen the size of the Bayeau Tapestry. Pathetic.

The fighting spirit in both man and beast is utterly atrophied by indoor living and overeating. And the athletes on the screen? Louts in obscene costumes. Caricatures of masculinity. Immense shoulders and these tight, tight, gleaming, groin-accentuating panties. What’s that about? I’ll tell you. It’s about spiritual degeneracy. It’s about the decline of civilization and not just western but civilization at every point of the compass. Don’t get me started. They always say scratch a small dog and you’ll find a theorist. And a yappy theorist, at that. Okay. Annoying? Maybe the truth is what’s annoying you, pal.
What’s worse are the dogs who slavishly throw away their caninity to take on the worst aspects of humanity. Lie down with humans — arise with sorrow. Dogs cannot play football. So why watch it? Me, I’m a ratter. And rat-banging isn’t a game. It’s an art.
Old Lightly did his best. No TV for him. True, he wore the scent of mortality like a Yemeni kid wears cheap aftershave. Soaked to the skin. Humans probably never noticed a thing, but to me Lightly had a smell like stale beer, bong water, and pee in a concrete stairwell. I loved him, though, and when you love a master you just fight past that stuff. Here he was outside with me, wrestling with the wrought iron yard furniture (a stupid purchase by that woman of his who never moved any of it an inch), lugging it to the garage for the winter. He had planned to put the yard furniture away on Sunday anyway, But then the woman jumped him and poisoned the whole undertaking by telling him he had to do it. These sort of pointless beefs had eaten up the whole summer.
So Lightly, at this point, was at the angry stage of his Sunday drinking. Each of those chairs was heavier than a dead priest, and each one was spreckled with bird merde, cigarette ash, and the rings from glasses of gin and tonic. Lightly tugged and lugged and fought each one of them into the garage, cursing like a Tourettes patient, his face as purple as an egg plant and the veins in his neck and bulging as if his whole head was a stroke waiting to happen. The guy looked scary. But I’m no good at calming people down. Just not my job. So I let him go at it.
There was no danger to me in his mood as I trundled through the matted garden, huffing like a nut, my eyes like slits as I scoped out a possible weasel hole or a fat snake. Lightly and I passed to and throw, me breaking and shaking damp divots of dead grass. Old LIghtly lurching and cursing, smoking like a hot guitar and almost completely missing the infinite, I say infinite glory of the day, poor raging bastard.
Good thing about Lightly: he didn’t give a damn what I did to the lawn. The woman only cared in summer when she fooled with the flowers and plants around the edges. Planting crap. Giving free lunch to vermin as far as I could see. She had a big problem with my relieving myself here. Screeched like a peacock whenever she kneeled in a pile of it. Never knew why. Funny thing about her.
Once or twice I cut a look at poor Lightly, the way he was slamming and crashing that furniture around, lighting fresh smokes and losing them and then getting even angrier about that. The man was a sketch
Every once in awhile, and then more and more frequently, Lightly would disappear into the garage for a long pull from the Dewars bottle. Top secret, right? Whenever Lightly got himself all purpled up on a Sunday he was always free with the treats and dinner scraps so, from a dog perspective, this was fine. Being a dog with a brain (and, as you can see, a thesaurus) I did nothing to stop him. But I did not like to see him make a fool of himself. No. It demeaned him. Demeaned him sadly.
The autumn air was, as it should be, full of death, full of havoc. Invigorating, in other words. Bracing! Knowing that you’re still up top, bangin’ rats when all heaven is falling to the ground, crackling and rasping and turning to muck. Damn, I love life. My master was as good as they get, none better. He might scratch behind your ears and rub your chest. Or he might give you a boot in the ribs. But no hypocrisy. No tricks.
The Lightlys ate well and, god love him, Lightly was a meat man. Bad in his excesses but correct in knowing that his own future, like all of ours, is presaged by the Indian summer leaves, crystalline and lapidary, and then ripped and whipped by the wind.
Lady Lightly was a chilly soul. Smelled nice until you realized the smell was Chanel. What she smelled like herself was the whoosh of breath from the fridge when Squire Lightly came down after midnight for a Heineken and a long gulp of iced Kettle One. The lady had an odd way of petting me, when she touched me at all, with only her left hand. Never the right hand, for fear of carrying some dread dog contaminates to her flawless face. I found it offensive. Didn’t care for it. No. Not at all.
That last afternoon with Lord Lightly is something I look back on with pleasure. Nippy. We like it nippy. We like the breeze to have a bite in it. Once he had gotten all of the lawn furniture stacked up in whatever way would be least convenient for his wife, he settled down and relaxed. A half-dangerous warmth and rather unreliable assurance glowed from his presence. He sat and talked to me, which I found a bit boring and confusing. What I liked far better was when he kicked leaves my way and went shambling after the deliciously filthy old tennis ball we had played with all summer. He finally (and miraculously) found it in the mulch behind the red bud tree. Instantly he infused it with new life; it sprang from his hand and flew to the back fence. After it I stormed, giving a terrible breathless growl. My imagination blazing, acting the absolute fool, but living, really living life at the pinnacle of dog glory.
At last the agglomeration of ugly and dangerous wrought iron monstrosities was abolished. The evening was a distant fire behind the naked trees. Summer had been bagged up with the leaves and swept off the driveway. The sky darkened quickly, as if the sun had an appointment somewhere else and was already late. Only a fading strip of gold smoldered behind the fence lines. Beer cans clanked in the garage where Lightly was finishing his work (after adding to it with whatever additional beer cans and scotch receptacles he had drained that day), and I knew that soon he would wade toward the house, beaten up from his exertions and his secret cigarettes and drink.
I charged up the back steps and waited for him on the porch. At last, always slower than you think, he climbed the steps. I waited. When you’re built like me you have to make sure the door is being held open for you. This time it was. I clattered past the man and rushed into the slippery rink of the kitchen.
By the time the people had finished supper, the thrumming heat of the house had scorched the day’s chill out of me. Dame L. had given his lordship hell at the table for his drinking, and my lord, nothing daunted, had given it back with interest. He calmed sufficiently to slip me a treat or two before falling unconscious in the easy chair. I lay at his feet. The TV rioted and the kids ignored us. At midnight the lady woke me up and sent me to the kitchen where I was sequestered every night. The house went dark and I heard them settle in their beds. I nosed a chew toy off my cushion and put my head down to watch the trees outside the glass until I fell asleep.
That night I dreamed of dark people moving through narrow paths of red and gold leaves. Sunlight slipped through the branches and dappled their skin, and pheasant and partridge burst out of the low brush. I’ve seen none of this but I feel it, even in the city, when the leaf voices simmer and the breeze carries old wild scents.
Dawn of a new day, and Lightly (perhaps better say Lowly in respect for his wretched headache) let me out into the backyard again. The scent of the fall’s first frost triggered mystic visions of burrowing creatures in my canine soul. I growled deep and grimly in my throat as I patrolled the fence line and the perimeter of the garage for rodent, rabbit, ermine … even boar! Yes, even bear! If only humans would allow their imaginations to guide them, as we humbler animals do, they would free themselves of the terrible stress and myriad ailments that chase them into early graves. Of course I knew the beasts I stalked were entirely fictional. There was no chance of coming across any of these. So it was my own imagination that I pursued as I buzzed and rumbled through the dew.
Lightly lumbered off to work, grouchy and hungover. Bernice and Kirk, the solemn, blue-eyed, golden-haired Lightly progeny, ambled away to school, noses so high in the air, that they were blind to the promise of the day. Lady L. deplored the man’s hangover but had one of her own from her nightly fistful of xanax and nearly lethal barbiturates. She had to dig especially deep into the kids’ Ritalin to wake up. Bernice, at fifteen, was conscientiously starving herself with a diet of vitamins, chocolate, Sobe Adrenaline and cigarettes, while seventeen year old Kirk reserved his appetite strictly for Cliff bars and marijuana. It would have done the whole clan a world of good to start the day with a ramble with me, but with their morning moods I was lucky to get out the backdoor without a kick in the slats.
By midday the lady, until then mummified in a dismal caftan and some sort of mesopatamian head wrap, had let me back inside. Now she was in the shower. I waited in the hall, pleased as always by the drumming sound of the water. On a tour of inspection I wandered the children’s room and gathered the exhilarating scent of youth and its relative cleanliness. It was not just a clean as in having bathed. It was the innate cleanliness – no matter how jeopardized -- that is the privilege of children.
By contrast, the lady’s room-sized closet held a pernicious smell that seemed to be a manufactured imitation of what the children exuded naturally. Lightly’s scent, lingering heavily in the bed sheets, was complex and worrisome. A portentous tang. I felt my hackles rise as I took it in.
My investigations were interrupted by a shout from the lady. She loved startling me and accusing me of being up to no good. She was fun at these times, after her shower. We had some knockabout farce while she dressed, as I pretended to make off with her shoes. Then she put me out in the yard again and drove off to shop, first the gallerias, then the quacks who wrote scripts for her. I went to my favorite patch of concrete on the driveway where I had unobstructed seating (or snoozing) for guarding our sidewalk. When the sun was high, I spent a lot of time here, lolling and watching, dozing and spying.
Mondays are quiet. Fewer children. The ones you see at mid morning, during school hours, have a furtive air. A few old folks pass by, pleased to have the sidewalk to themselves. When dogs appear, I call out to them, a welcome for my crew, a warning for strangers. They all acknowledge it in some small way, if only with a hitch in their step, or an offside tail wag to say, “I feel you, man. Gotto walk my master now, but I’ll catch you later. A few brothers and sisters from around the way chime in. None of us has much to say, but it’s enough to know that we’re all here, waiting, watching, wanting the same things: companionship, sport, chow.
I look back on that life as if it were a dream. It seemed to me then that my people were just a cut above. Our yard, a little bigger, a little nicer. My man and my lady, a little more attuned to dog realities. You could trust them – even if only to be themselves. Ah, how quickly the Indian summer is chased away by the bleak skies of winter.
The sun had moved from glaring directly into my eyes to being a hot drowsy blanket on my back when I heard the car in the drive. I was alert instantly, and could feel my tail snap to attention like a flag. The sun told me the time was closer to two o’clock than to noon. And, by the way the lady got out of the car, I could feel that something was wrong. I had never seen her cry before, but I could tell she had been crying now. The kids were in tears, as well. An unprecedented situation.
The lady hustled them into the house. The door was shut. In ten minutes, the lady’s parents arrived. Ten minutes more, and here was Lightly senior, my man’s father. The next hour brought the Lightly’s mother and her present husband (Lightly senior, apparently guided by tact, had not brought his own second spouse, who was not only younger than Lightly’s mother, but younger than his son, my master). For two hours more, people came, even the neighbors began dropping by. But my man, Master Lightly, had not shown.
At about three-thirty, judging by the October sun, Hector from two doors down scooted around the corner and we got nose to nose. Hector is a blue tick, and a big, bony, urgent guy. His people had come to see the lady and the kids. Through the white picket gate he gave me the news.
“Your man’s dead,” Heck said. “About eleven-thirty, right at work. He got into it with some guy from sales, and then down he goes like a rotten tree.”
Disbelief. I had never lost anyone before. I couldn’t grasp it.
“They got him to the hospital but he was DOA. They never got another flicker out of him. I’m sorry, man.”
I raised my eyes to heaven and gave a long, keening wail. Grieve, oh grief, oh blind me to the light of heaven! Rend my hide and throw my weeping soul out into the silent storms of space! The man who had chosen me! My best friend in life! I am undone. Stoke the funeral pyre that I may throw myself upon it and leave this tombal earth in flames.
I ran in circles. I couldn’t help it. Part of you says you ought to do something, but there’s no enemy to attack. You snap at cold truth and come away with nothing.
“Yeah,” Hector said, a little nervously. We terriers are an emotional lot and I had scared him. “I’m sorry, Elm baby. Your man was cool. What was he, only about 280? Practically a kid.”
“Two hundred and sixty-six,” I said, remembering his last birthday, and the cake I had thrown up afterwards. Hector dropped his head and shook his dewlaps.
“Well, I had to let you know. They’ll probably leave you out here a long time today. Hey, here are my people. Gotta go. But listen,” Hector said, giving me the old dogbrother look, “Watch your back.”
“Why?” I said.
“Dude, when life changes for them, it changes for you. Don’t ever forget that, Elmboy.”
And it’s true. This is the lesson barked down through the ages among dogs of every faith and nation, but it was news to me. It is the fact of life for millions ⎯ I said millions ⎯ of hounds on the outside making it any way they can, “on the hard” as we say. But it was news to me. In a crisis, people stick with people, but they’ll cut a dog loose even while you grieve for them. Old news, yes, but it was news to me.
You have heard by now of how dogs do not really love. The scientists say it is all a conditioned response. They would like to correct the sentimental notion that dogs know things, and feel emotions. Well, that certainly works for the agenda of science. Having done all they can to dehumanize humanity they aim higher and try to dehumanize dogs. Sentimentality has earned dogs this backlash. Sentimentality, the over-doing-it of compassion. Not as bad a vice as greed or ⎯ the prince of vices ⎯ hypocrisy. The best of them may shake off all seven of the deadly ones, but they’ll still fall flat on their faces when it comes to hypocrisy.
Science wants to cut the four-legged out of the sentimentality market. They will cut us out of the compassion market and reduce us to machines for experimentation, if they can. These experiments, they argue, may help them extend the span of human life. To what end? A longer life from which the compassion that makes life worth living has been removed as an appendix? They would be better off worn out and dead at forty, the way people were in the most spiritual ages of their time. Science is the robot that will kill them if they don’t watch out. Science will make them into hothouse tomatoes, twice as big, half as good, the fruit inside cankered and rotten, the shiny skin collapsing into a gutless rag.
You’re thinking, this is awfully deep for a terrier, a terrier mutt at that. Not so. Terriers are probably the brightest and most articulate of any canine breed. And I’ll tell you a secret: the more a dog is exposed to humanity, the easier it is to learn to read. From the newspapers they lay on the mudroom floor when you’re a pup, to the television they leave on all day and all night, to every word they say to each other, it all reaches us. I cannot remember not knowing how to read. You spend half your waking hours looking at the newspaper they hold up in front of their face when you try to get them to take a walk. But how have these words reached you? How have they made it to the page you are looking at this moment? I wrote them in the air. I sang them with barks, yelps and howls. I signed them with wag, rag, riot and roll. I have sent them out through the neighborhood, and some soul will surely pick them up and credit his imagination. Somewhere somehow someone will wake up with a flea in their brain that will not let them rest until they have put the ink on the page. The idea that this can’t happen, that’s the pathetic fallacy. Don’t worry about how these pages reached you. That willing-suspension-of-disbelief thing? Now’s the time for it. Otherwise, you may as well put this back on the shelf and head for non-fiction.
It was well after sundown before I was let back in. I am not a heavy-coated dog, so I was pretty well frozen by the time I hit the skids on the kitchen floor. Even in grief, this got a laugh from the usual bully in the group. My appearance sparked a quaint outburst. Here was the downside of sentimentality. Anthropomorphisms were lofted heavily in my direction. The man’s mother, whom the man had barely seen in years, led the charge with the “he feels it, too,” guff. Of course I felt it, but I would wait until I was alone to shed my tears. Gone now, the shaky hand tendering the magnanimous hunk of gristle. Gone forever the scotch-enlivened greeting and the confidential fart.
The man’s mother, no lightweight, was clip clopping my way and I braced myself for the spine-crushing bear hug. She seemed even bigger than the man, with her baroque hair and masochistic stilettos. She was the affectionate type who will kill you in a minute without meaning to. I tried to skitter away but could get no purchase on the floor. My nails scrabbled until she grabbed me like a butcher grabs a rope of sausages and squeezed me to her monstrous bosom. I put my paws out to brace myself. She had soaked herself in flower juice and this, along with the vodka and grapefruit juice she had been consoling herself with for the past few hours, made my eyes water. Luckily one of my nails snagged her sweater, so she threw me away onto the couch before I retched on her.
I wanted to find Bernice and Kirk. Especially Kirk. As soon as I could, I crept away from the old people and found the children in the girl’s room. Kirk was sitting on the bed, his face sunk in his hands. All his love had not been enough to protect his father. His world had collapsed. Bernice sat close beside him, holding him. When she turned her head down to find his eyes, he ducked away. She whispered into his ear and tried to rock him and did all she could with the slight vocabulary of comfort she could muster from her own short life. No one had taught her how to comfort another while her own grief tore at her, but she did her best. The women are always stronger at these times.
From the living room, down the hall, came the sounds of adult grief. It was slurred now, and there was a laugh or two of resignation. You couldn’t blame them. I lay in the bedroom doorway, head on my paws, my eyes on the children. I was the only one who could be here and be no disturbance. After a while Kirk lifted his head and looked at me, his face streaming. I stood and felt my tail move. Kirk dropped his head again, but he snapped his fingers lightly and I went to him so he could scratch my head.
“Little Elmer,” Bernice said, and hoisted me up between them. The scent of grass stains, chocolate, pencil shavings and child warmth enveloped me. I nosed them and licked their hands. Kirk would either bull through and be a stronger person, or evade the challenge and be trapped in the boy he could no longer be. The man who had stood, a little unsteadily at times, to point the way was gone. What happened now would determine how Kirk would live his life. I was glad I could be there for him.
In the next few days our home was busier than it had been in a year. I charged the door every time the doorbell chimed, and it chimed again and again to announce family, friends, and a clergyman of some kind who had gotten the news and was trying to drum up business. The Lightlys were not religious.
People brought cakes, pies, casseroles, and salads, as if the loss of one member of the tribe had triggered a mitotic growth of new Lightlys, all ravenous. The Lady Lightly kept setting food out on the sideboard, with the help of her cigarette-scented friend Patrick, a guy who had worked for Lightly and who now seemed awfully close with his wife. In a week, Bernice and Kirk returned to school, and the river of bereaved and hungry turned into a trickle of business people to whom I gave no special thought. There were financial matters, insurance issues, money problems to be gone over. I admit that I never gave much thought to exactly what kept 6896 Bliss Lane afloat, how the groceries were paid for and what kept the clothes on everyone’s backs. While the lady consulted with expensively suited people, each of whom arrived in an aura of November chill and an ominous scent of briefcase leather, I hid out in the kitchen.
These meetings were not happy. The visitors were pleasant, their voices were pitched in consolatory tones, and their manner was sympathetic. But the visits all ended the same: they left, and the lady sat on the couch looking out the front window as if instead of the Howe’s across the street, she saw an endless prairie.
A few facts became clear. The lady needed a job. Everyone would have to tighten their belts ⎯ I resolved to do without Bacon Bits ⎯ and “this big place” was now too expensive. Without the man to manage it, the backyard was an insupportable luxury. I resigned myself to having a smaller yard to patrol.
You will smile at my naiveté. “We’re all in this together” is when you find out just where your people draw the line in “we.” As for the children, Bernice took up new responsibilities, but Kirk had a hollow place inside. He needed, it seemed to me, a male role model. Not that I consider myself exemplary. There are aspects of Elmer I would not care to pass along. My hysteria in the attack of imaginary foes, my pursuit of leaves and tennis balls in lieu of weasels: these could be described as quixotic. My hasty nerves, tremulous voice, even my short legs, were not attributes I would wish for Kirk. But my -- for lack of a better word -- my gallantry, my loyalty, my sense of noblesse oblige? A boy could do worse. I am not so foolish as to deny these traits, or to consider them unworthy of emulation. I know myself better. But how vast the difference between the value you place on your gifts, and the value placed upon you by the world, I was soon to find out.
The lady had never been as pro-Elmer as the man. She was not a dog person, not a cat person, not, frankly, anything but a Lady person. And, as Frank said, that’s why the Lady is a ... No, I will not slag my late master’s consort. But God forbid a thread of fur should sully her cashmere. Her man had delivered me from the echoes and clatter of the shelter. I was third in a litter of five, doin’ whatever I could to survive, growin’ up in the shelter was a day to day fight, 110th street was ... Don’t look so surprised; it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a dpg version of as great a song as Across 110nth street.” It was unusual for a litter of our lineage to be so consigned. But there had been a divorce between our people, and in a frenzy of mutual malice, we all, at nine weeks of age, found ourselves out of a home. I was the first one awake on the morning that the man’s rubicund visage came lowering into view, like a storm cloud threatening a rain of Johnnie Walker. I blinked, reared back, and gave a yip of warning. The man smiled. It looked as if he meant to bite off my head, and I reared up with my front paws on a brother’s sleeping back and yapped at him combatively.
We had a rapport from the start. I was christened on the spot with the name of a favorite cousin. Like so many dogs, I put my faith completely in the one who sought me out, with no thought to what would happen if my patron were to leave me to the whim of his partner, if there was a partner.
Well, now I was in the lady’s hands. Now, after the children left for school in the morning, I was left outside for longer and longer periods of time. We are talking about winter in Michigan. Each day when she put me out I would look at her, trying to remind her that I was small, thin-coated, and easily prone to cold. No matter. She seemed to wish that I would stay out forever. Being a dog, I was not easily discouraged. I lived for the children, especially Kirk, even though Bernice was more conscientious about my food and water. The lady was through with me, that much was clear.
One morning as the children were leaving for school, the lady was unusually active and anxious. She let me into the backyard not with her usual absent-minded silence, but with unnecessary cries of “Go, go. I don’t have all day!”
I went and patrolled the borders, then stood at the gate sniffing the air and wondering what was up. The children didn’t know. They petted me as they left and Kirk said, “See you later, Elmer.”
It was after eleven when the lady let me back in. I was shaking with the cold, my toes numb. The lady ran around as if she had sampled Kirk’s Ritalin. She had my leash out, but since she had never taken me for a walk in my life, this was not a joyful sign. She pulled on her coat and a knitted cap, hooked my leash to my collar, and hauled me out the front door. At the minivan, she slid open the side door and said, “Get in, Elmer. Get in.”
I could only stand and look at her. The jump into the minivan was too high for me. I was getting a worse and worse feeling about where this all might be tending. The lady reached down and heaved me onto the floor of the vehicle, and tossed in the leash, which fell heavily around me. Then she hoisted herself into the driver’s seat, and we were off.
It wasn’t a short ride. The lady listened to one of her favorite radio programs, the one where people ask a woman doctor for advice on moral problems. Every one on the program talked a lot about love. Tough love. At last we stopped. The door slid open and the lady reached in for my leash. “Come on,” she said. Come on!”
The distance between the vehicle and the ground had not changed any in the course of the drive. I pulled back on my leash, not to be disobedient, but out of fear. At last I had to jump or get yanked out on my face. It hurt my back and stunned me so that I hardly remember anything about how we got into the building, except that the lady would not look me in the eye.
We were in a small chilly room with a half dozen dogs and as many people, and a smell that filled me with a demolishing sense of dread. The dogs around me were silent, except for an old terrier muttering crazily in his beard. Fear hung in the close air. The silence of the dogs around me, the sense that the person at the other end of my leash who I had considered a friend had been replaced by a stranger, and the feeling that the other humans here had all been transformed as well or, what was worse, had transformed themselves, all filled me with a cold, liquid nausea. I realized I had known nothing at all in life. I had only seen the bright surface, not what trembled underneath. I looked up at the lady, but she would not look at me. By the set of her jaw, and the look in her eye, I could see her entire attention was on the young man she was talking with on the other side of the counter where we stood. And then something terrible happened. She laughed. It was not a scornful laugh. It was casual. A response to some remark the guy had made. But this laugh cancelled my existence. It was far worse than if she had kicked me. I don’t know how else to explain this.
I am not a whiner. This is a matter of fact, not just a figure of speech. I stood there and knew my world was gone. All I had left were the basic, pointless questions. What had I done? Why me? Why hadn’t I been given a chance? Had Bernice and Kirk been consulted? They could not have been, and my loyalty was to them, not this one. And then, back to the top again: what had I done, why me?
It’s not in a dog’s ability, to hate. We fight. We play. We love. But the repertoire of our sorrows is limited to two notes: loneliness and fear. And this was a fear I could not fight.
A young man put a different leash on me, one with a bad scent, consolidating whatever had taken place on the human level. The lady removed from me her leash, and as she did I licked her hand. There was nothing else I could do. I loved her. I forgave her. Something in people leads them into treachery. In their better moments they may regret it or, more likely, they forget it. But when you’re a dog and don’t know how to hate, you don’t hold it against them. You only wonder if they have souls.
She left. I looked after her. She didn’t look back. I was so cast down, so broken, that I don’t remember how much time passed before I found myself in a heavily barred crate or cell. It was backed up against a concrete block wall and other dogs in similar cells were lined up to my left and right, and in a row across from me, as well. Besides the dispiriting view, my cell boasted a cold, vile-smelling metal floor, and a pan of standing water, slobbered by a previous resident. The room of cells held an unbelievable reek of dog fear, dog stench and harsh chemicals.
From time to time a door at the far left would open and a man or a woman, or sometimes a couple with kids, would come in and walk slowly through, looking us over. After this had happened a half dozen times or so, one couple stopped and crouched down with a cute young Alsatian in the cell directly across from mine. The couple oohed and clucked, and then the man went to fetch one of the guards. The Alsatian was brought out, and left with the couple. So, it seemed there was a possibility of escape after all. And it didn’t take a genius to see how this worked. Young and cute rules. I looked down the line at the rest of us, and could tell which ones would get picked. What happened to the losers, I could guess. They bring in so many a day to this place. A few get new people. The rest, well, there was a second door, at the far right end. I had already seen a couple dogs go out that way with shelter workers. The workers came back, and the dogs didn’t.
The cells the dogs had vacated were swabbed out and new dogs, like me, were brought in. I heard whimpering then, and realized it was my own. Never before had I done that, but now I realized the air was alive with whimpering, a dozen or so of us at once time, amplified and echoed by the hard walls. Once I realized what it was, it became the worst sound I had ever heard. It made all of us into one sound and one scent, and we were not all alike that way, any more than one group of people is all one faceless thing.
On the end, to the left, across from me, was a Chihuahua so small she could almost have crept through the bars. She just sat and shivered so hard I thought she would break. Each time the door opened to let people in, she looked up piteously, and set forth one paw as if to run to them, if they called her. But nobody called. Next to her was a big dumb setter mixed breed, a dirty street dog, and I wondered if the people would wash him. I doubt if I could even have talked with him. Dogs can get so separated from their own kind that the language disappears. This character may never have even lived with people. He lunged at the bars happily, wagged his tail, leered at the visitors and did everything he could to promise that he would destroy whatever house opened its doors to him. The shelter seemed to be pretty much of a holiday for him: free food, no fights, a water bowl of his own. Sweet.
Beside him was an Airedale, pure bred, but a strong rebel streak. He may have been from good family, but he looked like ha had been on the hard for quite a while, and liked it that way. He barely gave the visitors a glance, as if he had done time before and could take care of himself. By the end of the day, a furious-looking mustached man came in to claim him. The two left together in scowling amity.
The rest of us fell between these extremes, from the heartbroken Chihuahua who had probably never been out of her people’s arms in her life, to the setter who had no more vocabulary than a wolf, to the self-sufficient Airedale who could give as good as he got. There were a couple of beagles that would not have stopped baying to save their souls. To beagles, all of life is a hunt. Even the memory of their people falls away before the game of pursuit. A good half of the dogs were so disorganized in their minds, through fear or hunger or pain that I don’t know if they could have gone back to a people home or not. By now, so many hours had passed that there were signs the place was being shut down for the night. And then I heard a voice beside me calling.
“Hey, skinny. Skinny!”
I ignored this. I’m not used to being addressed in that fashion. And my name isn’t ‘Skinny.’
“HEY! Come here.”
I glanced over at a pearl gray schnauzer, and got up to walk to him. The movement wrenched a yipe out of me. I had forgotten about hurting my back.
“You okay, Skinny?”
“My name is Elmer. I’m okay. My woman hurt me this morning.”
“Join the club. My name is Sanbourne.”
“Sanbourne. What is this place?” I asked. “Why did she bring me here?”
“This is the pound, and she brought you here to get rid of you.”
“Why not? You didn’t match the furniture. They suddenly found out, after three or four years, that they were allergic to you. You peed on the floor after they kept you locked up for twenty-four hours. Or you snapped at one of their kids when the kid nearly pulled your ear off. Or they just got sick of you.”
“It was none of those things. The woman brought me here. My friend was the man, but he died.”
“Well, there you go. Don’t take it personally. It was probably money. They probably have to scale down”
“Scale down? Look at how big I am. They could move into a shoebox and I could fit in”
“Look,” Sanbourne said, trying to be nice about it, “a lot of places they might move to don’t want dogs. That’s all there is to it.”
“They could have found me a family.”
“Well, they didn’t. Face it. You’re on your own.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“Some of us go to other families. You’ve got a little time. About a week. A lot of dogs get new people.”
“What happens if they don’t?”
The Schnauzer looked me over. “What happens,” he said, “is what happens to all of us some day. It just happens sooner.”
I have to say that I lost it for a while there. Sanbourne sat down with his paws toward my crate and didn’t stare at me or anything. He just sat there until I quieted down.
“Okay,” he said, after five minutes or so. “Get a grip. The game’s not over yet.”
“I just can’t believe she wouldn’t let me be with the kids. I loved them.”
“You’ve gotta love them, the little ones. They’re always cute when they’re little.
The setter threw his head back and gave a terrific howl.
“That always helps,” Sanbourne grumbled. “That’s the type that sets us all back. Look at this crew. Half of these mutts are as bad as people.”
Every dog in the joint crouched to the floor. My belly was kissing concrete before I looked around to see that one of the workers had slammed a steel gate shut, accidentally, it seemed, because one couple was still in with us. The guy and girl had just entered and they both looked at the guard reproachfully. The girl was especially furious and snapped at the worker He apologized and said something about the gate slipping from his hand.
The attitude of these visitors seemed to have gone right to Sanbourne’s heart, because he left me and went to the front of his cell, and sat and gave them the head-cocked stare. This pose is always a winner. In a second the sharp girl had come over to his cell and smiled and put in her hand. Sanbourne rose on his hind legs and supported himself by putting his front paws on the bars. You don’t put your paws on the girl’s shirt, not here, not in this interview. Sanbourne gave her the tentative lick and the saucy eye. In another second, the guy had come over. He had been fooling with the terrier, but Sanbourne hooked him in as fast as he had the girl.
“You’ve done this before,” I said.
“Once,” said Sanbourne.
Inside of five minutes the girl had Sanbourne in her arms. He looked at them but he spoke to me.
“Hang in there, man,” he said, as the girl took him out. The guy took the terrier, too. All of a sudden there was some light in my heart again. If Sanbourne, who had at least fifteen pounds and fourteen years over me, could make it, I bet I could. God knows how they made out with the Terrier. I marked him as entirely nuts the first time I saw him.
After Sanbourne left, there were signs that the place was preparing for night. Some guy walked through checking the food and the water bowls. And then, before he left, they took the Chihuahua out of his crate and put him in the one the terrier had been in. And in Sanbourne’s crate they put a little Bichon mixed breed. And then the lights went out, and it was absolutely dark. There were no windows. I tried to call Ming over to talk, but she wasn’t moving. She lay at the back of her crate, and I could sense her misery. I waited for my eyes to adjust to whatever light was available, but the darkness was complete. Occasional cries split the darkness. Dogs woke out of running dreams, panting, their bodies exhausted, their hearts racing. At last, I cast off into sleep.
I was walking with another dog in a meadow beneath a mountain range. I don’t know what my companion looked like; I only know she was there. We went toward the mountains, and they seemed to grow greater as a range of storm clouds multiplied above them. The blackening clouds over the mass of mountains grew thicker, and towered higher, devouring the sky and consuming the horizon. Forks of lightening flared up angrily overhead, and I heard the voices of Kirk and Bernice and the man swirling, thin and tormented, calling me. I barked to them, trying to bind them to me in the dark heart of the storm, trying to anchor them in the storm that was tearing us asunder. Their voices circled higher, heedless of me, and disappeared in the form of a flock of birds, and then the dark swallowed us all, and I was alone, as if at the bottom of a well. I woke with the terrible wind in my mind and the voices echoing away.
It was one of those dreams that wear you out. A lot of us here have them. The people, the shelter workers, came in, turning on lights, calling to us in friendly voices. The dogs were leashed up in twos and threes and taken out into an alley to walk. A few of us, house raised, took the opportunity to relieve ourselves. Some of the dimmer mutts barked, as if they thought they were going home. It was a cold Detroit day, when the work-weary colors of the auto repair shops and small factories and shop plants are dulled in the biting air. The guy who refilled our water and gave us food seemed nice, and talked to us all kindly. He rubbed my head, and petted some of the other dogs.
Pretty soon they brought us back in, and the visitors began to arrive. I was still sleep smeared. It’s usually a relief to know that you have your own life back and that the dream was only a dream that’s fading fast. This morning it was the opposite. I had the gray crate, and a bowl of chow that tasted like sawdust. Two mouthfuls of this, and a few laps at the sewer water were enough for me. I looked over at Ming, and she was still out of it. To my left, I saw a wry, lazy-eyed, longhaired hound watching me.
“Comrade!” the fellow cried, as soon as he saw he had caught my eye. I went over to him.
“Brother,” I said, “What brought you here?”
“My sins,” he replied. “All the rest will tell you they’re innocent, but Roy admits his guilt.”
“Where are you from?”
“This town, the same as you.”
“Did your people bring you here, or are you from the streets?”
“Oh, a little of both,” Roy said breezily. “My people were the most, well, Appalachian, you might say. No breeding. One morning they let me out into the yard and I scented a new neighbor. I followed the scent all the way to the fence, and there she was, a veritable Venus, Parisian on her mother’s side, I would guess. A touch of Border collie from the sire. I gave her welcome, and she came to the fence. I may not be as young as I was once, but when I call, my friend, they still come. Her name was Mignonette. Nice, eh? How her people reached that, I don’t know.”
“Did you get to know her?”
‘Oh, I did indeed. That’s why I’m here. Lady in the case, you know. I’m used to having my own way. My sire was a renegade from the freeway territory, dead before I was born, struck down by an eighteen-wheeler, barking defiance to the last, I like to think. My mother came from a distinguished line of severely inbred specialty dogs, beautiful, but entirely mad.”
Roy paused to heave a dramatic sigh before chasing his tale.
“They say I am not as tall as my father, but that I bear his colors and, mercifully, I have less of my mother’s unfortunate cast of mind. Still, I do not suffer fools gladly, and this has impaired my relations with the two legged. I accept that. I scorn the cuddly, snuggly, cozy relations enjoyed by our softer colleagues in fur. So. Let the world know there is still such a thing as honor.
“Mignonette was a shy thing and her people were boors. We had not conversed for ten minutes before their kitchen door flew open and the man yelled at her to ‘cut out that noise.’ The poor child was only twelve weeks old and hardly knew a dozen words of human. She was cowed into silence and instantly dropped her tail and ran to their back porch, waiting to be let in, hoping to be forgiven. I tried to call her back to the fence but she dropped her head on her front paws and sighed and ignored me.
“Fine, I thought. Give her time. In the next few weeks, I persisted in seeking her acquaintance. I saw no reason why her being a pure bred and my being, well, as you see, should make any difference. I was mistaken. One afternoon, I succeeded in leaping my master’s back fence, but her master’s back fence as well. We were getting along charmingly when we were violently set upon by her master. The lunatic had armed himself with a garden hose and was making a thorough nuisance of himself. We were forced to part, and in my excitement, I decided to pursue the little man around his yard. He dropped his hose and ran about in a way that was irresistible. I was determined to teach him a lesson, and had taken a few good juicy nips at him when my master entered the fray and collared me.
“The rest is as you see. I have been here five days.”
I wanted to laugh, but instead I asked him questions until he went silent and I noticed that he was looking past me. I turned and looked. Ming was awake now and watching us.
“Ah,” said Roy, “A new arrival.”
Ming was as frightened as I had been the day before, but she was watching me and seemed ready to talk. I gave her more or less the same tutorial that Sanbourne had given me, and had just finished when I discovered that I had a visitor.
It was a little girl in a pale blue parka and red knee socks and a blue dress with gold pumpkins and cornucopias on it. She put her hand through the bars and waggled her fingers, and I saw that she had never been a companion to a dog before, and that the mother was careless. To some breeds, the wagging fingers were a sure invitation to bite. But she persisted, so I went and put my head within reach of her fingers. She scratched my head as her mother looked on. They were not the most prosperous visitors by a long shot. The mother could not have been more than thirty, but she had evidently put in some time the hard way. She smelled like cigarettes. I can tolerate that ⎯ the man was not above the clandestine smoke ⎯ but she had another potent man-like scent as well, of beer and liquor.
Since the child did not seem to tire of petting me, I sat down to let her continue. Pretty soon the mother crouched down, too, and got into the act.
“He’s a smart looking little doggy, isn’t he?” the mother asked the girl.
“He’s a smart one alright,” the water guy pitched in. They’ll always try to do a little selling, if they can. You have to appreciate that.
“Do you want to bring him home?” the mother asked, and the girl seemed to say yes. The mother and the guy went to do some paper work, and the little girl crouched down and tried to lift me. I wished she wouldn’t do that. She didn’t know how. I didn’t want to spoil anything, but I had to give one little yip when she tried to pull me up by my front legs.
“Be careful,” one of the workers, a young woman, said. “You have to be careful of a Dachshund’s back.” And she explained to the child how to lift me. The workers really were good people. How much do they get paid in a place like that? Can’t be much.
When the girl set me down again, I turned to say something to the Ming, to call her attention to how easy this would be, but she had gone to the rear of her crate and now sat with her back to us.
Suddenly, the mother had come back. The guy from the desk was with her. She was explaining something to the child. There was some snag. It doesn’t take much money to get a dog out of here. But apparently it was more than the woman could get hold of today. They would come back tomorrow. The child, who had appeared rather apathetic before, was now in gale force tears. They left.
This gave me a sinking feeling. Another night here. I could have stood it if no hope had been held out for anything different. But I had let my hopes go up with the little girl, and the disappointment shook me. I went to the rear of my crate and lay down and hoped that I would sleep. Fear had flooded through me again and made me weak. I don’t know how long I lay there, but as things began to darken and get quieter with the end of the day, I became aware again of the Ming. I could not do anything for myself, so I thought I would try to see what I could do for her.
When I got as close as I could, at the wires of the crate, I was shocked to see how bad off she was. It was as if a dozen hours or so had put that much time in dog years on her. Nothing I did or said had any effect.
How could she expect anyone to take her if she didn’t show more of herself? But she was too stunned, too frightened, to do what she had to do to be saved. If she could not return a greeting to me, she would not be able to do it for the people, either, and they would pass her by. This was so disturbing to me that I lay down again to review the situation. It didn’t take long. I could continue to try and convey to her what she needed to do, and then hope she would do it. If I failed, and she failed, we both were finished. Or I could just do what I needed to do to save myself. At least one of us would get out, and that, the one most qualified.
What else was there? I didn’t know, but something nipped at me and made me uncomfortable. Thoughts of Kirk and Bernice, and the man filled my head. I remembered Kirk when he was still unsteady on his legs, and I had to be careful not to upset him on the grass as we played. I remembered Bernice when she walked me, and how proud she seemed of me and my manners. I heard again the sweetly curved tones of her voice, like water or like the breeze, like waves, or like clear ice. And the man, big and slow with magic force, so that by throwing the tennis ball he called up the spirits of wild beasts, and great cyclonic droves of mastodon, pterodactyl, gator, wolf, and bear. It was these memories that left me in this place bereft. The loss of my people, I now knew, was the loss of my life. I owned them, they belonged to me, the same way that they owned me, the same way I had once belonged to them. But they had put me out.
Ming's life, however, was barely started. My thoughts had worn me out, and I fell asleep.
When I woke up on the third day, I felt refreshed, somehow. Nothing was different, but something inside of me had changed. There had been no dreams. Whatever had to be settled was settled. They let us out into the yard, or alley, again. I came back in and found that the water in my bowl was somewhat fresher. Roy was sleeping late. Ming was alert and sat in the center of her crate, taking notice of the people who came in. The morning was half spent before I remembered that I should be concerned about the little girl and her mother. Maybe today I could leave this place.
A few people stopped by my crate and I went to see them and was petted and talked to a little. They passed on, though, and some of them chose other dogs. No one stopped to greet Roy, but he did not seem to care. Once, when a teenaged boy stopped at his crate and made too much noise, Roy sent up a peel of barking, and the kid moved away fearfully. No one, however, looked for long at the Bichon.
When things slowed down, at lunchtime, I went over to her.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Liebchen,” she whispered.
“Look Liebchen,” I said, “if you want to get out of here, you’ve got to get to know some of these people. They’ve got to get some kind of feeling out of them.”
“I can’t,” Liebchen said. “They’re too big and old. I only knew one person and she was little.”
“You’ve got to get over that. You’ve got to take whatever you can get. You can’t be choosey. Come up to the front of your crate and let these people see you. Otherwise, they’ll think you’re sick.”
Liebchen shuddered. She was sick, but I knew it was only fear sickness. But that can kill you, if you don’t beat it. I was fear sick myself.
The day was almost over. Only a few people were left. And soon the last of them had gone out. That’s when there was a sound at the doorway, an argument. And then the door opened. It was the woman and the girl in the pale blue dress. The guy in charge had tried to tell them that the pound was closed for the night. But the woman made him let her in. As they came toward us, I noticed for the first time that Liebchen had at last wandered to the front of her crate. She sat there, as the girl in the blue dress came toward us. I got to my feet, and went to the back of my crate, and turned my back on the girl.
I heard her call to me, and then I heard the mother call, as well. But I lay where I was and kept my back to them, even when I heard the little girl’s voice sound disappointed and distressed. The mother muttered something, and I knew she had moved on. The mother was in front of Liebchen’s crate now. And she called her daughter over.
“Look at this one,” the mother said. “This is a nice one, too, isn’t she Sydney?”
I didn’t hear anything for a while. And then I heard the little girl laugh.
“He’s licking me,” the girl said.
“It’s a she,” the mother said. “You see, she likes you. Do you like her?”
I listened to it all and stayed where I was. I listened as the gate to Liebchen’s crate was opened. I listened while Liebchen and the little girl played. I even listened even as they wrapped up the details at the front desk, and then I heard the front door open and close, and then things were quiet.
“You are a fool,” Roy whispered, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain anything.
I think about the mountains and the darkness in my dream. I feel cold and I’m lost in my thoughts when I realize that the front door has opened again. There are voices. And then the lights are cut on again. I blink.
I am still blinking as the girl pets and cuddles me. Her mother is at the wheel, a cigarette clenched in her teeth. Liebchen is asleep in the backseat. The girl ignores everything her mother says and plays with my ears. Tomorrow I will begin to learn this new family’s private language — every family has its own. The child’s face looms closer to me than the mountains in my dream. I try to give a dog smile in return, but I’m as tired now as if I had not slept in a week. The sooner I learn how to love this new family, the sooner my strength will come back. I close my eyes, listen to our tires on the road, and fall asleep thinking how much nicer the girl smells than her mother. Not mother’s fault … I must smell myself of the shelter … they’ll bathe me tomorrow. Now … sleep.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Chapter Two

Seeking a way to ease into the day's work, he came across an interesting but unrecognizable scrap of text. He could not remember just when it had been conceived and executed. In fact, he could not recognize it as his own. It was directional, but unclear in the absence of a map. A writer he greatly admired had strongly recommended a map, not so much as a guide to a destination as a means of holding the city of his imagination in place. There was no place in the world that required more urgently a strict demarcation of boundaries than the imagination’s zone of compressed anxiety and fatigue. Inclusive of both points of departure and destination. It made sense. Far more sense than the linear series of road signs and mile markings that did more to limit exploration than to allow it proper evolution. And the only problem the writer could see at this point was that even the bare guide, the list of stopping points he had carelessly enumerated years ago had worn such a path in his mind that the idea of stepping away from it at this point was frightening and left him paralyzed, all but impossible.
Still a new map was easier than the story through the depicted but wholly imaginary territory would be. He began on a map planned not from reality, not a map of this world, but a map of the territory of his imagination. To the north, woods and fields. To the south, a Great Lake. West was the road to the next big city. East was another Great Lake and another country. At the nexus of these geographical features stood a fort, set in a fold between dry brown fields and a scattered handful of log and plaster homes. The town surrounding the fort had the wind-blown and weather-rotted look of wreckage, as if it had been built by despairing ghosts in too great a hurry to conceal the effects of a meteorological catastrophe.

The vocabulary was recognizable as his own. Dim constructions like "greatly admired" and strongly recommended" were unfortunately familiar. So was a hasty confusion between pronouns "he" and "me," suggesting a loopy confusion about exactly who was telling what to whom. Literal and linear, carelessly enumerated, even the notion of ghosts who might "despair" about having to hurry (why?) to conceal a "meteorological catastrophe" (of what sort?) ... He had a horror of plagiarism. Considering the situation, he reached an uneasy compromise in the idea that any disordered state that made him forget the composition of a chunk of text would have been left its marks on the text itself. But it was interesting to review one's writing from complete unfamiliarity. You were more careful. It wasn't a bad position from which to judge one's work.