Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What does the dog mean?

by Bill Kirton

These are the things that happen when you’re a writer.

 I went for a walk up a hill near where we live. It’s just a 20 minute drive away but takes me up and out of streets and into heather and vistas. And as soon as you start climbing away from cars and people, you can let yourself think that mystical stuff is possible. In fact, in an absurd world, it’s not only possible, it’s a more acceptable response to life than the logic, solutions and explanations that seek to make sense of everything.

As I walked, I kept thanking whoever had set the granite blocks in place at some points along the track to make it easier to climb. A little aside then made me start wondering whether I could use these carefully arranged blocks, and even the path itself, as a metaphor. It’s an obvious one but maybe I could distort it, undermine its obviousness. Maybe it wouldn’t be a symbol of our taming of nature or our determination to go somewhere, but a scar which would heal when we’ve gone. Maybe it would disappear behind me as I walked on, just as my past was. More than all that, though, I was wondering why I hadn’t remembered to bring any chocolate with me.

Then came the stump – dead, whitened wood, beside the path. A tree that had stepped aside for a rest and just snapped off and rotted away, except for the twisted bole and useless roots. It was like Sartre’s tree root in La Nausée, grotesque, challenging, excrescent. It was also a good excuse to have another pause and pretend I was thinking deep thoughts rather than taking deep breaths.

And it was just past that stump that the dog appeared. No barking or snuffling, no crackling twigs to announce it. I turned a bend and there it was, sitting on the path. The most mongrel of mongrels. Scruffy, yellowish, bits of fur missing, and a face that would never make it onto a puppy calendar. I put my hand out to it but it backed away. Not fearful, just private somehow. And it followed me to the top. And I know that some of you will lose any vestiges of respect you may have had for me but I started to get fed up with it. I’d come here to be on my own and this cur was interfering with that wish. So I shooed it away.

For a while, it stood some way off, then a final rush and a shout from me and it ran off on its stubby little legs. The trouble is that it had set me thinking of the dog in Byron’s poem Darkness. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. Nasty, scary stuff – the black Romanticism, not the troubadours, minstrels and princesses stuff.

Later that evening, just before I went to bed, I went out to lock the garage door and the dog was there, sitting on the other side of the road. The hill where I saw him is maybe 16 miles from where I live. But there he was, squatting in the darkness, looking at me.

In fact, all of this is true except that final paragraph, but what does it all mean?

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