Tuesday, 16 February XXXX
- We do a lot of silly things, because we’re silly people.
There was that time that Laika wanted a dog. She wanted a dog because that’s what people did: Have dogs. She didn’t like dogs, in particular, or more than that, she didn’t actually have any feelings towards dogs. But that’s what people did, have dogs, and she wanted to be people, and so she wanted one, too.
And I told her, “If we have a dog, we’re going to have to walk it all the time. We’re going to have to feed it. We’re going to have to take care of it. You know this.”
“Of course I know that,” she said. “How dumb do you think I am?”
“Don’t ask me that,” I said. “I might just tell you.”
And she gave me that look. It’s a meaningful look. She wanted me to know she was looking, and that she was thinking about what he was seeing: That was the most terrifying thing about her. That she would sometimes think about me. I could think of nothing that petrified me more into cold, unwavering fear - the idea that some representation of me floated around, like a zygote in amniotic fluid, in the vicious, vicious darkness of Laika's mind.
So we went to the pound, and we looked at the dogs.
“They’re all so cute,” she said.
I thought: If she wanted something cute, we could have gotten her a handbag. These animals had thoughts. They had ideas. They couldn’t understand complex concepts, like emotions, or arithmetic, or phenomenology, or Aristotelian logic, but they could understand love, and trust, and pleasure, and satisfaction. The way they looked like one thing; but who were they? What do they stand for? Whichever dog we chose would be a life we were responsible for. We couldn’t depend on how cute they were to determine which we’d choose.
And yet that’s how Laika chose to do it, and how Laika chose to do it is how I do it.
I liked this husky with blue eyes. He was purebred. I would have wanted to call him Napoleon. He looked like he could protect us from intruders. And suppose we were trapped in the house, due to some natural catastrophe, we would be able to subsist off of him for several days, and his sacrifice would be very much appreciated, precisely because of this fact.
He looked, in short, like a noble dog. He looked like an aristocrat among dogs. If dogs ever developed some kind of civilisation, after humans are long dead and gone, after some [inevitable] nuclear catastrophe, other dogs might bow to Napoleon, if not elect him king.
They would address him as “sir” and pick up after him. He would speak with an English accent (received pronunciation) and “beg your pardon” whenever you said something he didn’t pick up, or when you offended him.
But Laika didn’t like him. She wanted a mutt, after herself, because she was half-Chinese and half-Malay. So, if she wanted a dog-son, the son must be a mutt, too. Which doesn’t make sense to me. Who likes a mutt? Certainly not her old school-mates.
He chose this mutt; this brown thing, which was only a dog because it was shaped like one, and it made noises like one, and practically you would have to depend on all its accidental components, as opposed to its essential ones, to determine that it is one.
She asked me if I also wanted to name it Napoleon, but I certainly didn't, because it didn't look like a Napoleon. It looked like the kind of dog you would give a stupid name to, like Button or Dot: A kind of undignified name to indicate that it is not human, a humiliating name that should remind it, and everyone else, that it is an inferior being.
The dog was small, barely reaching Laika's knees. He had light brown, scruffy fur that stood on end. His eyes were bright, like he knew something. He had an earnestness about him, a working-class sincerity. He looked like he was about to trim our hedges or clean the toilets, and he was going to enjoy it, too: He was going to enjoy it, because he believes that he’s contributing to society, that he’s making our lives better, and that alone, despite the hunger, and the tedious hours, and the lack of respect from his peers, makes it worth it.
And Laika loved him. That’s how things work sometimes.
“Well, if you don’t want to name him,” she said, “I will. I’ll call him Sybil.”
“Sybil is a girl’s name,” I said.
Sybil appeared friendly. He happily greeted us both, when he was let out of his cage, and Laika held him like a baby. The two mutts looked into each other’s eyes, and if there was a redeeming moment in all of this, it was the image of her looking like the Virgin Mary cradling the infant messiah, aware of their place in the cosmos, and of the impending sacrifice and suffering that entailed.
The image, although fleeting, was immaculate, and it almost allowed me an escape from the fact that we were going to bring a strange animal home.
Although not entirely.