Justin Sanders

Just A Story About A Dog

Because we don’t know the anatomy of things. Someone said the dog that wandered into the village could talk and everyone agreed it was out of the ordinary. A few children went looking for the beast and came back reporting that they had indeed seen a dog, a tall, black one with mange on one paw and one ear and its tail all stringy. And it did seem unusual how it stared at them, they said, sitting as if it was waiting for their approach. But apart from when its tail would wag into an old can or empty bottle (it took residence in one of the many landfills) no one heard it speak. Still, when reports of a dog that talked made their way into the village, we believed them.

“The first animals talked,” said Eeiobe.

“Men have trained beasts to use machines and see for us and save us from fire, here now is one trained to talk,” said Dskun.

“No other creature has lived alongside man so long as dogs, so why not then? Could one simply have learned to imitate us, the way a bird could imitate the sounds of a horn or a saw?” I said. “Or maybe it was the wind coming through the trees, kicking up trash and bottles, giving the dog such a voice, and the dog, sitting there, had seemed too perfect.”

So the dog talked. Because there is no sufficient order. It talked to the old, Beniwase women. The women with husbands who remembered the land before the dirt turned to rust and when the Upgum roots grew long enough to hold all a man’s breath. It talked to children at night, but only when they snuck out of their houses after their parents made bed, and dared past the fires that kept the dogs from the neighborhood, and dragged their favorite toys through the dirt of the Szawase road, and cut themselves in forty places pushing through the thorns of the Upgum trees, and who, after all that, didn’t cry when they came upon the landfill and saw the dog sitting there in the middle of all that trash, its eyes borrowing the orange of the torches, its mangy paw and mangy ear and tail with hair that split like dropped sugar cane, it’s mouth yellowed by the sulfur dust that blew out of the forge of the old blacksmith who lived just by the landfill, the dog say silent but for the wagging of its tail, which on occasion happened to knock into some can or old bottle. The children who cried the dog ignored, but those that came dirty and bleeding and cold and dragging their favorite toy and who didn’t scream at the sight of that old hound and who left their toy behind for it, another piece of trash to pile up in the landfill, to those children it would talk in the old language.

It did not talk to men, though the blacksmith who lived by the landfill said it sometimes made bed in his scrap pile and ate the rats it found there, and after catching a particularly fat one, looked over at him and offered to share.

But there is no conceiving the characters that form between familiar sounds, the old noises are the most frightening. Of course no one remembered the dog eating a child—or a bird, or a squirrel, or even the rats from the blacksmith’s scrap pile, which only the blacksmith had ever seen, and we had to take his word for it, and what good are the words of a blacksmith anyway—but there it was now, the idea that the dog could kill, real as any face we might make. And now we couldn’t remember a time when the dog didn’t kill. So we warned our children about talking to animals and stoked larger fires to keep the dog away at night, and prayed and made up lies about the children and women who didn’t follow.

“Can’t trust the young Beni’s or dogs” said Dskun.

“What If it’s not really a dog?” asked Eeiobe.

“Maybe children lie and maybe black dogs seem more frightening at night?” I said.

“Children say it calls them by name. My girl says it offered to change her eyes blue, blue as the old waters,” said Eeiobe. “And my boy, him it told about a woman’s bread.”

“Could be it was sent here. Could be a devil from the days before everything browned,” said Dskun.

“Sent by who?” asked Eeiobe.

“Doesn’t really matter,” I said.

“Of course it does,” said Dskun.

“Please,” I said. “Please, let us all be good.”

So we sat on our roofs at night trying to remember the noises stars made and tracing the lines of things and sipping cool, sweet draughts of the old water, when water rushed blue onto the shoreline, before the dirt turned rust and the water turned brown, and we remembered. Remembered when we knew the weight of fear. Not in the brain but in the hands, where all fears are first held; like the first time our skin blistered at the touch of upgum sap; like our first plodding experiment to hold fire; like that first midday when we touched each other’s sex and then recoiled and went home and felt shame. We used to know that devils were real. And in between the sounds and shapes present in the spreading of lips, we came to understand again that there were no such things as talking dogs but there were devils and devils could take the shape of dogs and wander from village to village eating those who screamed at recognizing it, and entering into bargains with those who braved the thorns and the fires and the night and the night’s dogs and left it tributes but still didn’t know the truth.

“It’s come for children” said Dskun.

“It’s taken my boy and my girl They ain’t the same since they talked to it,” said Eeiobe. “My boy’s grown wild; his hair is dark and long enough to hold all his breath. His fingers are blistered each morning. And my girl spends all her day staring into glass. They ain’t mine no more.”

“Devil,” said Dskun.

“Dog,” I said.

“Ide o mamu ye,” Eeiobe sang.

“Things were different in the old, Beniwa days,” said Dskun. “When we were old and old enough to remember the blue of things, when we remembered how to kill a devil.”

We were all too scared in our fingers to hold them together, so I told them all. So I told them that devils weren’t real. I told them that they needn’t be afraid of fire and dogs, told them not to believe what old Beniwa say, for we’re no longer of this world. “It was like this, even in the old days.” But of course they didn’t believe, because it’s in our nature to distrust the quieting answer. And in the time of a man’s sigh we turned our focus toward finding who called the devil to us.

The old blacksmith was the most obvious target. So we burned his forge down. Then came the old, Beniwase women and all the women with husbands, paraded naked through the streets to appease the burnt flesh they inspired in us. Finally came the children, all those the dog had talked to and those who had run screaming from it, and Eeobie’s boy, Eeobie’s girl.

“Please,” Eeobie pleaded of me. “Please make us all be good. You’re old, old enough to remember the way of things.”

So I did as the old Beniwase did, as the first men did. I left at night after the village had gone to sleep and slipped out through the thorns of the Upgum trees, cutting myself near forty times, and dragging with me a crab-shell necklace through the dirt of the Szawase road into the old part of the village, just outside the tree line where the old forge had been built and where the Upgum trees still grew roots long enough to hold all a man’s breath.

Across the road, the light of the forge’s rubble gave orange to the surroundings, stole from the red of the torches the blacksmith still kept burning. He had moved his anvil into the junkyard and the ring of his hammer played the night’s rhythm. The dog was there. Smaller than any had described it, but the black of its mange and the bared gaunt of its muzzle made it seem half a jackal. A rat hung from its mouth, yellow from the dust that had once blown out of the forge and its drool steamed as it hit the rust and sulfur of the dirt.

And but for the chewing it was still, sitting and looking at me with its eyes glinting orange then red then green and back to red before taking on the vim of colors only reflected in the old days; chartan and dusky enbei, the soft mute of hui. And then, and I screamed at the sight of it, the lost blue of the old waters, the waters of the first Beniwase, reflected in its eyes. There in that beast, in that spot, between the order of things and the unintelligible sounds, outside the anatomy of all we understood, the dog was talking. Talking in the language of the old Beniwase, calling my name over and over, at first seeming as glossolalia but then becoming liquid, a logorrehic chant, Anakenaten Anakenaten Anakenaten Anakenaten, the words burbled out, its lips buzzing like rubber vibrating against itself. I heard then the blacksmith’s voice, too, joining it; Anakenaten! And his hammer struck the anvil and the dog’s tail smacked into old bottles and cans, echoing the sound, and there the wind rose in a gale, carrying the sound.

The old blue had then faded from the dog’s eyes, replaced with the reflection of fire coming from the village and I could smell the burning daub and thatch of our roofs. I broke my stare with the beast and turned to watch the light flake in a shower that hit dirt and briefly outshone the sun, stole prescience from the midday heat, and gave it back to the fires of the torches.

“Ida mamu o ye,” the dog was singing, fire drooling from its mouth.

“Devil,” I remembered Dskun and Eeobie saying together. I screamed and the dog had set the village on fire.

The wattles of Mawei burned, their flames a communal thermistor, turning the yellow clay black as the flies that lapped at the sweat on the blacksmith’s forehead, as the flies that bit at the dog, as the flies that were around my head now. The old pounding started again in the low valley; the blows ringing out the calls, the old Beniwase returning from the shores, shoulders burned, feet swollen. Ida mamu o ye, the song rose, lifting high and long as the Upgum roots, stretching even before our village was hewn and growing louder, drowned out the screams coming from the villages as the fires kicked high enough now to strip away from even that first light we all encountered, blinding, burning, golden, wanting, till I heard my own voice screaming along with them.

The morning after the fire Eeiobe and Dskun and Eeiobe’s children found me in the ruin of the forge and pulled me down to the shoreline. Eeiobe’s boy’s hair was the short, clean brown of brackish waves at calm sea. Her girl stared ahead. No one saw the black dog, or any of the others that roamed the junkyard.

Once I had strength all my own again, we walked in unison along the packed sand, Eeiobe carrying an empty basket and Dskun carrying an armful of books and me carrying all the noises of stars. Out over the waves we could see an island, the green of its trees glimmering like powdered light.

“What’s the order of things now?” Eeobie’s girl asked.

“There is no conceivable reason,” said Eeobie’s boy. “And we wouldn’t believe in one if there was.”

They told me I was no longer of this world.

Ahead of us the old blacksmith was standing in the surf, fish breaching the water at his ankles. From his back he unfurled an enormous pair of wings. And we cheered wildly at the sight.

I worry that when I die I'll become a general feeling of unease, thanks to Carabella Sands.

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