Saturday, October 09, 2010

Dog Babies

We keep the dog corralled in a sheep pen arrangement in one corner of the kitchen near the cat door. It is a tough life even for a dog, I know it. A tough life for a dog who would love nothing more than to spend his time curled up on my lap, or have someone throw bits of wood for him to fetch.

The dog is a ghost from my past, the dog whose tan colour belies the black of his ancestor, Peta, the mongrel who came to visit when I was a child and stayed against my father’s wishes, a dog we named Peta with an ‘a’ hoping that our father would not notice – this dog was a girl.
To think my father might not notice the dog’s gender puzzles me still. Gender sticks out like dogs’ balls, as the saying goes.

But we were little and did not want to notice the way our mother had one baby after another and that the dog, Peta, might do likewise.

The dog in my kitchen, the dog in the corner, who represents my past, stinks today.
‘We’ll take him to the pet shop to get him washed,’ I tell my friend. ‘I’m sorry he smells so bad’.
‘What a bourgeois thing to do,’ she says.
I cringe. Bourgeois? Me? Never. But I cannot take a lump of the past, a dog this time with a tail – not like Peta whose tail was docked – into my bathroom, and wash away the fleas and the stink.

My friend has a dog, a streamlined grey whippet, whose ribs stick out on either side. My friend is a writer, the real McCoy. She has a book to her credit and another on the way, a book like babies.

Our dog will not help to make babies. Our dog is neutered, spayed.

I think the word spayed, and I think of the garden variety, the spade you dig into the ground.
When Peta was little I imagined the vet would take a spade and hit her in the middle somewhere deep inside where she kept her babies, hit her whack, while she was anaesthetised and crush the bits that make the babies, the eggs that girls have and the womb, the place where the eggs are held. The vet might smash the inside bits so that no more babies can be made.

'This dog is frustrated,' my friend says. 'He needs to get out more. He needs exercise.'
But I cannot walk the dog , not today, not with a broken leg.

My friend does not say it to my face, but I can hear her thoughts. They are written in the wrinkle lines on her forehead.
‘You are lazy. You do not deserve a dog. You are the one who stinks, a lazy negligent non-lover of dogs. I should get the RSPCA onto you.’

I show my friend to the door.

Peta flashes across the window of my memory, her insides restored, and all the babies who never were born follow close behind.


Jim Murdoch said...

A dog followed us home once when we were kids. My dad chased him away. We had a cat. Correction, Mum already had a cat. Before they had me he had a dog, a Scottie, Butch. He used to run out to meet my dad’s car, dad would open the door and they’d drive the last few yards home together. One day a car that looked like my dad’s must have driven down the street and not stopped for Butch. After that my dad vowed he would never get another dog and my dad took vowing seriously. He never returned to his hometown and I never met any of my relatives on his side of the family. Dad stayed a dog person. He didn’t especially like cats so of course our cats being the perverse creatures that they were they would insist on crawling into his lap and falling asleep.

With one exception all Mum’s cats were toms and although there is something intrinsically feminine about all felines these were a boyish bunch on the whole. The toms came and went as they pleased. The she-cat had to be ‘seen to’ – Dad’s only proviso. He was willing to tolerate one cat (and one cat only) in the house. Just before his death a second cat appeared on our doorstep looking for solace or sanctuary or whatever was going free but he had to wait for my dad to die before he got to warm his bones besides the fire. By this time my mother had got fed up thinking of names for her cats and so he came to be known simply as ‘Biggie’ because he was a bigger-than-average creature, unusual for a stray.

The bottom line is that I never thought much about cats procreating. In fact the only time I handled a kitten was when a stray gave birth to a litter a couple of houses down and a black and white one –who ended up being called Minstrel (think about it) – found his way onto our doorstep. The rest were taken in by various other neighbours. I guess they were all soft touches. At the time I never thought about it. It was what we humans did, we took care of cats. I do remember when Snowy came back from the vet with her scars. I think she blew up in size after that if memory serves right and I’m sure Dad told me that was what happened to she-cats when they were neutered.

I have never liked the idea of an ‘outside dog’ though. I understand that some dogs are working dogs but to my mind they still deserve a bowl in the kitchen with DOG written on it and a basket or a box or some corner to call their own. My mum loved all animals in fact she wouldn’t watch any nature programmes in case she saw one animal hurting another; animals she loved but she wasn’t too keen on Nature. My mother was a vocal advocate for animal rights: “People shouldn’t have animals if they’re not going to look after them,” was something I’ve heard her say many times and even though she was a cat person she would have been appalled to see Peta corralled like that in your back yard and you would have known it.

Ruth said...

In this wonderfully wandering tale, I hear in the dog, the writing. 'This writing is frustrated' . . . 'You are lazy. You do not deserve to write . . . .

I wonder?

The Weaver of Grass said...

A story beautifully interwoven. There is a sad streak running through it too.

Taradharma said...

your guest was most insensitive to your broken leg predicament. too bad she did not offer to walk the pooch for you.

Lots of judgement here, from her and from you. Let forgiveness and kindness in! But don't let the friend in again.

Ms. Moon said...

YOU are the real deal. Don't forget that.

Nancy said...

Wow. Very interesting writing. This hit home. I have to admit to letting my husband do the dog running and walking. Maybe that voice is shouting at me for the same reasons...I can't seem to write one book either.

angryparsnip said...

I guess I don't know the whole story but...

Why can't the dog wander the home and sit by you ?
Can't your kids walk the Dog ? Or build a small fence for the pup in your yard ?
You have a cat door why not a dog door ?

Questions not answered by your post ?
Hope your doing better and healing !

cheers, parsnip

Marylinn Kelly said...

I go on the assumption that we mostly do the best we can AND we do not go into other people's homes and find them not measuring up. There are far too many chances in life to see ourselves reflected in the faces of others whose lines and hearts have too little "give." I am always charmed by the way your essays find a clear path from beginning to end with much that is tender, sometimes fragile, revealed in between. xoxo

Elizabeth said...

This is weird and wonderful and not a little ominous.

Robert the Skeptic said...

In the US, Americans think it is a federal requirement that they own a dog. So everyone gets one which they put in their back yard and ignore.

My back yard was a Japanese garden, but most American back yards are dog toilets. When they build houses now, they just allow for tiny back yards; dogs don't need much space to crap in.

The one thing I have never figured out is why dog owners are totally deaf to the sound of their own dog barking and howling? I have no trouble hearing their damn dog. I occasionally contact the local police to remind my neighbors that their dog seems to miss their company.

Elisabeth said...

I know I'm an autobiographer, Jim, but I aslo use fictional techniques a great deal and particularly in this piece.

It's built around certain 'facts' but that I mention ghosts I had rather hoped might alert people to the extent to which it's not actually factually totally true. You'd know about this, Jim.

I write this now because I get the feeling some baulk at the word corralled.

In reality our dog is fenced behind a moveable wire frame that covers a large area of our kitchen indoors.

He has a bed , his own bed, under the table there. From his position in the kitchen he can see most of what goes on and is part of the comings and goings.

He's a small dog and he uses the cat door like the cats. There is no need for a dg door and beyond the cat door the dog has free run of our large back yard.

The dog prefers the indoors and stays indoors as much as he likes. He is not what I would call an outdoor dog.

Every evening when we start getting ready for dinner, the dog gives his cue that it's tine to enjoy free range in the kitchen area, which we oblige him with, mainly because there is someone on hand to keep an eye on him.

The dog still chews up biros, pens, underwear, pegs socks, any interesting item that might take his fancy. Hence the need to restrict his access to the rest of the house.

In time when he is older and his puppy habits abate, we may no longer need to corral the dog behind the fencing. If you saw him and it, you'd see he has plenty of room indoors for play and contact.

It never ceases to amaze me how different people pick up different ideas from various posts.

My internal emphasis here was more on a child's view of procreation, which you picked up in your memories of your childhood pets, dogs and cats.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Certainly I feel frustrated these days, Ruth, but more by my limited mobility with this broken leg, than by anything else.

That said, my relationship to my writing is as volatile as ever. One minute I feel okay about it, in the next despair.

So you may well be picking up on this.

Thanks, Ruth.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you detected the sad streak, Weaver. A child's view for me is often streaked with the sadness of the incomprehensible.

Thanks, Weaver.

Elisabeth said...

It strikes me yet again, TaraDharmaI, the degree to which the written word might make a conversation sound far more harsh than intended.

My friend was not so judgemental as it might seem - more a querulous joke about what I am sensitive to.

My internal judgmental self is often the subject of my writing. For me, writing is one way of knocking it on the head.

You need not take it too seriously. I hope you don't. Ii meant it as a writerly exploration of many layers of experience, but again particularly that of a child and her confusion.

However, what right do I have to insist on any writerly intention?

The reader has the say now, now that the writing is up there, whatever my intention. And it's fascinating to notice the variety of readings from different readers.

Thanks, TaraDharma.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Ms Moon.

Thanks, Nancy. We also have trouble getting folks here to walk the dog. But as dogs go - despite my writing, here - I think ours has a pretty good life.

Elisabeth said...

I hope I've addressed some of your questions in my comments above Parsnip.

The dog in the story s not quite the same as the real dog. the real dog is loved enough, as was the ghost dog of the story.

Dogs are a vehicle here I hope to explore some of my child's wondering about the nature of procreation etc.

in direct response. The dog uses the cat door without any trouble. The dog gets walked by my children, not as often as is desirable - his actual owner is overseas at present - but often enough. The dog can't stay on my lap all the time because he sits right on top of my broken leg however often I push him aside and tries to play fetch with me.

I'm also fearful that in his exuberance he might topple me over when I walk with crutches.

On the other hand, as I said earlier in the evenings when everyone else is around they play with him and supervise him so he can sit nearby.

Thanks, Parsnip.

Elisabeth said...

We generally as you say, Marylinn, do our best, as I attempted to do in this piece of writing.

I was not so much trying to pass judgement on myself, or on others, more describing a state of experience, a state of mind.

Its hard to write without people assuming that the narrator is exactly the same as the writer. Even in autobiography, the writer is not the same at this point in time as the narrating child or the past self that speaks.

Do you find this in your writing, too, Marylinn?

Elisabeth said...

It is ominous, Elizabeth, when you read it from a child's perspective. These things often are.

I remember the world seeming a very strange place when i was a child, part of which I had hoped to convey here.

Thanks, elizabeth. i'm glad you detected it too.

Elisabeth said...

We bowed to pressure from our daughters to take this dog on, and since he has joined us, we would be devastated were we to lose him.

I am sensitive to the dogs who bark endlessly day and night and the degree to which they do so as an expression of their frustration, loneliness, whatever.

Our dog tends to bark, the minute he hears another dogs in the distance bark and when he wants to play and wants you to take the ball or stick or whatever from him and throw it. Otherwise he's a quiet soul.

I agree too many people take on dogs thoughtlessly and do not have the space.

When I was a child, many more people seemed to have dogs and the dogs roamed freely. These days it is an offence to have a dog off the lead and loose. Dogs are forced indoors, even in country areas.

It's hard to find a balance. Dogs and children. I put them together in the way society tends to treat, hence my piece.

Thanks, Robert.

Marja said...

A puzzling interesting piece of writing. "Peta flashes across the window of my memory,her inside restored and all the babies who were never born follow close behind" What are you trying to say? That you initially didn't like to see baby after baby born?
Anyway we don't have a dog eventhough they are cute. We have cats as they can look after themselves.

Elisabeth said...

Please don't try to take this one too literally, Marja. It's intended to read as if from a child's perspective though written by the adult.

I had my difficulties with all the babies when I was little, as do many children from large families, I suspect.

Thanks, Marja.

Zuzana said...

What an interesting post, it felt at times as if viewed from a child's point of view, but then it also described your life today as well.
A bit sad at places as well, reflecting, what I am sure, is your own state of mind. I take this is an outlet for your contemplation.;)
Always a pleasure to visit here dear friend,
have a lovely Sunday,

Laoch of Chicago said...

This is nicely done.

I always thought that my pets throughout the years, both feline and canine, gave much but took little in return. This is unlike almost the polar opposite of the most human I have known.

Jim Murdoch said...

Interesting. This is something that Jennifer over at Writing to Survive does all the time. I’m not sure I like it. If you’d included a tag that said ‘semi-fiction’ or something like that it might have helped if I’d noticed it but since all you recent posts have been documenting your life since the accident we’ve been lulled into expecting more of the same. Had you presented a story about a woman who had broken her leg then we wouldn’t have become quite so emotionally invested in the writing and probably would have more to say about your technique but when someone is pouring out their heart we say, “Technique be damned.” Part of me feels . . . and I know this is a strong word to use . . . conned, that you’ve elicited a more open response from me because I think this is real. (Yes, the clues are there but I wasn’t looking for them.) It’s the same as the poet being chided by a member of his audience because they assumed that the events in the poem were autobiographical and they weren’t. I use autobiographical elements in my writing but what I present to my readers is always fiction. I never pull the rug from under their feet in the last paragraph and say, “Oh, by the way, this really happened.” If I did that once then my readers would be wary the next time and would hold back a response until they were sure they weren’t being led up the garden path. I’m not saying that there’s no place for fictional elements in autobiography . . . or let’s use the word ‘imaginary’ . . . because there is – Woody Allen is a great exponent of that technique – but only he knows how much of what we’re seeing is true and how much is imagined; he’s quite adamant that what we see be treated as fictional even if it’s rooted in fact.

I’ve just finished a review of a book written by a father about the death of his daughter. Nowhere on the cover does it say ‘memoir’ and when I bought it I thought it was a work of fiction; it’s not. Reading the responses of other readers I find I was not the only person to make that mistake – an entire reading group sat down believing the same – but I didn’t feel cheated when I discovered that it wasn’t fiction, mainly because it was an excellent read and not your typical memoir. I was annoyed with the publisher though.

Now I know that your posts might not be entirely factual (I did write ‘can’t be trusted’ but that felt cruel) I’ll read them with more care. The same happened with Jennifer. I responded to a post thinking that everything she had written about had happened only to be told, “Oh, no, most of that was made up,” which embarrassed me. Fiction is not dishonest and I’m not suggesting that it is – it’s its own kind of honesty – but it will never generate the same emotional response as facts. I’ve not stopped reading her posts and I certainly have no intention of stopping reading yours.

The question I suppose has to be asked about how much responsibility a writer can feel for their readers’ expectations. It’s not as if you’ve violated some sacred trust by fictionalising the truth. I guess it’s like Bob Dylan picking up that electric guitar – there were always going to be those who wouldn’t be able to make the transition with him. At the end of the day you’re writing for you; we’re just keeking over your shoulder.

River said...

A friend called you lazy when she can see you have a broken leg?
Some friend.
A true friend might have offered to walk the dog for you.
Maybe even give the dog a bath for you.

Balaphoto said...

Great tale and blog!!!Congratulations!!!

Frank, Barcelona

Kathryn Magendie said...

This made me feel sad and lonely - and wistful . . .

angryparsnip said...

Oh...I am so glad you cleared that up.
I read the sadness in your story and I saw it maybe focusing on the dog.
Making dog better=I become better
I didn't know this was a story of fiction ...
From now on I will read your post as fiction.
Too many times I take things literal and saw in your story if you helped your dog you would feel better,,, Boy was I wrong.
If I ask questions that upset you sorry, I guess I just didn't understand what your extremely sad story truly meant. As I said before I am someone who takes things at face value.

Anthony Duce said...

I liked the story and where it went, especially to the guilt taken for not doing enough with the pet. I am fascinated with the various relationship people have with pets in general. I had them too when younger, but can’t now imagine why…. There really isn’t a place for them in a logical life. But then again, I haven’t found a logical person yet with or without a pet.

Kirk said...

You're dog's a puppy then, right? Until I read your response to one of the comments, I thought it was an adult dog.

I've owned plenty of dogs, and I can tell you the chewing stage doesn't last forever. A word of warning, however. A dog can look like an adult, but still be basically a puppy for a little while longer.

Eryl said...

For me this really comes to life in the 'spayed/spade' paragraph, up until then it feels more like scene setting: quite interesting but no where near as powerful as the 'spayed' bit which is wonderful. Great stuff, Elizabeth, I think there's a brilliant short story writer in you, fighting her way out.

Mim said...

Trying, Elizabeth, to be cooped up with a stinking dog. People of all classes take dogs to dog groomers.

I hope you continue to mend!


R.H. said...

Yes it's confusing. I assumed it was all true. Put your fiction on another page maybe. I don't read fiction anymore myself, can't be bothered with it. And TV shows? Good heavens, what rubbish: cops, lawyers, doctors, teenage romance and that's it.
Here's a tip for you; anyone who doesn't like dogs isn't worth knowing. Only sadsacks: humourless, talentless, have never wanted a pet.
Cruelty is a born thing. Now that Australia has a prime minister who looks like an emu you'd expect penalties for animal cruelty to increase, but they won't. In recent times in this most blameless of all countries a live rabbit has been used as a football, a cat has been hung from a bridge by its neck, an echidna has been blown up with fireworks and a horse has been tortured with knives. And do you know, the sub-human trash doing this sort of thing actually believe it's funny?

What scum: worthless, ruined.
They should be executed and I'm not kidding.

R.H. said...

Anyway, I thought your final paragraph was very good. It reminds me of a poem by another blogger, something about dead children looking down at her from a hillside. It's stayed with me.
I consider anything that's stayed with me good writing.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Zuzana, I think it is a confusing post from what I can understand from yours and other people's responses here, and to add to it, I've changed my blog appearance. I hope it better reflects the fractured nature of my writing.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Laoch there is something selfless about pets in relation to their owners, at least in dogs.

Cats seem more concerned about their own creature comforts I'd say. At least ours are.

Thanks, Laoch.

Elisabeth said...

Jim, I have responded to your wonderful, long and challenging comment in my next post, as you will see. I hope it's not too much of a rant. I can understand your point, however much I might feel frustrated by it.

My artistic daughter and her graphic designer husband have organised a new image for my blog. Hopefully it better reflects the fractured nature of my writing.

Amazingly, I wrote the next post this morning and a few hours later my daughter's image for my blog appeared. What synchronicity.

Thanks for your generous and thoughtful involvement in my writerly struggle, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Hi River, I've tried to explain elsewhere that I was using a degree of artistic licence in this description of my friend.

the friend in this piece is a caricature of someone I do not know in fact. My friend in reality is generous to a fault, but her words, the words I play with here, unsettled me. I wanted to explore this, the clash between the past and the present not so much as reflect her.

I hope you are not too troubled by this. If, Jim from the Truth about Lies, is right I might lose friends over this

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Frank from Barcelona. It's good to meet you here.

Elisabeth said...

You seem to have resonated with the story, Kathryn. I couldn't hope for more. Thanks

Elisabeth said...

Parsnip, thanks. I hope my next post explains things better.

I suspect I write what I call autobiographical fiction, a term which to some might be an oxymoron, but for me it makes perfect sense.

In the end I write what I write and can only hope that it means something worthwhile for my readers.

Elisabeth said...

Logic is a funny thing, Isn't it Anthony?

I sometimes think there is not much logic to blogging, but there's emotionality and artistic endeavour aplenty, which is one reason I persevere with it.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

I've heard that dogs take a long time to grow out of puppyhood, Kirk.

A bit like people growing up slowly I suppose, only dog's can be deceptively mature. It's their owners who have trouble with limits.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

I struggle with short story from time to time, Eryl. Maybe i'm to lazy to persevere with the form for too long.

Thanks for your generous and perceptive thoughts. I agree there may be too much scene setting and it can be a distraction.

Elisabeth said...

As I've suggested elsewhere, the dog is the least of my problems, Mim. Thanks for your good wishes.
As for professional dog grooming as you suggest, an awful lot of people do it - witness the proliferation of such services. Mind you, the pet shop man has told me that we must restrict the number of times we wash the dog because its bad for him to be too often washed. He is a dog after all.

Elisabeth said...

RH, sometimes your expressions are a little too strong for me. I don't agree about our PM's appearance, nor about execution, even of the most troubled of souls.

There are always reasons as to for why people do things, and although these abusive things are not to be condoned, it doesn't mean we ought simply to go off and do likewise.

I'm all for understanding the desire for revenge. I'm not for enacting it.

Nor, as I've said before, do I seek to insult any of my fellow bloggers. We all struggle to express ourselves as best we can. You too, Robert.

Let's not work at fostering further misunderstanding.

I'm glad the writing has stayed with you. Thanks, Rh.

Kass said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and don't feel duped or disappointed. You don't owe me anything. I'm delighted to peek in on your life and your great imagination.

R.H. said...

I said 'people stink worse than dogs, and aren't always happy to see you.' What's wrong with that? But you can reject my comments, and you have. Good. I don't struggle to express myself, how would you think that? I do it in a hurry.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I think that the story clearly voices your frustration of being house bound by your leg injury. I'm surprized at some of the comments and wonder if the readers are missing the point of the story??
I'm also a bit struck in awe of all the dog vs cat silliness.It seems there's a lot of personification going on. All creatures have merit. Just imagine how awful many humans are treated. There seems to be a serious injustice and wrong doers capitalize and thus reward those injustices. Keep writing. You express yourself well.