Raf the Dog
Published in Meanjin, June 2011
‘All knowledge – the totality of all questions and answers – is contained in the dog.’
Franz Kafka from ‘Investigations of the Dog’.
In the seventeenth century Cervantes wrote a story called ‘The Conversation of Dogs’. It consisted of the midnight conversation between two dogs as overheard by the narrator of the story. And long before that, in the fifth century BC the fables of Aesop recorded the wit, wisdom and character traits of the animals. In more recent times there are the tales of Beatrix Potter and the works of Lewis Carroll. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban is a brilliant modern example of the tradition. Talking animals are most often found in stories for children, although famous examples of adult works in the genre are by Orwell, Chekov and Woolf. Recently Andrew O’Hagan published The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe which is written by a maltese belonging to the star.
The world is probably divided into two kinds of people, those who like books by dogs and those who don’t. I do. I loved the idea of O’Hagan’s book when I first heard of it, and I was utterly captivated by the reading, thrilled by the wit, energy and rhythm of the writing. The reflections of Maf are superb insights into America in the early sixties, as well as into big subjects such as literature, art, psychology, history and politics. This is philosophy at its most engaging. The view Maf gives of Marilyn is unlike any other, and is ultimately a most lucid and moving one. He can read her mind, and there is a point at which she can read his. He is so wise and wistful, she so fragile and doomed. On the one hand this book is a revelation about all the dogs in literature and art, and on the other it is a novel of profound and highly entertaining insight into the human heart.
It is this novel that has given me the courage to tell the story of
‘Raf the Dog – a Tale of Mystery, Money and the Supernatural’.
Many years ago when I was living in the city I felt the need for a companion in the form of a small white dog. My daughter is an expert at finding cats and dogs for humans, so she was on the case, preferring to give homes to rescued dogs rather than get brand new ones. We investigated several shelters, but to no avail. I grew tired of the hunt and finally decided to buy a new puppy. The price of course began at around $400. This was not going to be easy. Taking a common sense approach I went to the local credit union and opened a special purpose account.
‘What is the purpose?’ asked the teller, not looking up from her keyboard.
‘I am buying a dog.’
There was a sudden burst of sunlight that radiated instantly from within the teller. Her gold bracelets jangled, her spectacles winked, her lovely teeth gleamed at me with pleasure.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘a dog! What kind of dog?’
‘Oh yes! Yes. They are so beautiful. So sweet. So wise and wistful. You are doing the right thing.’
So I did the right thing and deposited some idiotically small amount of money in the account which was recorded as being ‘For Purchase of Dog’.
Project Dog was under way.
When I got home there was a message on the phone from my daughter.
‘I have your dog. Call me.’
This was like the message left by a dognapper. Alarming and horrible.
With pounding heart I called back and she told me she was out at the RSPCA with a sad little maltese in her arms. I rushed out to see him, and there he was, a tiny, bewildered, skin and bone creature in a blue knitted jacket staring up at me with big brown eyes. Wise? Yes. Wistful? Oh yes. Love at first sight. He had been abandoned in an outer suburb, and had somehow survived long enough to be rescued. I bought him, and two days later was able to take him home. My daughter likes to name animals, and she named him Rafael, after the Archangel. I took him to visit the lady at the credit union and she lit up all over again.
‘The Archangel!’ she cried.
He has many charming ways, but one of his rather tedious habits consists of sniffing and grubbing vigorously under scruffy bushes by the side of the road. Once he came out of the bush having divested himself of his fancy overcoat. A Superman moment. And another time, having been busily grubbing, he emerged from the bush with something in his mouth. It was a mobile phone.
I took the phone home and worked out how to contact the owner. She said she would come round in a few minutes and collect the phone. Before long she was jogging down the front path, ponytail flying, sunglasses on top of her head, pink lycra and silver trainers flashing in the sun.
‘Hi, I’m Samsara.’ She was bouncing on the spot. I kind of understood how the phone had ended up in the bush.
I said hello and held out the phone. Without a break in the bouncing, she reached out and swept the phone from my palm.
‘Thanks,’ she said, and was gone, bouncing off up the garden path and out the gate.
I never heard from her again. Her name is from Sanskrit, and Wikipedia says it ‘refers to a place, set of objects and possessions, but originally referred to a process of continuous pursuit of flow of life.’ Well, she did seem to be in continuous pursuit of that flow, down the garden path and up again. Did I receive a card, a note, an email, a text? Roses? Champagne? Right, I did not.
A few years later I decided to sell the house in the city and move to the backblocks. There would be an auction. There would be Open For Inspection. On the first day of the inspections I planned, as is proper, to be far away from the house. However that morning my computer packed up, and just before the inspectors were due to arrive, the technician came, so when the people were looking over the house, I was in the study with the tech and the computer. I was trying to pay no attention to what was going on behind me, but suddenly a voice said:
‘Hi, remember me, I’m Samsara.’
Sure enough, there she was, her ponytail intact, her clothes more sober, and in her arms a baby, at her feet a child, behind her a husband. She recalled the incident of the mobile, and then they all moved on, mingling with the other visitors. Were they serious? Well I didn’t hang around on the other Open for Inspection days, but always on the list of people the name Samara would appear.
On auction day, going, going, gone, Samsara bought the house.
No roses, no champagne, just a cheque for the deposit, balance due in sixty days.
How the spectacles of the lady at the credit union sparkled and twinkled. How she clapped her hands and rattled her bracelets.
‘What a dog!’ she said. ‘What a dog!’