My relationship with my dog has declined.
The table is clean because I clean it every day. To the left of me, a pile of papers that need reading. To the right of me, a cold cup of coffee. In front of me, a computer screen turned off. In the screen, my blurred silhouette. I blink but the reflection does not blink back.
On the journey home, I take the underground train. The train rattles. I prefer the crowded trains. Sometimes I like to smell people’s armpits. Other times, I press myself into the buttocks of other people. My crotch sits snugly inside the crack of strangers.
A malaise has come over my dog. Once a pooch of great dignity, it is now, unfortunately, a shadow of its former self. It lies in the basket. I pet its head. It does not lift its head to acknowledge me. I turn the dog over and expose its abdomen. The hair is sparse here. The skin is pink and occasionally pocked with dark melanomas. I see nipples. I judge the dog for its nipples. I turn the dog back around. I pet it again. I take some dog food in my hand and put it under the dog’s nose. It doesn’t respond. It may as well be dead.
Later on in the evening, I watch a documentary about processed foods and a thought comes to me: when did I stop calling my dog by its name – Bob – and start calling it ‘It’?
The city, like my dog, is not what it used to be. In the past, you could say the city and I shared a common bond. It understood me. That’s why people move to big cities – because they feel the city somehow understands them. Urban people understand their flaws and feel that a city will hold them. People fit into their grooves here. But now, the city is unresponsive.
I wander the city after work, absentmindedly, and try to find this common bond again. I go out to the eastern fringes of the city to an elevated walkway above a road that leads out of the city. The metal railings are wet with condensation and shake with the thrum of cars driving into the darkness of out there. I hold the railings and take out my genitals. I take my sack and heave it upwards in my hands and let it rest on the railings. The cold touch of the railings upon my sack. My testicles, warm from the double layers I wear, droop over the railing. The image that comes to mind is that of an egg being broken over a dome, the yolk unsure whether it is running this way or that. The railing shakes and arouses me.
Later that night, I go into the centre of the city. I find myself in the red light district. I find an alleyway behind a bar. The gutters smell of urine and disinfectant. The walls in this alleyway are tiled and I begin to lick the tiles. I run my tongue all across the tiles, tasting and feeling the textures of this city. I find a discarded brick and notice it is a brick that ‘typifies this great city’. During the 19th century, many of the bricks of this city became sooty and black in appearance. This particular brick is softer than a usual brick. I take the brick and bite into it. Although there is a risk this brick will damage my esophageal lining, it is a risk worth taking. I feel that the distance between the city and I is shorter, that my physical engagement with my surroundings has opened up a new side to me. I feel that the city and I know each other intimately.
I go back home for the weekend. I have not seen my parents in over a year. Other family members are there. For example, my two sisters. My uncles and aunts, my nieces and nephews, my grandmothers and grandfathers, friends of the family. We are all gathered around a long dining table inside a modern conservatory. On the side, there are a number of potted plants.
We eat dinner and I attempt to bond with my family. But as they look at me, they form a judgment. They are not city folk. They know what I am. They do not think about me, here, present in this house but instead they think of the ‘me’ back in the city, like a ghostly double of who I am.
When I was young, my father read me bedtime stories. But I never listened to him, instead focusing on his neck, his ears and hands. I often wondered, as a child, if my hands would be as thick as my fathers.
In the present day, I now realize my father’s hands are not thick. Perhaps they have lost their thickness, over time. Perhaps they were never thick in the first place.
As we eat dinner, I lick my two front teeth. A sudden dislocation occurs in my mind. I become self-conscious about my mouth, its movements, my teeth, all of them rooted into my skull. I put my knife and fork down and do not eat another bite of food. The licking of my teeth, reminding me of skulls, also reminded me that I was mortal.
Upon returning home, I realize I had left the dog alone in the house. The dog is dead. I turn it over and rub its stomach in a circular motion.
In what could be construed as ‘coincidence’, I see one of my friends post a picture of two basset hounds lying by an oven. A friend of my friend comments: 'Oh you’re kidding me? You have basset hounds?' He then posts two framed pictures of two more basset hounds and says: 'Our boys…sadly not with us anymore…Henry and Hecter.'
The spelling of Hecter, perhaps, should be Hector.
I bury my dog out in a park, late on a Sunday night. I do it in the middle of a football pitch.
As I go to work on Monday, I think about dogs, the city and me. I think of the comment I read - Sadly not with us anymore – and try to work a meaning into this sentence but I cannot.
Oliver Zarandi’s latest stories have appeared in The Quietus, HTMLGIANT, Hobart, Squawk Back, The Bohemyth and theNewerYork.