Wednesday, April 13, 2016
“Buried a dog today.” The man was in his seventies, a little bent at the waist and wearing a watch cap. He was one of the people the food store hired to herd carts, retrieving them from the far reaches of the parking lot and bringing them back to the fold.
The other man, a dark thin cashier perhaps from the Indian subcontinent, looked pained. “I am so sorry,” he said. “That is very hard.”
It wasn’t anything more than a snippet of conversation, but I thought about if for the better part of the day.
It was easy to imagine scenarios: An old man and his dog together for years, and one of them passes away. If it’s the dog, short takes from a motion picture spring to mind. The man is in his efficiency apartment. There’s a chair and an ancient blocky TV set, an unmade bed, a water bowl on the floor, and a leash on the kitchen counter. There’s sad music maybe from the Moody Blues as the man empties the bowl in the sink and throws away the leash.
If it’s the man, the story perhaps becomes more complex: The dog stays by his late master. The rescue people eventually come. They take the old man away on a gurney and one of the EMTs adopts the dog. The EMT’s daughter loves the aging animal. It spends the rest of its life comfortable and ensconced in a warm suburban home, being handfed Kibbles. Or the EMT doesn’t like dogs; he was bitten by a Lassie collie as a kid and never forgave the entire canine species. He calls the animal shelter. The dog, old and unattractive, is euthanized.
I felt sorry for the now dogless old man and wondered if he might go to the pound and get another companion. Probably not, I decided. Another animal would need training, and after eight hours of chasing and retrieving shopping carts, the old man would be too tired to teach a new dog old tricks. So the old man would end up alone in an apartment where the phone never rings, eating minimum wage baked beans with a plastic fork from a can. Terribly sad, really, and completely fictional.
One of the issues with writing—or perhaps it’s really not a problem at all—is that everything is a story. An overheard conversation becomes a dialogue with a plot. Someone else’s consternation is a play in the making. A poem or song springs half-written from an eavesdropped comment. I recently wrote a story on manhole covers simply because one I was standing on had striking design (plus, it moved under my feet. You’ll have to read the story.) Truly, it never ends. I’m pretty sure writers see and hear things differently from others. We attach great meaning to the meaningless, and this sometimes makes spoken conversation difficult. My friend Arielle, with whom I have many co-writing projects, occasionally accuses me of being incapable of finishing one thought before I launch another. I have been known to interrupt myself.
But back to the man who buried a dog.
I have a cat. We’re both getting older. When we meet in the morning, there’s an unspoken conversation.
Me: “Hey. You’re still alive. Good.”
Cat: “Yeah. You’re alive too. Feed me.”
So maybe it’s not that complex after all.