You’re at Ashley’s front door, returning the dibber.
‘Thanks again for this, Ashley.’
‘Glad to be of service. Get your work done?’
‘It was perfect, such a simple and effective tool.’
‘Like me, simple and effective. That’s how Jean used to describe me anyhow. You wanna come in for coffee?’
‘Thanks, but I was on my way out. I’m heading over to the City Park. Would you like to come with me, Bella?’
‘Now that didn’t come out right, did it Kino? You mean you’re asking me for permission, not her, right?’
‘Oh yes, sure. You’re in charge. She’s your dog. That’s what I meant. It would be a privilege. And it’s up to you of course.’
You’re grovelling and he knows it. This is what he wants. He’s thinking how you wouldn’t casually ask to take Mark’s new Audi out for a spin, you’d need to tread gently. He’s doing you a big favour.
‘Good to straighten that out.’
‘How is she by the way?’
‘Full of energy, boundin’ around. Two years old and still behavin’ like a pup. C’m on you. Look who’s here.’
‘So it’s ok with you?’
‘Sure, so long as she’s kept on the leash. Can’t be runnin’ around over there. Whadya think Bella? Can we trust Kino to take good care of you? You wanna go? Out? Go outside? Walk? Knows every word. Look at her go. What a character, all legs ‘n ears. Wait up for your leash now. Yeah, the red one. You’ll likely meet some of her compadres over there.’
‘That sounds exciting. Anyone in particular?’
‘Let me see now. There’s Frank and his grey wolfhound Clint. You can’t miss them, huge motherfucker but real gentle with Bella. You might run into a guy with a stick wearing a trilby hat, that’s Percy. His terrier Cyclops has one side of his face white and the other black, strangest thing. You might get along with Percy, came over here from the UK way back, talks weird, used to be called Persimmon they tell me. And then there’s Sheila with Macy, her Jack Russell. Bella can’t get enough of her. OK drink some water first. Now off you go.’ He hands you the leash.
‘Any time, so long as you ask real nice. No mud on those paws, mind, or you’ll have to wash her down y’self when you get back, and she hates it.’
‘Sure. We’ll be careful, won’t we Bella.’
Now the work begins. She’s your talking stick, your passport to another country, a place with its own language, imagined and unfamiliar.
‘Well done Bella, good girl. Stay close. Come on, that’s enough. Take it easy. Calm down. Take your time. No rush, we’ve got all morning. No, I wish I c-could let you off the leash, it’s not allowed, we can get in big trouble. And you wouldn’t want that, would you? Ashley would be upset with us. Watch out, Bella, you can’t go around crashing into people like that. How did you sleep? What did you have for breakfast? I had the usual with Mark, yeah. He always serves up a piece of dark chocolate right at the end, after the toast. Nice idea, eh? No I haven’t got any with me. Didn’t know you liked it. How are you f-feeling today? I’d never’ve guessed. You seem ok. Something you ate? Looking forward to seeing some of your friends? You gonna behave? Good girl. I can’t wait to see who we meet up with. You’re my entry pass to this world, Bella. You give me credibility. You know that?’
You’ve almost got it, the place where communication falls between talking to a child, a subhuman, a close friend, and yourself. The listener never replies. We can say whatever we like, it’s a private discourse. Each complaint, How dare you. Come back here you wicked girl! is a release of pent-up aggression or smouldering hurt. Each stroke, pat and coo manifest the love we crave. Now you’re ready to tread more dangerously with her.
‘Do you actually like Ashley, Bella? Don’t you think you deserve better? Do you pretend to love him to keep him happy and get rewarded with treats? Wouldn’t you rather be out of the city where you can run wild and free? Snakes, bears and racoons? You’d figure it out, Bella. You don’t like the name ‘Bella’? You hate it? You have to swallow deep every time you hear it? So do you have another preference, a name you call yourself? Kronos? Pronounced the Greek way? Emphasis on the second syllable?’
You notice that her leash is attached to a branded pink Cath Kidston harness and wonder why it’s taken you this long to notice it. Her mobility is controlled by designer bondage. Her black collar is studded. You wonder if Ashley has unconsciously taken pleasure in all this strapping, keeping his beloved under tight control. Is this another reason he wants her kept on the leash? Collar and lead are pet essentials. They represent mastery and restraint. But the wild dogs of Izmir roam freely across the ruins of the Roman Agora, after hours and closed to visitors, possessing this land with a terrifying dignity.
Now we’ve arrived in the park. The sun has broken through the clouds, there’s a slight breeze, and plenty of dog walkers and dogs being walked, yanked and dragged onwards, backwards and sideways. Amongst them you look for any sign of the couples Ashley said we might run into and spot Frank and Clint heading in our direction. Kronos becomes animated. She tugs on the red leash, straining the muscles around her neck and upper back. The pink harness holds firm. Clint is unmistakable as a wolfhound standing above waist height with a purposeful loping stride. His attitude to humans is appropriate to his stature. He embodies physical prowess and is oblivious to the harsh words his ‘owner’ barks at him.
‘Keep goin’. Steady. Leave it Clint. Leave it out, son of a bitch.’
Amidst this grumbling Frank’s long face sags. His thick eyebrows and the corners of his mouth hang in ironic imitation of a bloodhound. He displays a deep sadness and resignation, rather than the irritation he’s directing towards Clint. You make an approach, to enter the second phase of the research.
‘Hi. You must be Frank. Ashley said I might see you over here.’
‘So this IS Bella then. I was wondering for a minute there. You doin’ the walkin today? You from overseas?’
‘Yeah, I’m visiting from the UK, staying with Ashley’s neighbours. What a great day to be outside. We made straight for the park didn’t we Bella. Is this your usual time to be over here?’
‘That depends on the weather and Clinty here. He don’t like to go out in the rain, do you boy? Sometimes I can’t get you out the goddamn door, can I Clinty? You just wanna sleep all day and you know that ain’t good for you. Then you give me the same idea, don’t you. And I go back to bed. I guess we’re both kinda depressed. Low energy, lethargic. I know pets is supposed to make you feel good, but somehow we just bring each other down sometimes, ain’t that right Clinty? On occasion we both lie there, me on the couch and him on the carpet, and stare at each other. I might say a few words about how the world’s gone nuts or about my useless brother Tony and he just listens, twitching his ears now and then. You know when I need to sound off don’t you boy. Sometimes I slip him a piece of one of my Prozac pills and put the reggae on real loud. Then we shake a leg big time. We sure know how to party when the time is right, don’t we Clint. Hey why am I telling you all this when I don’t even know you? Guess I was thinking you was Ashley for a minute there, watchin’ Bella jumpin’ around. Anyways, he knows my story, our story, me and Clint. Did he tell you?’
‘No, he only said we might meet you here.’
‘Well that’s for sure. When we’re out and about this is where we come, to stretch these legs, watch the birds, look at people and dogs, share a sandwich and a candy bar. Old pals ain’t we Clinty, livin’ our lives together. Hangin’ out and hangin’ on. Reckon I might be the first to go, eh? I asked Ashley if he’d take him on if I ain’t around no more and he said he couldn’t provide for two dogs. You wanna take him back to Europe with you if I don’t get through the week?’
‘Sorry Frank, I live in an apartment, no pets allowed, and there’s already a three-legged wolfhound in the neighbourhood, it wouldn’t work. That’s the reason I’m making the most of having some time with Bella, getting a taste of what I ordinarily can’t have. Anyway, we’d better be moving on. Great meeting you both. Bye Clint.’
Kronos is on the scent of squirrels. She pulls in different directions and barks at the sight of one. It’s hard work reining her in, so it’s a relief to glimpse someone who might be Sheila sitting on the next bench, with a maybe Macy wagging a tail at the sight of her.
‘Do you mind if I sit down on this bench next to you?’
‘Sure, it’s public property, and that’s gotta be Bella. You the dog walker? Ashley hurt his leg? Won the lottery?’
‘I’m staying next door for a few days. I offered to take her out. We get along. I love dogs. Is this Macy? Hey there. Ashley was telling me about how much she likes Bella. I thought she might be more excited.’
‘Off her food, that’s the reason.’
‘Are you concerned?’
‘Sure I am. What’s the matter baby?’
‘She looks ok, her nose is shiny.’
‘Yeah, but no barking. Usually she’d be making one heck of a racket with Bella here. Something’s up. Look at me. Macy, look at me right now! Let me see your eye sockets.’
‘Will you take her to the vet?’
‘I’ll give it a day or two. Other bills to pay. I’ll get some steak offcuts from the Wood ‘n Hart Meat Market, see if that interests her. What do you say to that Macy? Fresh steak for dinner. Pan fried or as it comes? Let me know later, OK? Hey, what you found under that leaf there? Put it down you stupid dog. Drop it right now! Don’t eat it for Christ’s sakes, you’re already sick you dumb fuck! Did she eat that? Could you see?’
From where you’re sitting you recognise it as a sporos bala or seed ball left over from your guerrilla gardening efforts the previous day, one that escaped dibbing and was likely carried over here and dropped by a bird or squirrel. Intrigued that Macy would show interest in this, you also feel compelled to lie.
‘I’m not sure, Sheila. It looked harmless enough. Wasn’t a toadstool or some other fungus, maybe some grass cuttings?’
‘Never seen her eat grass before. Bella wasn’t interested.’
‘People change. Appetites change. I’m into spinach and alfalfa sprouts at the moment. Must be the same for dogs.’
‘She’s no gourmet. Knows what she likes, don’t you girl? Now you just be sure to get rid of that shit, whatever it was, right now, like a good dog. She knows just what I mean don’t you Macy. Throw it up! Spew it out right now! Come here and I’ll squeeze your belly. Look at that, works every time. Well done, baby. Now don’t you go eating up that vomit. Come over here and sit quiet now. What do you make of all this Bella, eh? You’ve been real quiet. So you’re staying with Mark and Andrea. Don’t see them around here much since they lost their dear Charlie last year. No more dog walking for them. They tell you about Charlie?’
‘There’s a big framed photo of him in my room. They miss him a lot.’
‘You must be staying in Charlie’s room then. So that’s how you met Ashley and Bella. What a guy, what a girl. Come over here Bella. You just lie still Macy. Come over here, let me see your curls. Don’t you look beautiful today. Ashley been taking you to Pampered Pooch over at Mic Mac Mall for another freshen up? The money he spends on you Bella.’ You realise that Sheila hasn’t made eye contact with you since she started talking, and now she’s completely focused on Kronos. You mention your name and wonder if she’ll take it in. ‘But he thinks you’re worth it, doesn’t he, eh Bella? All those chilled meals too. He spoils you, doesn’t he? Do you deserve it? You think so? You just look up at him with those eyes of yours and he can’t resist, can he? You’ve got him right where you want him, haven’t you? I wish some dumb guy would throw money at me like that. Then I’d be the pampered one, wouldn’t I, Bella, eh? Maybe I’d have myself a new coat and shoes, and maybe I’d get rid of Macy here and buy myself a nice labradoodle just like you, well, way better than you, a puppy even more cute than you. How would you feel about that eh, Bella? What was your name again? Kino? Strange. Don’t think I’ll remember it. Say hi to Ash. Come on Macy we need to get you those steak trimmings. Say goodbye to Bella.’
We stay on the bench for a while chatting.
‘I hope Macy will be ok, don’t you, Kronos? You known them a long time? I can imagine. Do you get steak sometimes? Really? I didn’t know there was a vegan diet for dogs. You get extra vitamins to compensate? Me too. They get mashed up in your food? I swallow mine with water. I don’t know if they make a difference. What’s the time? Things slow down when you meet your friends. Is it always like this? Shall we move on? Get some more exercise?’
You start talking to yourself now. Is this any different from talking to Kronos? How’s it going? We get this far and I like what I find. I need a break. I’ve lost control. Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not about control. We’re in this dark soup, a shabby park of casual dereliction, held together by hosers waiting for their pay cheque and the sports results, like in the cemetery, the same white people, same ground, same land, only separated by a few blocks and a different logo. I know the feeling. It takes a particular mindset to enjoy manual work when someone else calls the shots, laying out the bulbs for you to dib, specifying which autumn leaves to blow. This is how it goes. Yesterday is gone. The arc of the sun is not a shadow maker. I wake up with a deep desire to walk the dog, the d-o-g. I think about those three letters and how they resonate. In this bilingual country ‘chien’ waits patiently for approval. And then the associations: you Dog, you Bitch. You dirty dog. You filthy bitch. You mongrel. You piece of dog shit. What are you sniffing around at?
We’re walking again and you decide it’s time to practice on strangers. ‘I bet that one’s a handful sometimes. What gorgeous eyes. Who’s taking who for a walk here? You wanna meet Bella? Hey, are you two checking each other out? Ah, take a look at them. Sometimes they just don’t listen, do they. How did you get to be so cute? Bella here really loves you, don’t you Bella. That’s like a double leash, very cool. Never seen one before, nice weave. You sure enjoyed that, didn’t you. You must be really proud, he’s so well behaved. Now come over here, good dog. Nice talking to you. Have a great day.’
You rest at another bench to note down which of your comments made most impact. Kronos looks tired from all the interaction and sits beside you. This is a precious moment for both of you to take stock. It’s been more intense than you anticipated. You’re out of your skin and feel some nausea at the necessary scale of deception in these conversations. You want to say, look I’m here with my dog, that’s it, or please talk to me straight, not through what you imagine your dog thinks, it’s not difficult. Breathing helps, and counting. At one hundred you close your eyes. As you reach two hundred and fifty you open them and see in the distance a slight figure carrying a stick in one hand and a leash in the other. He floats across the grass as if barely touching it. His cushioned shoes and dark cane give stability on one side, while the leash in his left hand, pulled at a consistent tension by a sturdy black and white dog, also supports his fragile frame. He’s wearing a grey hat. Cyclops clearly understands his role in this navigation of space as an essential partner. He is another kind of guide dog, assisting balance and maintaining a consistent distance from his owner. The leash is always taut, responding to Percy’s movements in a well-rehearsed duet. Percy is more animal in his movements than his dog. Cyclops is steady, plodding and stable, with a low centre of gravity.
His face is pied, in an almost perfect balance of black and white, white and black, the colour divide looping around his nose and giving the impression that his eyes are different colours when they must be identical. You notice your hearing is more acute than usual. You can clearly make out the intensity in Percy’s voice:
‘Are you ok? How did you sleep? Did you think of me? We’re walking in the park again, enjoying this gentle exercise. How well you parented Vanessa as a substitute for her own distracted mother. Those tender moments that I walked in on. Vanessa, you’re here again, always welcome, you know that. Did you see the daffodils are just visible, the ones we planted together in the fall? You are in my dreams every night. We are often struggling to arrive somewhere or swimming in warm waters, ageless and intimate. Come Cyclops, pull less hard, ease off my darling one or I fear I may stumble. You’re right, perhaps I do need a new stick, or at the very least a new rubber for this one. How blessed we are. I shall prepare a fine meal tonight. We will dine together in the salon. Later we can sit on the sofa and listen to Mozart. Yes. Now, come, pull me, pull me. You are divine. We make such a fine couple. That’s what the neighbours always say. Shall we share a bed tonight, secure in our devotion? Do you remember when we first arrived in Canada as young emigres and how I stumbled as we stepped onto terra ferma? Even then needing a little support in my mobility. And you were always there with a helping hand and now a leash. We are inseparable still…..we are as one…..the leash, the stick, you and I, in balance….I feel your touch, so light, so fragrant….you are not gone, only here, here you are, warm, free and strong…the liquid light, the soft shadows across your face….now gone, flit away…we step out as one, joined at the stretch…in tune, adept…spoken to, spoken for…that journey that we almost took, you went anyway…no room on my plate….your eyes hold such an intensity that I have to look away….the aspen quivers, the chestnut bleeds….we trace an arc from radial points, never the same ellipse…the philosopher seeks, I let you go…I wronged you…you forgave me, I cannot forgive myself…we breathe the same air and sometimes it is unbreathable…we tread the same terrain, ungovernable after rain…we see the same warnings, can no longer hold a silence…we bark as one, call out as one…see no danger, only timidity and reserve…stuck there, here, slipping dipping darkness looming….come, my dear one, look, see….enough. Let’s rest a while.’
He sits down on a neighbouring bench. Kronos strains to make contact with Cyclops and this alerts Percy. He looks up, first at the commotion, and then notices you. He appears distracted. You make the first move.
‘Excuse me for asking. Would you be Percy by any chance, and this Cyclops?
‘Oh yes, you know us. You do look familiar. So this must be the marvellous Bella? Would you be a friend of Ashley’s then?’
‘An acquaintance more, a friend of his neighbour.’
‘And Bella granted you this pleasure?’
‘She did. I feel honoured.’
‘We both are, such a delight, always.’
‘I thought I heard you speaking to Cyclops earlier. It sounded quite personal.’
‘Personal? No, normal for us. We are confidantes. We define our secrets to make the inner tangible. You cannot commune with another creature without revealing your thoughts and hopes.’
‘How long did it take to find that balance in the way you walk together?’
‘It was quite instinctive with Cyclops. He seemed to recognise my needs. We’ve gradually refined it over the years.’
‘Excuse me for asking, but I was wondering how you managed before Cyclops?’
‘There was no before Cyclops. There has always been a Cyclops. Always Cyclops as a lodestar, a limb extension. There was no before, only now, and then. We pause. We move on. We are one. There is no conflict, only continual challenge and mild struggle, recognised by us both as a necessity.’
Kronos looks on and listens intently, ears cocked. You sense a new intensity in this domesticated animal bred for human pleasure. She is at one with these fellow creatures, Percy and Cyclops, ready to lend assistance or create confusion at any moment. You perceive her for the first time as integrated, unmasked, difficult, defiant. You see the leash as a parody of restraint and decide to release her. Percy follows suit. The two dogs shake themselves. They do not run wild. For some time they look at each other, admiring each other’s lolling tongues. They lick their eyes. They rub noses. They play with mating postures and amble off into the bushes side by side. Now out of sight there is no reason to wonder. You decide to rethink their animal category. Not dogs, tail beings, four leggers, arcs, planets, stars, waves, yes. The two waves are interconnected and become one in the distance. Cyclops’ great skill is empathy and he merges with Kronos in a similar spirit to the one he shares with Percy. The actions they create, the fluid movements, flash as a blur of chestnut brown, black and white, creating a camouflage that becomes a slow-moving mist, in and out of the vegetation. They are in a delirium, demonstrating a mastery over sensation that’s very far from squeaky dog toys and the grooming parlour.
‘Is this normal, Percy?’
‘When these two become one? Certainly. Perhaps my overheard mutterings make more sense to you now.’
‘It all started with me wanting to explore how people talk to their dogs. I wasn’t expecting this.’
‘Not many have the opportunity. You and I, us and them. Shall we call them in?’
‘Are they safe?’
‘Completely. Let’s leave them. Would you like to share a sandwich? I bake my own bread. No meat in there in case you’re wondering. Perhaps I can also share an experience that I’m compelled to return to each day.’
‘Thanks. Delicious. I’m all ears.’
‘It’s the tulip. This particular one behind me at the corner of the flower bed. I’ve known it since it entered the soil in bulb-state last fall, dibbed and covered without care or precision by gardener Derek. He, knowing it would likely survive, was disinterested if it failed. Not me. I sensed this would become the one and brought focus and nourishment to the surrounding soil until the snows came in December. It pierced through last month as a green shoot and then came the daily shifts in budding. The constancy in my anticipation, has been almost unbearable, not for its impending passing but an awareness of my place in this cycle, and an inexplicable devotion. Cyclops is attuned and leads me to this spot daily. The colour is neither pink nor lilac. The exquisite stamen. The petals extended in mutual support, hanging, trumpeting.’
‘It’s hard to resist a tulip, even though I’m pretty committed to native wildflowers. I wonder if they go native sometimes and crop up in wilderness. I thought I saw one at Beachy Head a few years ago in the long grass away from the cliff edge. It was a similar colour to this one. Afterwards I thought it must have been a cransesbill or that someone had planted it there as a guerrilla act. There’s something so outrageous about them. And the history they carry. I was reading that tulip bulbs became hugely inflated in value in 17th century Holland, sometimes even costing more than a house.’
‘This is a common distortion. There was no ‘tulip mania’. The variegated were much prized and the wealthy of Flanders invested heavily in them. A personal collection of tulip bulbs was considered a mark of refinement and social standing, much like today’s art market. Then the crash came. In paintings of that period they soar, rage and flicker, revelling in their fame. And I choose to believe that the Dutch understood the true value of these flowers, so sadly lost on Derek. At this time of year they are priceless. But why am I so besotted by this particular tulip? It’s not even variegated.’
‘Don’t know that I’m qualified to answer such a profound question. I’m guessing it was a gradual process that crept up on you. There was the moment of c-connection as you saw the bulb covered over. Perhaps its burial represented something significant for you. When it was invisible you took care of it as more than a potential bloom. You became its guardian. Now that it’s in flower you have a personal relationship with it, like you do with Cyclops. Am I close?’
‘You have it of course. I was testing you. I have a tendency to be mischievous. I understand what is going on only too well and I prepare myself as the petals begin to curl, day on day. It’s the poignancy of it all that sometimes overwhelms me.’
‘Will you be back here tomorrow, Percy?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘I’m planning to volunteer as a waitress at the Park Cafe over there. It’s a way to get more inside knowledge about the park and its customers. I did something similar in Norway a few years ago. It was a memorable time, a lot happened. I became almost invisible and behaved in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable for regular staff members.’
‘Are you silver service trained?’
‘Self-taught but good on style and attention to customers. There’s a freedom in not being on a wage. Would you like to meet up again and I can explain more? Say at 11? I’d like to treat you to a coffee and Cyclops to a bowl of fresh water.’
‘Cyclops gets the best deal, their coffee is undrinkable. Perhaps you can improve on it by supplying your own beans. We will look forward to it. And now I regret that it’s already time for us to move on. I have an appointment. Cyclops, come and join me now please. Join!’
The dogs reappear side by side and wait in front of us to be re-leashed. They’ve quickly returned to an amenable pet state, as if preordained in the bushes. Percy takes a last look at his tulip before he and Cyclops drift away towards the other side of the park. He waves to us from behind, knowing we’re watching them. His voice begins to carry, as before.
‘Tomorrow, yes there will be time. We must reflect. As if it was that easy when it is. A fine unintentional mess. Perfect. A latte may be the solution. We walk on. We return. We will not desert you. Or your stamen.’
You let Kronos take the lead back. As you exit through the north gate the clouds are building steadily and it begins to rain. Her paws, dusted with mud from the bush adventure, begin to discolour as the liquid takes hold.
That evening you leave a note under Ashley’s door:
Dear Ashley, I forgot to mention that Sheila said to say hi to you. Thanks again for giving me the chance to take Bella out and get to know her better. We walked and talked like old friends. She really is a credit to you and loves you to bits. It’s hard to explain why this was such a special time, so when I got back I wrote a poem about it. Hope you like it. Kino
The Glory of Another
It never happened and it changed everything
She is a special diamond
I was famous for a few hours
Glowing in her light
So much and so little
My shadow left me
How they laughed
Like a deluge
So many great people
And other dogs
I will never be the same
Until you smash the mirror
That holds this moment
Thank you Bella
Imagining you is enough