There was a dog who had a good home, for a dog, From puppyhood, he had food, a place to sleep and a sense there was freedom somewhere. But like most dogs, he reflected the anxiety and fear of his masters. He had dreams of glory but saw shadows everywhere. When someone shouted, he cowered. He was housebroken but sometimes he was careless, His masters would hit him and he would whine. When they brought home a new kitten, he growled at her.
Once when he was alone with the woman, she thought she heard someone in the basement, coming up the stairs. He went to the basement door and listened with her. It turned out to be the beating of her own heart. She laughed, but he didn’t understand. He hadn’t known it was possible for anyone to be in the basement. This was one more thing he would have to listen for. He noticed his heart was also beating hard.
The man’s constraints were more removed. He would be talking with the woman about his boss. There would be an expression of uneasy calculation in his eyes about where some new development left the man and his family. The dog understood the man’s feelings through his eyes. He was closest to the man. He especially liked the smell of the newspaper when the man would come in from work and read it on the floor, leaning on one elbow, the dog resting his head on the paper. He also liked the smell of dirt and grime the man sometimes carried into the house.
The dog was always ready to take on the enemy, but they seemed too hidden and amorphous to generate anything more than an undercurrent of apprehension, despite the warmth and coziness of his home. Possibly his family was not as conscious of the pervasive fear as he was, so the routine he staunched it with had a greater importance to him, and his distress was manifest when he found that routine wearing thin.
Then one day he broke the routine-- may as well go this way instead of that way he figured-- and going this way changed everything. For one, he was no longer a dog.
He found he had hands. How extraordinary! He looked at them for a long time.
That wasn’t all. His nose had shriveled but his mind opened like a crater facing upward to some new sky. When he walked, he rose up into the air and looked downward on children, fire hydrants, dogs!
The greatest discovery was that this bounded arena of anxiety and clock time wasn’t the only thing going on. Not only were there other worlds available, but there was a thing called options, which allowed the transformation of this arena itself. He got the idea watching people playing cards. He learned with great effort -- remember his hands had only recently been paws-- how to shuffle the deck. He understood that all his life he had been playing the hand he was dealt, and he didn’t like it. So he changed his life.
Instead of spending all of his free time sniffing for smells, he learned there was community and enlightenment and art. These were new things under the sun, and he sensed they had the power to enhance his life a thousand fold. He pursued them tentatively at first, like a dog extending a paw to a kitten. But he was no longer a dog, he was now a man on his own, and he began to live a fully human life, with his own dreams, myths, legends.
As he grew older, his early memories faded and he wondered why it had taken him so long to learn to shuffle a deck of cards. Or play guitar. Or dance. Or read a book with understanding.
Then he remembered. He had actually been a dog until...when? Sometime in his past. So what was a long time to him? Compared to what? His peers? Did they used to be dogs? He read biographies and obituaries searchingly to see, but that question was never addressed. He suspected it required reading between the lines. Sometimes he thought he could tell those who had been dogs.
It wasn’t that his life before had been a dream. He was awake enough now to know it was all a dream. No, his other life had simply been on a different track. Maybe the people who had taken care of him were dogs too.
He wondered if he was still there, still living that other life. Still fearing shadows, still sniffing the ground.
He wondered if he was keeping that other one alive, if there was a link between them. Of course there was, he realized. He was a hybrid. He was straddling a foundation that was half new man, half crazy forebear. He couldn’t stand on such a construction. All he could do was bow.
One day, sitting in his chair, after all these years still enjoying the feeling of how his fingers intertwined, he decided to stop worrying about that other guy and let him go. He’s ok, he thought. Or in Hell.