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The greatest temper tantrum of all time took place thousands of years ago, when God wiped out the human race with a flood. Later, God had second thoughts, and a rainbow appeared above Noah’s Ark to show that God would never destroy the human race again. The notion of an all-knowing God regretting and revising his behavior is hard for some people to accept. They prefer to shift the focus away from God and approach the story in purely human terms, interpreting it as an extended metaphor, a warning against taking decisive actions in moments of rage. There’s no question that anger can be dangerous. People often become violent when they’re deeply hurt or offended, and unlike God, they may not have second thoughts about what they’ve done. They may justify extreme behavior, convinced that they had to do what they did, that working through the legal system wouldn’t have done any good, especially if laws protect the organization or person who caused their pain. I got involved in a situation like this thirty years ago in New York, when my friend Karl was living with his dog, a beagle he called the Buddha, in a basement apartment a few blocks south of Canal Street.
Karl woke one night at half past one with a ruptured appendix. He almost didn’t make it to the emergency room. Other complications developed after the surgery, and he had to stay in the hospital for a month. His next-door neighbor was willing to feed the Buddha, but Karl’s problems went beyond immediate care for his dog. He had no health insurance. Whatever he had in the bank was needed to pay his medical bills, leaving him with nothing to pay his rent. He was already three months behind, and the landlord lost his patience. He called the Salvation Army and had Karl’s furniture taken away. He put an ad in the paper and got a new tenant the following day. By the time Karl’s neighbor got home from work that night, there was no dog to feed. The landlord had taken the Buddha to the dog pound, which kept him forty-eight hours, then gave him to a medical research lab.
If I’d been in New York at the time, I would have tried to help out. At the very least, I could have saved the Buddha from the lab. But I was on tour with Karl’s two other close friends, Charlie and Stu. Our band was in Japan, then Germany and Sweden, places where the cutting edge music we’d learned to play had caught on quite nicely, though in the States people thought we sounded like stray dogs howling at the moon. The tour was fun, especially off stage, and we came home eager to tell Karl about all the wild things we’d done and seen, only to find him hospitalized and homeless.
When Karl finally got out, each of us offered him a place to stay. But he wanted a place of his own, so we gave him money to rent a room at the YMCA. Then he went to the animal shelter to look for the Buddha. The receptionist was all smiles and friendly phrases. She searched her records and told him that the dog had never been there. But Karl had an ex-girlfriend who worked at the shelter, and though he didn’t really want to talk to her—she’d left him for another man six months before—he needed someone who knew how to get around the official cover-ups and denials. Two days later, she knew the truth. She tried to protect Karl’s feelings, making up a story about a freak accident at the lab, but he’d heard her lie before and he knew how to make her tell the truth. She finally admitted that the Buddha’s eyes had been surgically removed as part of an experiment. Then the doctor had put him to sleep.
When Karl came over that night he was more upset than I’d ever seen him. He’d taken the Buddha off the street as a puppy five years before, claiming that the dog had approached him as a messenger from the universe. I didn’t believe in messages from the universe, but over time it was clear that the Buddha was making a positive difference. Karl was becoming a better person, more dependable and sensitive than he’d been before. The dog was the center of Karl’s life. Lovers and friends had come and gone, but the Buddha was always waiting for him to come home from work at night, greeting him at the door with eager eyes, wagging his tail. They’d played in Battery Park each morning before the sun came up. They’d taken trips all over the nation when Karl’s van was still running. The thought of someone cutting out the Buddha’s eyes filled Karl with hate. It filled me with hate. It filled Stu and Charlie with hate when we called and told them. We’d all known the Buddha for years. We’d cuddled and played with him many times. We agreed that we had to find the doctor from the lab and make him pay. And not just financially.
Working through Karl’s ex-girlfriend the next day, we found out who the doctor was and where he lived in Forest Hills. We drove to his house at midnight in Stu’s old Chevy Impala. We picked the back door lock, ripped the doctor out of bed, ignored the confused cries of his wife beside him, slammed him against the wall and knocked him unconscious, took his glasses from the dresser and squashed them into the floorboards, grabbed his wallet from the nightstand, dragged him into the kitchen, shoved him down an old wooden staircase into the basement, tied him tightly to a rotting support beam, tied his wife and two young daughters to folding chairs we found beneath the staircase.
The daughters were dazed and terrified. Their mother tried to make it seem that things weren’t as bad as they looked. She smiled at them and talked to us in a calm familiar voice. But Karl cut her off with what sounded like a prepared announcement: Please forgive us for waking you up. We’re not common criminals. Our visit here tonight is scientific in nature. My colleagues and I are concerned with the problem of blindness, not just in human beings, but throughout the animal kingdom. Our investigations have convinced us that blindness in animals can only be addressed by working with human subjects. We need to study human eyes, and what would be more appropriate than to study the trained eyes of a great scientist, the very same eyes that have studied the eyes of so many helpless animals. Through countless experiments, the doctor here has established the importance—indeed, the necessity—of surgically removing the eyes of his experimental subjects. Tonight this same necessity will be applied to the doctor himself!
At first I laughed. I thought he was just pretending to be a mad doctor in a movie. But when he pulled a switchblade out of his pocket I started to panic. I thought what we’d already done was revenge enough, especially with the doctor looking so damaged and pathetic. But Karl looked vicious, out of control, and all my vindictive excitement was suddenly gone. Up to this point I’d felt like words on turning pages, but once the knife cut through the language everything looked like a huge mistake. I turned away from the doctor’s bleeding face in the dirty basement light. I knew that the law would define what we’d done as a crime. No one would even ask about the crime we’d been avenging.
I told the wife and daughters what the doctor had done to the Buddha. The wife had no reaction at first, apparently familiar with her husband’s research methods. But then she gave me a sympathetic look, figuring she’d better seem concerned. The little girls looked horrified and the younger one started crying, as if she could see that her father had done something wrong and had to be punished.
The wife took a deep breath and said: Look, he didn’t know it was your dog. He didn’t know it was anyone’s dog. The lab gets dogs from the shelter all the time.
Karl said: It doesn’t matter whose dog it was. What he did was murder. Research is one thing; violence is another. And now it’s time to perform another experiment. Now it’s time —
She said: It was just an animal. You can’t kill a man for killing a dog.
Karl said: Why not? What makes people so special? That dog meant just as much to me as your husband does to you. And my dog didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t hurt anyone. Your husband did.
I followed his logic perfectly. But I knew I couldn’t let him take a knife to the doctor’s eyes. I grabbed his arm and led him upstairs to the kitchen, sitting him down at the table.
I said: Listen man, we’ve got his wallet. Let’s rough him up a bit more, maybe knock his teeth out, or break his nose if we haven’t already, and—
Karl nearly shouted: The man has to pay with his eyes!
I said: But what if we end up killing him? If we get caught, we’ll be looking at manslaughter charges. And I don’t think I can bring myself to cut the guy’s eyes out right in front of those two little girls. They’re innocent. His wife is innocent. Even if we take them upstairs and they don’t have to watch, their lives will be ruined. Or no—what am I saying? We’ll have to kill them too. They can identify us.
Karl said: We’ve already gone too far. We might as well go all the way.
We heard the doctor’s groggy voice downstairs, then Stu’s voice calling the doctor a killer, then the doctor sounding alarmed and angry, Charlie telling him to shut up, the doctor threatening Stu and Charlie with lawyers, Stu telling him to shut up, the sound of the doctor coughing and clearing his throat, the doctor threatening Stu and Charlie with lawyers again, a sound which must have been Stu or Charlie breaking the doctor’s nose or knocking his teeth out, the doctor’s wife and girls screaming and crying, the wife accusing my friends of being monsters, Charlie accusing her of being married to a monster.
Karl stared at the wooden tabletop. He raised the knife above his head and slammed it down as hard as he could. It stuck up from the wood like a knife in a chunk of cheese. He started talking quietly, indistinctly, to himself. I asked him what he was saying. He stared at the knife and got louder, speeding up and slowing down, as if the pace of his words had replaced their meaning. When I stood and tried to make him stop he just got louder and louder, speeding up and slowing down, gripping the sides of the table. His words were like a slaughter house of syllables, like pit bulls tearing each other apart in a billionaire’s back yard, like wild applause in response to a bull collapsing with a sword in his back, or gunshots driving a herd of buffalo into a frenzy and over a cliff, or a list of similes fencing in the rage that set them in motion. He stopped, abruptly stood and looked through the window above the sink, as if his eyes were following the streetlights into the distance. I could tell that the crying of the girls downstairs was getting to him. After all, he had two baby sisters that he’d helped his aunt and uncle raise after his parents died. He shivered and yanked the knife out of the table, retracting the blade and putting it in his pocket. He looked outside again and the streetlights told him what to do next.
He went downstairs and said: Ladies, prepare yourselves to watch a great artist in action. Stu, you still have your tattoo kit in your trunk, don’t you? Go and get it.
Stu looked confused but nodded and went outside to get his equipment. When he wasn’t making avant-garde music, Stu ran a mobile tattoo business out of his car, doing all his work in people’s homes.
The wife took another deep breath and said: What are you doing?
Karl said: I’m making the punishment fit the crime. Your husband cut my dog’s eyes out of his head. Now Stu is going to cut my dog’s eyes into your husband’s head.
She looked puzzled. Karl told her to wait and see. She struggled in her chair, cried out her husband’s name. The doctor lifted his head, met her eyes briefly, passed out again. His face was a bloody mess.
When Stu returned with his toolbox, Karl said: Get ready, man. This is going to be your crowning achievement. You’re going to give the doctor a new set of eyes. It’s clear that he can’t see things the way a dog sees them. So take your needle and cut the Buddha’s eyes into the doctor’s forehead, right above his eyebrows.
Stu looked like he wanted to laugh, but he saw that Karl wasn’t joking.
The wife said: A tattoo?
Karl said: That’s right, a tattoo. From now on, wherever the doctor goes, he’ll see everything twice. Maybe then he’ll think twice before he decides to cut more animals up.
She said: He was doing research. Scientific research! Can’t you understand that? He was doing something for the good of the human race. He was trying to figure out how make blind people see. He wasn’t being sadistic.
Karl said: Normally you ask someone if it’s okay before you start cutting them up. And I seriously doubt that your husband asked the Buddha to sign a consent form.
Red lights came flashing through the doorway at the top of the stairs. Apparently one of the neighbors, having heard all the screaming, had called the police. We made a quick exit, squeezing through a small basement window, got back to Stu’s car through an alley and drove away undetected.
But we knew that we’d soon be in jail if we didn’t make ourselves hard to find. Charlie came up with a plan, a way to vanish into the sea. He knew someone who knew someone who called himself Captain Green, a man who’d been in the Coast Guard in his twenties and early thirties, then got involved with Greenpeace as an
anti-whaling activist. He’d used his connections to buy an old Coast Guard cutter for almost nothing, and now he spent most of his time hunting down whaling ships, ramming and sometimes sinking them, or temporarily putting them out of commission. None of us had ever been at sea for more than a day. But Captain Green said he’d be glad to have us along, especially when we told him how much we respected the work he was doing.
We left from New York Harbor two days later. The ocean looked beautiful. But soon I was sure that we would have been more comfortable in jail. For the first two weeks we were seasick and dehydrated. Our beds were wooden bunks in a cramped compartment beside the engine room. The noise was so bad that for the first three nights we got no sleep. The latrine was out of commission. We had to piss and shit off the back of the ship, a difficult balancing act even when the deck wasn’t pitching wildly. Often I found myself rehearsing a speech for Captain Green, begging him to take us home, though I figured he would just laugh and tell us to get tough and adjust. That’s what we finally did, though only Karl really took to the sea.
At first I felt strange about ramming a ship. I knew that countless whales had been slaughtered over the years, and I thought that the captains of the whaling industry should be tried as mass murderers. But ramming and possibly sinking a ship seemed like a good way to get people killed. One of my crewmates told me that such things never happened. If a whaling ship was in danger of sinking, the captain sent out an SOS and help arrived in less than an hour, saving the crew, even if the ship itself went down. He also told me that whaling had been banned a few years before, that the ships we were hunting were in no position to take legal action against us. I nodded and smiled but still wasn’t sure what to think—until we encountered a whaling ship off the southern coast of Iceland.
Karl and three of our crewmates had positioned themselves in rubber lifeboats between the whaling ship and a group of humpback whales. The harpoon gunners couldn’t fire while our boats were in the way. But suddenly Karl’s boat was lifted high in the air by a massive swell, and when the boat dipped into the trough, the gunners had a clear view and opened fire. Two harpoons hit a female whale. Her blood spurted out all over the waves. Her screams were shocking, unbearable. Until that point, I’d assumed that whales took harpoons in silence.
I wanted the other whales to dive and try to save their lives. But the mate of the bleeding whale had other ideas. He turned and swam full speed toward the whaling ship, toward certain death. And not just his own certain death: It looked like Karl was about to get crushed. His boat was directly between the whale and his target. For a second I thought that someone would know what to do. A second later I knew that there was nothing anyone could do. But the whale knew what to do. He made it look easy, leaping out of the water and sailing gracefully over Karl’s head, crashing back into the waves and surging on toward the whaling ship. The harpoon guns at point blank range opened fire. The whale’s blood filled the waves. His cries were even more painful than his mate’s. I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to sink every whaling ship in the world.
I thought of Moby-Dick ramming and sinking The Pequod, dragging Captain Ahab to the bottom of the sea. But why hadn’t Herman Melville described the screams of harpooned whales? He’d served on a whaling ship and he must have heard those tragic sounds many times. Was it possible that he didn’t care, or that he thought that the voices of whales were aesthetically unimportant? Though the book had always been one of my favorites, I suddenly wasn’t so sure.
But I was quite sure that something had to be done. I didn’t have long to wait. Captain Green was already turning the ship and gunning the engines. I still remember the feeling of picking up speed, a glimpse of something hovering in the sky, then the moment of impact, the shock of getting knocked off my feet and almost off the ship, the sound of metal crunching against metal, our ship jolting into reverse, pausing briefly to gather up the lifeboats, then backing and turning and sailing away, having given the other whales a chance to escape. I never found out if the whaling ship went down. We were out of sight in less than fifteen minutes.
A half-hour later, I found Karl sitting on his bunk, staring at the wall.
I said: Karl, talk to me. You look all messed up.
He said: I’m not all messed up. I’m trying to fully take in what just happened.
I said: I practically shit in my pants, and I was just watching. You must have been going crazy with that whale coming at you.
He said: For a second it was like being in a world without names. For a second there was something in the sky, something that only made sense in a world without names, something like a globe of rain with bolts of lightning.
I said: A globe of rain with bolts of lightning. Except that it wasn’t there yet.
But the space it would some day occupy had already formed itself in the sky. And then—
He said: Then there was all that blood, those horrible sounds. The whale was coming and then he was six feet above me, and his eye seemed even closer, maybe because it was so big, almost the size of my head. But the most amazing thing was the look in his eye, like he knew we weren’t his enemies, like he knew we were trying to help. I know it sounds crazy, but I know what I saw when I looked in his eye. It was like when I used to look in the Buddha’s eyes, and I knew he cared about me, and I knew he cared that I cared about him. That’s the feeling I got when I looked at that whale. And it wasn’t like I’d been with him for years and he’d learned to love the way I fed him and played with him. We’d never seen each other before.
I said: He even made sure that he didn’t whack you with his tail when he came down. And he did this even though other members of our species had just killed his mate in cold blood.
Karl said: That’s right—in cold blood.
A few days later, Karl announced that he’d found his true calling. He told Captain Green that he wanted to spend the rest of his life saving whales, that he didn’t care how violent things got. In fact, he wanted violence if it meant saving innocent lives.
Captain Green said: You’re welcome to stay with me as long as you want. But if it’s violence you’re after, vou should probably give Peter Winston a call when we’re back in the City. You’ve heard of Peter Winston, haven’t you?
We shook our heads.
The captain said: I’m surprised. They did a TV special on him several years ago and —
I said: We don’t watch TV We made a group vow five years ago never to turn the damn thing on again. In fact, we don’t even have TVs, and we stay away from places that do.
Captain Green said: Good for you. But I’m still surprised that you don’t know the name Peter Winston. He’s never been shy about promoting himself. Some people say that he’s just a publicity hound. But he’s actually quite serious about what he does, even though his methods are more outrageous than mine. He’s got the names of all the ships he’s rammed tattooed on his chest. You might think he sounds like an ex-Hell’s Angel. But he’s got a Ph.D. in American fiction and he tells his crew to call him Captain Ahab.
Charlie laughed and said: It’s been a while since I read Moby-Dick, but didn’t Captain Ahab have a grudge against a whale? Didn’t he work in the whaling industry?
Captain Green said: That’s what I thought too, back when I was on Peter’s ship, the same year I first got involved with Greenpeace. But Peter claimed that if Captain Ahab were alive today, he’d be opposed to the slaughter of whales. His obsession with the white whale showed that he didn’t care about whaling as a business. He turned away from whales he was supposed to be killing to pursue one particular whale—symbolically pursuing himself, or the image of himself that he’d projected onto God, or onto Fate, or onto the universe, or —
Stu laughed: This Peter Winston guy definitely sounds like someone with a Ph.D. in fiction.
Captain Green said: He was living the fiction, Just like Captam Ahab. He even had a nineteenth-century cannon on board that really worked, with cannon balls specially made so he could fire the damn thing. And his cabin was filled with AK47s, which he didn’t hesitate to use. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to make Peter Winston sound crazy: At first I was eager to work with him. He had a way of drawing you into the intensity of what he was doing, like a book where you can’t stop turning the pages. But after a while he was too difficult for me. I foimd a way to get my own ship. Then I got a crew together through people I knew in Greenpeace. It wasn’t that I doubted his commitment. Peter Winston would do almost anything to save whales. But I don’t like bullets and cannon balls, and I didn’t like taking orders from someone who openly ridiculed Greenpeace, made movies of everything he did, spent lots of time in his cabin writing a book about himself, and made sure the pantry was filled with hamburger meat.
As a hardcore burger juntae, I suddenly felt that I might be on the wrong ship… Our captain insisted on meatless meals. There was no escape from canned vegetables and pasta. Though I told myself it was wrong to want to eat animals, I’d been hooked on red meat since I graduated from baby food, and the stuff I ate on the ship tasted like nothing. I fantasized every day about hamburgers and cheeseburgers and thick steaks covered with onions. I even started telling myself stories about going to restaurants, enjoying the decor, flirting with the waitresses, ordering meat and savoring every bite. The fantasies took up so much mental space that they gave me headaches.
But it wasn’t so bad that I lost track of what I was doing. Each time we interfered with a whaling ship, I felt like we were agents of cosmic justice, protecting innocent beings from a violent species gone mad. Karl tried to convince us to stay and dedicate the rest of our lives to whales and other creatures of the deep. But Charlie and Stu and I had our music to return to, so our work at sea ended when we found out that an animal rights group had made it safe for us to go home, exposing the violent procedures of the lab the doctor worked for, getting the courts to dismiss the charges against us.
I can still remember how shocked I was. I hadn’t expected anything but bullshit from the legal system. But when I heard that the judge on the case had three dogs of his own, I wasn’t quite so surprised. People with dogs know that their animals are amazing creatures, capable of things that human beings will never understand. Now that I’ve moved from New York to San Diego, a city that sets aside large amounts of public space for dogs, I’ve adopted two dogs from the animal shelter, a black lab mix and a golden lab mix, and I see every day how they practice a kind of ESP—or at least that’s what it would amount to for human beings. For dogs there’s nothing paranormal about it. It’s just their sense of smell.
Just an hour ago, for instance, I was walking with my dogs in the canyon near my house. Suddenly both of them stopped and lifted their noses, sniffing carefully. I assumed that they could smell coyotes nearby: They love to chase coyotes through the canyon, even though they never succeed in catching one. But this time there was no chase. The dogs began howling. They kept it up at full volume for maybe a minute. I assumed that something was deeply wrong, so I leashed them and led them back to the house, even though they clearly didn’t want to go. As I came through the kitchen door I discovered why they were so upset.
The phone rang. It was Cousin Frank. He and his family had just landed in San Diego and wanted to stop by for a few minutes before taking a vacation trip up the California coast. I generally try to avoid Cousin Frank. He’s a Republican who likes to talk about his favorite primetime TV shows. He also likes to tell hunting stories, as if the pleasure people get from killing animals just for the fun of it aren’t one of the most disgusting of all human crimes. People like my cousin make me wish that the Old Testament God had built an ark without Noah, saving only the animals, flooding our species out of existence. But I have trouble telling Cousin Frank off to his face because he gets hostile if you disagree with him. We haven’t seen each other in years, but soon he’s at my door smiling and laughing, and his wife is making herself at home at the kitchen table, and their two little boys are cowering in fear because they don’t like dogs.
Trying to be a good host, I take the dogs into the back yard, assuming that if I smile and make small talk for a while, Cousin Frank and his family will decide to go to Sea World or the San Diego Zoo. But after I make a pot of coffee and put the boys in front of my computer, Cousin Frank starts praising George Bush for planning a nuclear confrontation with Iran. Since I see no point in discussing politics with a Republican, I decide not to question his use of the word confrontation, though I know there won’t be any such thing, since Iran is only taking the initial steps to develop nuclear capability, and the U.S. could bomb them back to the stone age without fear of retaliation. I’m dying to ask Cousin Frank why he thinks it’s okay for the United States, a nation which spends a billion dollars a day on hydrogen bombs, to respond with moral outrage when other countries even plan to make nuclear weapons. But his wife can sense that I think Cousin Frank is a moron for supporting George Bush, and before too long she decides that it’s time to go to the zoo.
I’m relieved. But then Cousin Frank is urging me to come along, which I wouldn’t do even if Cousin Frank was President of PETA. I can’t stand zoos, even the supposedly humane San Diego Zoo, I can’t stand looking at animals behind bars. They all look so trapped and depressed. The San Diego Zoo is famous for its animal habitats, designed to replicate the places where these animals might otherwise be living. This is nonsense. I’ve only been there once, and the so-called state of the art enclosures and trails the zoo’s reputation is based on are just disguised prisons, and the animals know it. So I tell Cousin Frank that I’m busy. He knows that I work as a commercial photographer, and when I claim that I’ve got an appointment in half an hour to take menu photographs of grilled hot dogs, he can’t really object because he didn’t give me any advance warning about his visit.
As soon as he and his family leave, I take my dogs back to the canyon. But thirty minutes later, they’re sniffing the air again, whimpering, running in circles. Storm clouds fill the sky. Wind comes up, and soon it’s raining, unheard-of weather for a San Diego summer. We’re near a cave at the northern end of the canyon. My house is at the southern end, three miles away, so we scramble up into the cave and wait for the rain to stop. The view from the cave is usually outstanding. The northern end of the canyon is the highest point within city limits, about fifty feet higher than the southern end, and the cave is only ten feet below the rim, more than a hundred feet above the canyon floor. On relatively smog-free days, you can look south over the treetops and see the San Diego skyline, and beyond that the Coronado Bridge and the ocean.
But it keeps raining harder and harder, so hard it’s hard to see anything but rain. Soon there are flashes of lightning, the loudest thunderclaps I’ve ever heard. My dogs are terrified and cower in the back of the cave. I put their heads in my lap and try to help them feel safe, singing the songs I used to sing to them when they were puppies crying at night for their mothers. The rain shows no signs of letting up. It just keeps getting more intense. The gathering darkness feels like it might make all the light in the world obsolete. The sound of the rain in the trees a loud enough to make thinking obsolete.
Soon the dark has become opaque, solid and flat as a blackboard, and I’m sitting in a fifth grade classroom. The teacher is teaching us how to walk a dog, but the chalk in his hand keeps breaking. I want to tell him that before he tries to teach us how to walk dogs, he should learn how to write on a blackboard. But I’ll get in trouble if I say something like that, and I’ve been in trouble many times before, to the point that a few weeks ago the principal called in my parents for a conference, advising them to send me to a special school for kids with behavior problems.
Now the teacher is drawing Noah’s Ark on the blackboard, except that it’s not a boat. It’s a globe of rain with bolts of lightning. I raise my hand to complain, but no one else in the class looks worried, and the teacher ignores my hand and keeps talking, explaining that Noah was chosen by God because he had magic powers, that before he was born people would plant wheat and get corn, or plant corn and get barley But Noah’s presence began to change everything. He was God’s favorite person. God loved him so much that he gave him dominion over all non-human creatures, allowing them to survive only if they entered the Ark and became subject to human control.
The teacher’s head gets hit by lightning, shattering and tumbling like an avalanche into the dark, replaced by someone I’ve seen many times in the canyon, a guy in his early seventies with a lame Great Dane. He told me once that he got his dog from the animal shelter, that he’d rescued many dogs there over the years, and he always looked for the older ones that he figured no one else would want, since most people go to the shelter looking for puppies. But this man focused on dogs due to be put to sleep, or given away to research labs, figuring he could make their last few years as pleasant as possible, then go back and get another old dog and do the same thing. I remember leaving that conversation so moved that I went home with tears in my eyes, the same tears forming in my eyes right now as I realize that my dogs and I have been in the canyon all night, and the rain is still coming down, though it’s not as opaque as before.
The gathering transparency is dreadful, slowly becoming a pane of glass so clear it can only shatter, breaking into sharp prismatic fragments. I want to put them carefully back together, building a rainbow, but everything is too sharp, as if colors were forbidden, as if the mere act of giving them names would mean the end of all names. Instead, I tiy to give myself a new name, but I don’t know what I should call myself, and suddenly I can’t remember the name I already have.
Then a flash, a thunderclap. The rain abruptly stops. The sky looks like an ocean filled with the blood of harpooned whales. Something hovering over the canyon vanishes in the gathering light, I don’t know what it was but I know what it should have been, what it must have been, what it might as well have been, what it might become in a work of fiction, a globe of thunderbolts and rain from the other side of time and space, collecting billions of animals, pairs of every species that the human race hasn’t killed off yet, reducing them to microscopic versions of themselves, taking them to a place that’s free of predatory bipeds, where all of them will quickly be restored to their normal size, then set free to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, except of course that it won’t be the earth, and there won’t be any dominant species turning it into the earth.
Suddenly the earth feels terribly small, terribly empty. I start to feel abandoned, but my dogs haven’t left me behind. They’re waking up, lifting their heads from my lap and sniffing the sunlight. The canyon is full of water almost up to the mouth of the cave, more than a hundred feet above the path where we take our walks. Looking south I see that the city is gone, completely submerged. There’s nothing but surging water all the way to the place where the sky comes down.
Stephen-Paul Martin has published many books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, most recently The Possibility of Music.
This story is included in issue #40: Animals. Copyright © 2007 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.
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