pretty books


Black Dog, Dream Dog

After Horatio’s walk, Sam lay on the floor of the shed with him. It was dim and silent, like a cave. They were safe there, but it was suffocating Horatio. But the thought of her own world without him made Sam feel like she was suffocating.

“What can we do, Horatio? Isn’t there a way for both of us to be happy?” She sighed. “Should I talk to Mom?”

He stopped making the funny noise in his throat. Sam took it as a no.

Her whole body was heavy.

“I guess you can never really be my dog.”

Sam snuggled with him for a long time.

“I promise I’ll find a way to make you happy.” The noise whirred up in his throat again. “You won’t have to be alone all the time in a dark shed.”

Sam knew he was only wagging his tail because he always did when somebody patted him, but she was sure he understood her. She felt a little tiny bit less sad knowing that he would be happy, the way he had made her happy so many times. But she wished that helping him didn’t feel so horrible. She wished it didn’t feel like she was losing the best thing she’d ever known.


[Man singing]
I gave my love a cherry that had no stone.
I gave my love a chicken that had no bone.
I gave my love a story that had no end.
I gave my love a baby with no cryin’.

[Woman singing]
How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
How can there be a story that has no end?
How can there be a baby with no cryin’?

[Man singing]
A cherry when it’s blooming, it has no stone.
A chicken when it’s pipping, it has no bone.
The story that I love you, it has no end.
A baby when it’s sleeping, has no cryin’.

There, I’m crying again, even now, as I write out the words. They remind me that the song shares much in common with one of my childhood favorites—Disney’s The Magic Grinder. For me, it was the archetypal wish fulfillment fantasy. Such stories, a mainstay in children’s literature, deliver a repeated, irresistible promise that it’s possible to have everything you need. But it's been a long time since I believed in that kind of magic.

The lyrics spin round my mind as I wash dishes and fold laundry. And I realize. The male singer is offering gifts of such immense value that the woman simply can’t believe in them. I’ve been there; I spent the first year of my courtship with Jonathan mired in cynicism. Like me, the woman singer is skeptical.

Like Jonathan, the man singer reassures her. His promises are realistic, not magical—they acknowledge that nothing is perfect always, but everything is all right sometimes. The riddle isn’t about the logical details of cherries and babies—it’s about life itself. How can we be sure that things will be okay?

The man sings his calm insistence, which promises love, abundance, and security. There will be beauty. There will be not only food, but also the succour of story. There will be enduring love. And there will be a serene child—the guarantee of a peaceful, abundant future.

For a gal like me who was abandoned by her husband suddenly one day, such promises cut to the bone of my yearning. I spent years aching for these things with such force that at times I thought it might tear my guts out.

And a decade after my marriage exploded I’m still stepping on shrapnel. All the hard stuff feels like it happened five minutes ago. All the good stuff feels like it could disappear any moment.

How can this be? How can there be a peace that’s so hard won yet so fragile? How can I come undone so quickly by a simple children’s song?

That’s my own riddle.

“A Tenure-track Dog,” in Professorial Paws

Today, as a direct result of my decision to pursue a career in academia, I live alone in a rented apartment, hovering somewhere just above the poverty line if you average out my income over the past few years. I can barely support myself; I certainly cannot provide responsible care for a dog.

Yet I have written two children’s novels about characters whose lives are transformed by their interaction with dogs, the royalties of which (should there be any), I will donate to non-profit groups that provide canine care. Besides fiction, I have also penned a scholarly article about the role of canine characters in contemporary children’s fiction. I have taught a course on “Animal Fiction” that focused centrally on the human/canine relationship and its reflection in literature. In my former life as a haus frau, I regularly visited a senior’s centre with a therapy dog (the aforementioned canine soul mate), but working as a sessional instructor, sometimes teaching five different courses at three different institutions, precludes the middle-class niceties of such volunteer work. Indeed, it actually precludes living with a dog, who could not in all fairness be left alone for the long stretches during which I am away from my home commuting, teaching, attending committee meetings in a valiant attempt to be perceived as collegial and service-oriented . . . . Yet another barrier is the unavoidably nomadic existence of the doctoral candidate and tenure-track hunter; in the past few years I have lived in four cities and spent several months completing research in India on two separate occasions.

In short, the search for a tenure-track job is not compatible with a life shared with dogs . . . . Years ago when I began my Master’s degree, I never recognized that pursing an academic career—some of which is founded upon my love of and respect for dogs if you consider my publication record—would separate them from me so effectively. Would I have made different decisions if I had known?