Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Best intentions

I sit slouched back in my seat and stare at the harsh glowing screen, lost in some kind of computer trance. Beside me sits Murdoch, his head comes up to just past my elbow. My arm rests across his shoulders, fingers idly twirl the shaggy black hair at the top of his leg. The room is quiet and as my attention on the screen wanes I become aware of Murdoch’s eyes burning two perfectly round holes in the side of my face. I turn my head and look into the bulging, black pools of intense energy. “What?” I ask as if expecting a response.

Over the last two months, Murdoch has been venturing up the stairs from his lonely lair in the entryway to the kitchen where he attempts to be a normal, functioning part of the family. His first few forays into this other world ended quickly and with little fanfare after he pounced on Chestnut and lifted his leg on the side of the toilet.

For the first while it was as though opening the baby gate released a flood of adrenaline from the walls of the house itself. Murdoch’s blurred body worked quickly through the newly electrified atmosphere of the kitchen, inhaling every smell he could, casting his eyes on every unexplored surface while his nose and tongue worked the corners as though he knew it was only a matter of seconds before this dream ended abruptly with the gate slamming closed behind him.

One day I turned to find him with his front paws on the counter, standing there like an orangutan, his thin body tapering in at the waist and long hair hanging down from his bony elbows. I paused for half a beat, shocked to see how big he looked standing there, a Sasquatch in my kitchen. He stretched his neck toward the back of the counter and snatched a great hunk of stale bread that was earmarked for the birds.

I lunged forward and grabbed a hold of the bread as he returned his front paws to the floor. It tore in two and I stood there with half the bread in my hand while he worked his jaw in a frenzy, inhaling the other half with gusto as though making a point. He always takes everything just a hair too far, doesn’t seem to know how to stop when he’s ahead.

Inevitably he becomes overexcited, gets pushy when I stop petting him, chases a cat, cranes his neck and tries to nonchalantly let his tongue roll onto the counter top in search of crumbs. I banish him with an outstretched arm, finger pointing to the stairs. “Go.” And he clatters down the wooden steps to the entryway, all knobbly knees and lanky legs.

But more and more, in the latter half of his two-year-old year, Murdoch is showing signs of maturity. Sometimes those signs are so small and fleeting you have to really look closely, but they are there. He seems to learn quickly, when things work in his favour, and more often than not he settles down beside me, hangs his head a bit while I run my hand over the smooth hair that follows the roundness of his skull. Sometimes he rests his chin in my lap.

Mostly he can just sit or lie quietly beside me in the kitchen for brief stretches while I work on something on the computer or at the table, his shaggy body a constant presence in my periphery, my senses heightened, coiled nerves waiting to pounce on him, snap out his name with authority. But sometimes I let my guard down, lulled into a false sense of calm because he’s right there beside me and my hand is on his body.

He rarely sits staring at me like he is now, eyes bugging out from behind the shaggy sprays of hair on his face. We study each other for a minute and I start to laugh because it looks like he has something important he’s just bursting to say. Then I notice that’s because his mouth is buttoned up tight. I tilt my head slightly, look at the side of his face. Amongst the scraggily hairs of his mustache that overhang his lips and mingle with the scraggily hairs of his beard, I see a scrap of white.

I feel my face change, my smile falters, my brow pulls into a questioning furrow. Murdoch notices me noticing the white material emerging from between his tightly closed lips and he hops a little as his back legs unfold beneath him and he stands, tensed, ready to bolt. “Murdoch,” I say, trying to sound as though I haven’t noticed a thing. If I’m too stern, I play right into his game. His jaw loosens for a moment and I see a flash of white in his mouth. It’s as if he’s letting me glimpse his prize on purpose, taunting me.

It’s my sock. I always leave a pair at the top of the stairs so I can throw them on with my shoes to take the dogs out. I have been doing that for weeks and Murdoch has ignored them. Today, I guess he was bored. I manage to get a hold of a corner of the sock. “Mine,” I say. Murdoch’s eyes shimmer as though his alter ego is trying to come forward and take over. “Hey,” a knife edge in my voice. “Murdoch, mine.” He hesitates, looks like he’s thinking about his best course of action, then slowly releases the sock. I hold it up between us, pinched by my thumb and forefinger. Another sopping wet sock to add to the tally of slobber encrusted socks that Murdoch has claimed at one time or another as his own.

My eyes refocus from the sock to Murdoch’s face, “Oops,” his eyes seem to say. “Downstairs,” I tell him calmly and point while getting to my feet. He turns and, sheepishly, he goes. Later when I take the dogs out I wear the sock, glimmering with dried slobber. My own statement perhaps. But Murdoch doesn’t notice

1 comment:

  1. As usual, Heather, I enjoy your musings, especially about that lovable ruffian Murdoch. It's so easy for the reader to move into your world and to feel what you feel. Your linguistic touch is light but clear and sometimes even poetic and so sly Murdoch moves over the page with some reality. We quickly see/feel him as you place your well-chosen and artful details before us: "the flood of adrenaline from the walls" as Murdoch with "blurred body" streams through the "newly electrified atmosphere of the kitchen", under your sharp vision Murdoch becomes "an orangutan" and a "Sasquatch" with "shaggy sprays of hair on his face." I laugh at all of this. Sound and elegant characterization of this complex animal- your words, as natural as pebbles on the beach, simply slip into the mind.
    Novelist Pat Conroy points out that one of life's most important lessons is the developing the ability to tell stories. You've learned that lesson well - Conroy would be smiling. Thanks for the Heather story.