Monday, September 27, 2010

The Murdoch uncertainty

Beneath the yellow warmth of the early morning sun, cool air carrying the slight dampness of the night before swirled lazily around us as Morgan and I discussed the basics of tennis. I stood on one side of the net while Morgan sat in his wheelchair on the other side. It was just Morgan’s second time playing, the first being the evening before as the dark blueness of twilight descended on the court painting everything the same shadowy indigo. We called it quits when the tennis balls seemed to fade in and out of existence as they flew through the air.

Now, in the brightness of day, we started again. As we conversed over the net, my dog radar suddenly went off and I turned to see another couple stepping from their car with tennis rackets, a Frisbee and a border collie.

“Oh, look!” I blurted out somewhat involuntarily and watched as the three of them entered through the gate and jogged past us with a friendly wave to the second court. I had seen this dog before playing Frisbee in the open grassy field that rolled away from the fenced in tennis courts towards a row of houses in the distance. Walking along the gravel path one day that winds through the open space I watched as this black and white dog flattened itself into the ground as though made of nothing more than shadows and felt the intense stare from a distance as her eyes remained glued to her owner and the blue Frisbee in her hand.

Today the collie took up position in the shade beneath a weather worn bench as her owners began to play. She focused intently on their every move, her entire world was there on that court, everything else faded away. I could feel her presence as Morgan and I hit the ball back and forth, the very air vibrated with her intense purpose, her unspent energy held at the ready, waiting for just one word.

When it finally came, the dog was on her feet and moving across the court with such ease and grace, it was as though she had never been lying still. She flowed out from under the bench, and moved like a steady, rolling river purposefully cutting its way through the landscape to retrieve one ball at a time. Somehow, she knew which of the yellow fuzzy balls belonged to her owners and which ones were ours.

“We should teach Murdoch how to do that,” Morgan said as we stopped play to watch.

“Yeah, right,” I said with a laugh, “Could you imagine it?”

I pictured his large black shape galumphing across the court after every ball, leaping up and catching them before they sailed over the net, each ball getting heavier and heavier as they became saturated with dog slobber. Somehow along the way I’m sure he would find himself tangled up in the net, ripping it to shreds in a panicked attempt to escape its evil clutches.

Morgan and I do a lot of surmising about Murdoch. It has become somewhat of a game that usually begins with “Can you imagine?” and ends with descriptions of mass destruction and chaos, sometimes unspoken and left completely up to the imagination.

Visiting Upper Canada Village in Cornwall, Ontario, Morgan comes flying down a ramp in his wheelchair and spooks a couple of horses pulling a wagon. “Oh my god, could you imagine if Murdoch were here?” Morgan says as we watch the coachman take control of the sidestepping horses. I just shake my head, picturing myself being dragged behind him as he lunged and barked maniacally at, first the horses, then the giant wagon wheel as it trundled by.

At a park with my nephew, I pause atop the play structure and spot away in the far corner an off-leash dog park. Through the chain-link fence I can see a crowd of dogs, tails waving happily in the air as though the canine community is meeting for a chat over morning coffee. If Murdoch were in the mix he would be like a fox loose in a chicken coop. I imagine the air suddenly full of multicoloured tufts of flying fur as the black tornado rips through the once pleasant playtime. Amidst the ensuing melee would erupt deep-throated, no-nonsense growls and barks and when the dust finally settled, Murdoch and I would be banned for life from any further attempts to play with other dogs. I would leave quietly and quickly, dragging Murdoch behind me who would no doubt still be trying to start something even as the gate slammed shut in his face.

In the backyard of my sister’s house I gaze into the deep blue, crystal clear water of the swimming pool. “If Murds were here,” I think, “We would never get him out of there.” I imagine his lanky body barreling so quickly down the stairs to the poolside that he trips himself up with his oversized feet. But that doesn’t stop him from launching himself through the air, a kamikaze leap into the pool, gangly legs flailing for a moment before the desperate splashing attempts to swim while inhaling every last drop of water. I imagine the hacking and gagging, the less-than crystal water becoming gray, a film of long hairs woven together on the surface of the pool, the giant hair clog in the filter, a less than welcome house guest.

Poor Murdoch. I think sometimes we don’t give him enough credit, letting our imaginations carry us completely away. Maybe he would be a good ball dog on the tennis court. For a moment I see him sitting up straight and tall on the sidelines, watching the ball fly back and forth over the net, waiting. When I say “Okay Murds!” he jerks to life, off and running, perhaps not as gracefully as the border collie - moving more like a train wreck waiting to happen than a gently rolling river - but he’s doing it. Perhaps we could teach him this I think. Murdoch is full of surprises I remind myself, and sometimes they’re even pleasant ones.

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