Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A warrior just the same

Murdoch and I sit on the deck, side by side in the dark, his black shape invisible against the black, black forest. Above, the sky is full of stars. Ragged treetops are silhouetted against the not-quite-blackness of it and form a sort of ring in this clearing where we sit, as though a hole has been ripped in the deepest black fabric of the universe to peak beyond at another place entirely.

It is a warm evening after a string of warm days, a small and brief resurge of summer, and the air smells like yellowed leaves. In the woods somewhere, in that complete darkness of a moonless night, a bird sings a short refrain and then it is silent again.

I arrived home in the dark and called to Murdoch at the door, “It’s just me,” when I heard the uncertain deep rumble in his throat. I did not want to frighten him again like we did the other night when he didn’t know it was Morgan and I, and we literally scared the crap out of him.

That night we did not go directly to the house as usual after we pulled the car into the driveway, instead we stood in the dark discussing one thing or another before wandering up the gravel path to the door. Murdoch was not silent like he usually is when he hears us coming, but barked loudly, uncertainly and, in hindsight, I suppose alarmingly.

As I reached for the outer wooden screen door, Morgan, in a playful mood, whispered, “Wait!” then he stepped in front of me and banged on the door, rattled it on its hinges, and then pulled it open and threw open the main door behind it. We stepped back, expecting a wild beast to come leaping across the threshold, but it was silent and as I peered through the window I could see Murdoch had backed up as if to hide behind the door.

“I think we scared him,” I said.

“No way,” said Morgan, and then called, “Come on Murds!”

But he didn’t come out. He was busily sniffing the floor in a distracted manner and as we stepped inside we were greeted by a heavy muskiness, his scent had exploded over everything and on the floor, a little brown lump.

We were stunned for a moment and then our hearts sank. “We really did scare him,” said Morgan. “I feel terrible.”

“He’s trying to clean up.”

“He doesn’t have to do that,” he said, and ushered both Murdoch and I outside. Where Murdoch paced at the door until I managed to distract him with a stick and we played fetch by flashlight.

So, tonight when I again came home in the dark and heard the beginnings of an uncertain bark, I spoke to him through the door, let him know I wasn’t some giant dog-eating bear emerging from the woods, and invited him outside with me on to the deck to sit and look at the stars.

Beside me, Murdoch’s furry bulk is reassuring, companionable, and I feel such remorse for scaring him the night before, for embarrassing him. I never expected him to react the way he did, my big ferocious dog who will show his teeth before he licks your face. But then, I think, what better way to mask your fear in a situation you don’t trust. Be the first to intimidate.

I wrap my arm around his shoulder, squeeze him closer, kiss the side of his face. He growls. I nod to myself and smile and think about all the things I don’t know about my dog as we sit side by side in the black night, content in the quiet and solitude, just he and I and the stars brilliant overhead.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you so beautifully characterize Murdoch. Like the natural world, so poetically described, Murdoch becomes that warm evening smelling of "yellowed leaves" perched on the edge of falling into the sharp frost of winter days. His gaping mouth full of gleaming canines can magically transform into a sly and inviting smile; he "shows his teeth before he licks your face"; you "kiss the side of his face" and "he growls". Beneath his "warm evening" lies a biting winter. He is a fully developed character not a mere caricature of a large and woolly dog. I really liked that strong, final image of you and Murdoch squeezed shoulder to shoulder "content in the quiet and solitude" and content in each other's company. Makes me feel contentment as well.