Anson Cameron has written five critically acclaimed novels: Silences Long Gone, Tin Toys, Confessin’ the Blues, Lies I Told About a Girl, and Stealing Picasso, as well as a collection of short stories, Nice Shootin’ Cowboy. He lives in Melbourne and writes a column for the Age newspaper…see his sad and beautiful story below.
There are new silences in our house. No one scratches to be let and out, and in again.
Ubud, in the hills of Bali, is a town of many dogs. Mongrels wander over the roads in an endless game of chicken, a compelling ballet of close shaves in which no dog is ever hurt. It’s a cruel place to receive a phone call telling you your own dog has been run over and killed.
Home in Melbourne, my sister could barely get the message out. Slipped his collar … took off … driver didn’t stop. I must have sworn. Maybe I had tears in my eyes because when I got off the phone, the girls were looking at me, white-faced. Bean? Run over? Dead? The whole family wilted, weeping, onto sofas. Wife and daughters lay their faces in their hands. We hugged. I swore again. Little bastard.
Dogless people wonder why we burden ourselves with dogs. Why befriend another species? Well, wolf is man to wolf. That is, a dog knows he’s human and part of your pack. And the anthropomorphized pooch in our modern minds is at least as anthropoid as an aunt.
For me, it’s mostly conversation. Bean was a Norfolk terrier who tended my private thoughts like a kelpie tends a mob of sheep. It was his job to listen, to keep secrets, to weigh the questions I asked. He was good at it, too. Sometimes while I was talking, he would lean his head to one side in admiration at the things I was telling him, as if I were Cicero in full flight. I never met anyone else who listened so well. Or shared my opinions so deeply. He was very wise.
Quite often I belittled him, but he took it in good humour. I regret that in our many private conversations I always reminded him how stumpy-legged he was, and never failed to let him know humans had invented the six-string guitar while dogs lay in the sun, sending daydreamed cats up notional trees.
He and I wrote two novels and a book of stories together, discussing plot and character. By midafternoon of most days, when he had had enough of writing, he would unravel himself from my grandmother’s armchair and warble like a magpie to be taken to the beach or park. ‘‘You simple-minded wretch,’’ I’d say. ‘‘I’ve just rattled off a thousand deathless words while you’ve dreamt of throttling possums.’’
I heard of a man in New York who walked an ocelot on a leash because when people stopped to marvel at it, they would strike up conversations with him. A dog is not an ocelot and cannot be expected to rake in as many new friends for its owner, but through Bean I met plenty of people in the parks of Port Melbourne.
This city is filled with women whose men have expired and who have, naturally enough, replaced them with dogs. A modern reincarnation in which Roger becomes Rover. I liked talking to these women. Women who are done with men become open and speak plainly. But I cannot go among them now, without Bean.
What sort of creep goes to a park on his own? And how would these park women look at me leading a new dog? He neglected Bean and now he turns up with this flibbertigibbet. Come away, Jasper. Come away, Flux. Don’t play with them.
You lose much territory, many journeys and many contacts when you live in the city and lose a dog.
And now he’s dead, there are new silences in our house. The doorbell should set off a round of barking, the rubbish truck as well, and the possums should be harangued. No one scratches at the door now to be let in and out, and in again.
People ask if I’m going to get another dog, as if Bean were a toaster that shorted out. As if he had no unique traits. No distinct character. Was just a thing. Broken now. Buy a new one. Kambrook, Labrador, Sunbeam, Spaniel …
But you can’t replace YOUR dog with A dog. Until you actually do. And I haven’t.
He took a while to die, I’m told. And my saddest moments are when I think that in his dying, he would have looked for me. He always looked for me when brutes were bearing down. I was the boss. But I was in Ubud surrounded by a waltz of traffic-wise mongrels.
Copyright © 2012 Fairfax MediaTags: Anson Cameron, Bali, death of a dog, Norfolk terrier, Ubud