I have been working on my second novel for over a year now. I realize that I have fed my blog seldomly in that time, so I have adapted one of the chapters as a short story. It tells the tale of El Perro, who is loosley based on my girlfriend’s sister’s dog.
El Perro felt as though he had dug every hole in Paradise. He doubted there was a hole in the world he had not dug. If it could be digged, he had dug it. He had dug a burrow under a birch, left a pile by a pine, had excavated the extremities of the elm trees, and had hollowed under the hedgerows. He had dug wholes, half-holes, quarter-holes and micro-holes. Some holes he had dug twice, others thrice. Indubitably, Paradise was Swiss cheese.
And what a series of discoveries! If it could be lost, El Perro had found it. He had found misplaced mittens, mobile phones, mouldy bread, spare pages from a paperback, a plethora of candy packets, a superfluity of soda cans, a still warm condom, and dog and cat shit by the gallon.
And his nose ached from smelling too much! Each new whiff of person or pet, each evidence of recent micturition, each droplet of seminal mucus, or trace of menstrual blood felt like it burned his nasal tract. In short; El Perro was spent. He was spent like a torn and sellotaped dollar bill. His reserves had been obliterated, his senses overcome, but he had by now no option but to continue in his quest.
For despite his many discoveries, despite experiencing enough to fulfil a lifetime’s curiosity, he had not found his bone. And as he trudged along the causeway back to Paradise it occurred to him that he had perhaps dashed into his search with too little planning. For instance, why ever had it occurred to him to expand his search to the nearby islands? He had not left Paradise until after he had lost the bone: if it was to be found it must be in Paradise. He tried to position himself in the self he was when he started on up the causeway, and found that self intoxicated in quest. He discovered a self who reasoned: a thief may have moved the bone. But he knew, though he dared not admit it, that if the bone had been thieved, it was lost. Soon he must give up his quest, for, as he also was trying to keep from himself, there were other bones to be had. Yes, this was a mania.
El Perro felt he distinguished himself from other dogs through his aim (note: aim, not an achievement) for self-knowledge and truthfulness. He was far from actualized, but he felt he was as well adjusted to reality as a dog could be. So while, like most creatures, he was prone to mania, he was able to eventually bring himself round, out of it, and back to the world—the real world, of aching senses, a painful empty belly, and a biological urge to sleep, sleep off the mania.
But then: it is not manic to seek out that which you had, in the places that you had it. But this was what he had forgotten to do. Not finding his bone in the expected place, he had dug in an adjacent place, then a nearby place, and so on, until he was far from anywhere it could feasibly be. So, as he re-walked his steps back to the island of Paradise, he also walked his steps again in his mind.
And, it being a two-hour walk, he thought he may as well trace back his steps further yet, so as to contextualize his mania, and to contribute to its subsidence.
El Perro had been born in Peru to dogs who looked as he did; that is, they were white, fluffy, and scruffy. It was a family truism that their lineage was Maltese poodle, but El Perro was at least third generation mongrel. He was the size of the palm of a human hand when he was removed from his mother’s teat, caged, and taken in an aeroplane to P—, a township to the south of the city of M—. There he has given as a gift, a token of romance, to a young woman who named him Moose. She had hoped for a brown dog, and had planned to name it Chocolate Mousse. She tried to adapt El Perro to her. Soon the gifting lover, the dispenser of tokens, was himself dispensed with, and El Perro grew larger and scruffier and noted that he was spending more time alone than ever before.
Lacking in human companionship, he sought friendship in the local community of canines. However this was difficult as he did not use the local dialect, and the other dogs could tell he had not been trained. El Perro knew they would never accept him as an equal, and hence made no effort to impress himself upon them. This was made easier by his discovery of the sexual intrigue he excited in the local bitches. An exotic outsider, he was soon digging his way out of the garden twice a day for carnal rendezvous.
First he fucked every bitch on the cul-de-sac. Then he did the whole block. Then he started to work his way around the neighbouring blocks. It was around now that the humans started taking notice of him again. They would notice he wasn’t in his kennel, nor the yard, nor in the house (where he was strictly forbidden to be), nor even in the cul-de-sac. They would notice burrows under the fences. They would make it known that El Perro’s behaviour was not approved of. El Perro did not really care.
Then, one day, the humans ceased to look at him with anger and frowns. They petted him, and they looked at him with sympathetic eyes. For days it seemed he could not encounter a primate without being fed a biscuit. He considered stashing them, such was the windfall, so as to avoid gaining weight (and losing lovers). He considered stashing biscuits, in reality, only when he had no biscuits. Before the days of the biscuits he had never thought of biscuits. After but two rotations of the Earth, he was besotted by them.
On day four, per the recently established habit, the male human petted El Perro’s head and dropped a biscuit by his water bowl. El Perro bolted to the snack, being, as he was, besotted. Shortly afterwards he began to feel unwell. At first he put it down to heavy legs, a burden which regularly affects foreign dogs and comes in occasional bouts. Soon and unusually, the heaviness entered his bowels, then his lungs, and also his head. El Perro began to feel existential terror. Doom weighed so heavily upon him that he began to cry. He recalled his days as a palm-sized pup in Peru, re-tasted the tang of his mother’s milk, and slipped into a dreamless sleep.
He awoke bereft of testes; an ex-lothario. He bore an ice-pack to his penis. He was convinced that the biscuits that were to blame. He foreswore them.
But still the humans fed him biscuits; and still El Perro ate them. He ate them though he hated them; he loved them though they disgusted him. When he ate biscuits he hated himself and when he craved them, which he did even as he ate them, he pitied himself. He sobbed constantly. He saw nobody but his captors, feeling no inclination to escape his yard-gaol, no hormonal urge to impregnate bitches. Solitude inspired mania in him.
At some point he realized that he was deeply engaged in a semi-platonic relationship with a stuffed teddy bear, who was defiled with bite marks. He had no idea how long it had been going on. He was fat from excessive biscuit consumption. He acknowledged the absurdity of his predicament. This was his first mania, at least, that he knew of, for it was also his first moment of self-knowledge. He did not know how he had acquired this ability to analyse his self, but, having nothing else to do, he sought to use the method relentlessly until it itself became a mania.
He spent many weeks deep in introspection. He ceased his consumption of biscuits, shunned his teddy companion. He stopped answering to those who called him Moose. He had an evanescent sense that he was incomplete; that he would only be El Perro until such time as he was completed. He did not know it, but this was the nascent stage of a search for an identity he could own.
At this same time, perhaps related to his weight issues, he found himself unable to eat in company. When he knew he was being watched, his mouth would dry up, and he would retch as he tried to swallow. The local birds soon learned this, and were able to reduce their foraging by eating directly from El Perro’s bowl. In the night, El Perro ate the insects who ventured into his house. He could not go on like this.
But he could not just leave, for his human gaolers had reinforced his enclosure. He could not burrow through the concrete the fencing was set in, nor naw through the fence itself, much less scale it. So he took to whinnying as if in pain. He would persist all night in crying by the French window, eschewing his insect feast. As a result, he suffered from acute hunger, which aided his connivance to the extent that it was almost legitimate. Eventually the humans, in desperation for an uninterrupted night’s sleep, took El Perro to the vet.
In the car on the way there he lay, limp, sobbing gently on the back seat. Such was the image of feeble impotence that he portrayed, the young woman, who considered herself his owner, neglected to attach his lead, and in fact carried him from the car. El Perro held firm until he had been delivered almost to the frontier of the veterinary shop. Before he lept and sprinted into the distance, he squeezed out a little bit of piss so that his ex-mistress would have something to clean while she wondered: what went wrong?
Once he had cleared the environs of the veterinarian, he began on a long march south, to Peru. He travelled by night, staying near the roads, near the humans, but out of sight as far as possible. On his first night he had made the mistake of seeking wilderness to travel through, and encountered leather-clad gangs of lizards and slumbering alligators with dog sized mouths. Much safer to stroll through strip-club car parks, and in the alleys behind the ammunition shops. He ate well—he would kill a rat or eat from the bin if he had to, but most evenings he would eat chopped pork sausages and tortilla chips that the strippers would give them while they took their cigarette breaks. In his freedom, and in the mania of the quest, he was no longer burdened by the retching, and would happily scoff his morsels as they scratched his back with their red acrylic nails, their tassels dangling in his eyes.
During the long hot days he would burrow himself in under a bush, maximizing his shade, and sleep with one eye open so as to defend himself against the lizards, which he soon developed a taste for.
Once the moon had both waned and waxed a crescent, he reached an ocean. He did not know this, but he had arrived, via the long spindly causeway, in Paradise. To get to Peru the would have to go back north and west, and follow the coastline for a thousand miles until it turned back south, then continue south for another three thousand miles or so to find his mother. The distance would not have been a problem. It was that he had no map, nor map reading skills, and no means of sensible communication. He resolved to go the port, and stowaway at the first opportunity.
This he did, and after a week at sea, during which time he vomited in the engine room as rodent seafarers mocked his lack of appetite, he was returned to Paradise with no imminent desire to repeat the experiment. He slept in the alley behind a florist’s shop. The florist, Luxa, would find her bin disturbed, or a rooster carcass by the back door, and took to feeding El Perro a daily meal of pork and rice. Her man, Charlie, would bring him bones and he would walk with them in the evening, occasionally collecting objects that they threw away, or biting children that he disliked. Life had gone on like this for a while now, and the Peruvian mania had calmed. He felt relatively good. Luxa and Charlie loved him for who he was: semi-feral, independent, and almost self-sufficient. Although small he was tough. He did not fear the larger dogs, and no longer took any interest in the females, without the hormonal urge. Charlie and Luxa did not deign to name him; they called him El Perro.
So it was now Friday night, almost Saturday morning. He had gone for a midnight stroll in the dead of Wednesday night, after finding himself unable to sleep. He had wandered into a place he had never been before: it was quiet, still, morbid and saturated with the smell of bones. Salivating, he had slipped into a trance of frenetic, honed digging.
Then there was a blank; no images, no sound, just an inchoate sense of blind, orgiastic bliss. For hours El Perro had been inaccessible to the world. But he had come around: and still with his magnificent bone, for he recalled that on Thursday morning, as he took the prowl of shame back to his bed by the florist’s shop, he had it in his mouth when he was forced to evade a reversing car. Indeed he still had it later that morning, when, for fun, he had sought to trip a storming, sweat-soaked, suited man outside the mayoral palace. And he must have slept with the bone in his bed, as he had taken it to the park that evening to play with Charlie and Luxa. He recalled a man, with a grey, beef-shank head, being the Inspector Mountebank, and he further remembered the endorphins being released in his brain as he had lept and bit that same inspector.
And he recalled running from the scene with, yes, that exquisite skelton-part firmly in his jaw. But he had seen the sweat-soaked man again, in the moonlight between Thursday and Friday, with the fat girl from the strip-club (it is a fact as ancient as Rome that sex-workers the world over will not stand idle and see a dog not eat.) The man, El Perro thought, had petted him. He was certain of the smell, an unmistakable variant, and not from these shores. Why could he not clearly remember the petting or otherwise? Had he already slid into mania?
His next memory was the next morning when he saw the same man, who vomited. Uninterested in the free meal, El Perro had growled at the foreigner, baring his teeth. There was no doubt that he was boneless. There was no doubt that he was in the throes of mania. He no longer had any doubt about the petting: it had happened. And he also now knew that he had had no bone. Where had he gone after biting the policeman?
He had no memory. But where would he have gone? He would have taken the trail by the canal, under the mangroves where he could not have been seen and which is easily accessible from the park. There was a spot there where he often napped and watched the fishes. If it wasn’t there, it would be by the palm trees on D— Street, which was nearby and was frequented by prostitutes after dark. Where had he dug first? He cast his mind through the manic haze, and vaguely remembered digging under the mangroves, and then vividly recalled the sickness of loss, the physical desolation that had tolled through his body.
So that was that: the bone was under the palm tree on D— Street, or it was gone forever. El Perro walked for another hour, into Saturday morning, where, under a palm tree, he found a bone.
El Perro had woken on Saturday afternoon, the last wisps of mania having drifted away in his sleep, in a cold embrace with an alien. What was this bone? Could it really be the same as that with which he had spent a sleepless night in the cemetery? That had inspired animal passion in him: the high, the thrill, of the unanalysed life. The life unanalysable, the rare fleeting moments when earthly life becomes heavenly, when one’s body ceases to weigh, when one’s mind is free of tribulation, and one is at one with all things corporeal and ethereal.
El Perro didn’t just feel the hollow embarrassment of one who has become carried away in mania; he did not just fail to see in his bone any of the qualities he had taken for granted and for certain mere hours before; he did not recognise his conquest at all. This, he thought, is not my bone.
Somewhere, in the great journey of his life, from Peru to captivity, and soon home to Peru again, he had lost three days to the mania of the bone. He knew the must draw a line under his escapade. He had to move on.
So he shook himself awake, ate a hearty lunch of pork and rice, and he took the bone to find its rightful owner. El Perro visited every dog house, ensconced himself in every strays’ hideaway, and joined every dog walking party. Everywhere he went he said to every dog, in his mongrel dialect of sniffs and tail wags, ‘Hello, I found this, is this your bone?’
And every single dog, after it had translated El Perro’s half-foreign fumblings, said to him, unambiguously, ‘yes, indeed it is!’ And El Perro looked each dog in the eyes and he thought: you fucking liar. And so it was that El Perro returned to the place from whence the bone had came, that pasture of the scent of aged calcium, and he returned the bone to the earth, and so concluded the mania of the bone.