When she told me the dog was empty, I was shocked. “I fed him only this morning”, I insisted, “and he ate everything.”
The vet lifted both halves of the dog in turn, shaking each open end over the examination table to demonstrate that nothing fell out. She was about to put the front half down when she said: “Oh, wait. There’s something in here.” Reaching her hand all the way up to its cranial region, she pulled out a copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales.
“It’s too dark in there to read that,” I quipped.
This was obviously misconstrued as she angrily responded: “The fairy tales are not dark, they’re symbolic depictions of violent realities inherent in peasant life,” and then held me with a serious stare.
“No, I meant it’s too dark in the dog to read a book… There’s no light!”
She looked a little confused at this and picked up the front half of my dog, and indicated the open end of its truncated torso: “The light can get in here,” she said, and then pointed at the lights on the ceiling in a patronising demonstration that there was a light-source in the room.
I began a half confused, staccato defence of myself: “No, but before. When the book was in there. Before you cut the dog in half, it would have been very dark in there… and impossible to read.”
“I think you’ll find that’s the same with all animals, Mr. Greeves.” Her look implied that I was the strangest person on this planet.
“I was referring to the joke. You know: ‘Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read.’?”
“That doesn’t sound like a joke to me. Where’s the punch line?”
I had to think for a second, eventually saying, “It’s kind of spread all the way through it. But I suppose the last bit is… the funniest bit.”
She became suddenly accusative, and said, “Are you trying to chat me up?”
I was a little offended at this, as the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I was more concerned about the welfare of my dog. While also feeling a little off-course from the consequences of a quip gone hideously wrong. Besides, I felt sure if I were flirting I wouldn’t have attained this level of bemused interaction — though perhaps I delude myself.
Defensively I responded, “No. I was trying to explain a joke.”
“If a joke needs explaining, it ceases to be a joke,” she said sternly.
“I agree,” I said dryly.
Adopting a formal line of enquiry, she asked: “Would you mind telling me why there was a book in your dog?”
“I don’t know. Is it part of his personal evolution?” I replied, and immediately regretted it — I knew such frivolity would only lead to even more bewilderment on her part.
“What personal evolution?” Her eyes questioningly pierced me, seeking to uncover the root cause of my apparent insanity.
I began to wonder if I should hide behind grunts and murmurs as a defence from her angered confusion. Opting instead for ignorance, I said, “I don’t know. They just sounded like big words.”
“You’re a very strange fellow,” she said, continuing to watch me, as if at any moment I might do something unexpected.
“Mmm,” I said, resorting to sounds.
“I’m just going to get a specialist in to have a look at this,” she said, and then anxiously added, “Don’t move, and try to stay calm, I’ll be right back.” She left the room hurriedly, and I heard the door lock behind her.
I’ve been in this room now for five years, with only two halves of an empty dog and Grimm’s Fairy Tales for company.
Having reflected long and hard on the moral of my own story, I have now resolved to forego my sense of humour — hoping that some day I shall get to practice this new choice.
Soren James is a writer and visual artist who recreates himself on a daily basis from the materials at his disposal, continuing to do so in upbeat manner until one day he will sumptuously throw his drained materials aside and resume stillness without asking why.