My bare feet crunched into the great mass of sand as I walked. I felt the tiny rocks and ground up shells dig their way into my feet, resisted by my calluses. Some of the granules embedded, whilst others fell away to rejoin those they had left. The smell another living being filled my nose. I stood frozen. Aware I could move, but largely stuck in place, drawn with a distinct magnetism to the being I had come across. We looked at one another, his animal eyes locked with mine. We had wandered this small section of coastline together for some time without realising it - perhaps we were both too absorbed with thoughts that lay away from the present moments we experienced. I considered that I may have spent too long with my nose buried in the sand to notice this creature and his scent. I had been sniffing around the ghosts of foods that were no longer there, the scents of other creatures that had passed through, the veritable smorgasbord of textures and tones and flavours that filtered their way through the tiny grains of sand into my nostrils. We maintained eye contact, the animal and I. There was some kind of a warm understanding between us, though we had never encountered one another before. I decided to speak, to cut my voice through the immersive crashing of distant and near waves.
My new companion, my unspoken friend, knelt down to be eye level with me. In the mystifying black mirror of his pupil, I caught my own reflection. Once pristine white fur now appeared off-yellow, matted with sand, grass, gunk and dirt. Large ears hung dumbly from my small head, sagging well below my chin. My dry leathery nose twitched and sniffed intermittently. A tiny, pink sandpaper-like tongue stuck out from between my front teeth and my mouth was contorted into an odd grin that I did not mean to wear. The creature spoke.
"What're you doing, huh? Where's your family?"
I didn't comprehend the sounds that flowed from between his lips, but I felt a rush of pleasure and excitement in the fact that we were communicating. My tail begun to wag instinctively, whipping up little grains of sand as it brushed against the beach.
Woof woof. Woof woof woof?
I wanted to ask him what he was doing out here, if he had been separated from his pack. Maybe he too had once worn a collar, but no longer had such a privilege. I figured that if I couldn't comprehend him, the chances were slim that he could comprehend me. He dangled one of his paws in front of my nose and I eagerly sniffed it. I couldn't detect the scent of another dog, nor the scent of any other creature. I could, however, detect distinct notes of cheese, and without thought my tongue began lapping at the possible remnants, of which I tasted none. He moved his paw to the top of my head, and begun to scratch behind my ears. I felt myself tremble, his contact filling me with absolute comfort and delight. My tail wagged furiously and I edged closer towards him, rotating my little head so as to spread his touch further.
"You're a good boy, hey? Aren't you? You wanna come for walkies?"
My ears which were so used to hanging safely and daftly by my head all but shot upwards at the sound he made. Walkies.
The noise felt powerful to me, like a relic of a past life, an indication of wonderful things to come. I felt eager, and I felt loyal, a feeling I recognised so vividly, but had not felt in the longest time. The creature rose from his crouched pose, and my eyes followed him, eagerly fixated.
"Hey, boy? Walkies?"
Walkies. I felt excitement bubble violently inside of me, and as the animal turned and begun to potter along the sand, I joined him. Now aware that we could not truly communicate, but still sorely wanting to, I spoke to my companion.
Woof woof. Woof. Woof, woof, woof...woof?
I wanted to ask the creature what had occurred in his life to cause the scent of sorrow to drip from his very being. Had he lost his offspring? Was he unable to successfully hunt for food? Was the shelter he had utilised no longer adequate? Had he been injured in a scuffle with another animal?
"You're a noisy little fucker, aren't you? Don't see an awful lot of strays around these parts. What could you possibly be doing here at night time, all by yourself, huh?"
All of these different sounds that the animal made were so intricate, yet so meaningless to me. I enjoyed the timbre and tone, I just couldn't put apply any weight to the meaning of it. I spoke again, agreeing with my companion as though I had comprehended every sound that he made.
He walked slowly, his arms by his side and his eyes vacant. The length of his legs meant that even though he was walking at such a slow pace, I had to jog to keep up with him as I panted and wagged my tail.
My life had not been an easy one, of this I was sure, but I could not pin down why it had been so. This caused me to have a strange conflict burrow inside when I felt instinctual joy at things like the sound "walkies" or an interesting smell in the distance. I wondered if my new friend felt similarly; if he held on to his anguish and torment, but often found it overridden by habitual joy. Maybe he found that lack of cohesion as intrinsically infuriating as I. Just as I felt the silence take hold again, the creature opened his jaws to speak.
"Stories and stories and stories, man. That's what it all boiled down to. I tell the stories. You know, if I'm not telling them, I'm living them to tell them later. Or I'm caught in the crossfire of other people's stories. Rolling through strangers stories. Strangers coming in to my stories, you know. Just living story after story hey. Don't mean much..."
Woof woof. Woof. Woof.
"Yeah, you said it mate. Must be all right for you, hey? You don't even know it's a story. You don't know you're part of my story right now. Not that my story really matters anymore. My stories matter, individually, for the other characters... Because I guess the stories belong to them now. But my story... Do I do everything I do just to later recount it? That gets to me. We live these narrated lives, and we live through our stories.... But a narrated life, the life as a story, I don't think that's much of a life...."
My companion made so many sounds it left me bewildered. I continued to march onward with him, hoping that the creature was enjoying the conversation we could not share as much as I was.
"But on the other hand, a life that isn't shared isn't a life at all.... It's even more meaningless. So we share and we share and we share because it validates our existence but at the same time totally nullifies it, because all of a sudden we're not people, we're just collections of stories.... Our lives aren't a narrative mate, yours or mine, but the world wants them to be, forces them to be. That creates this insurmountable fucking pressure to exist for a reason, so your story has a compelling plot. That in itself stresses me the fuck out."
Woof. Woof woof? Woof woof woof?
I could smell something I recognised from my past life, some scent that always came with the raising of a voice. Though I did not know it, this was the scent of bewildered anger. My perception of the world was a patchwork of half recognised vocalisations, and painfully distinct smells. I trusted my nose.
Woof. Woof. Woof woof woof!
I was angry too. I knew not why or how, but I knew it to be true. I wondered if this animal could smell it on me as I could him. I had walked a bit further ahead than he, momentarily trying to be the leader of our two member pack. His scent was suddenly more distant. He had veered to the left, away from the ocean, and towards the rickety staircase that scaled up the sloping cliffs, all covered in lush greenery and teeming with life. I turned and eagerly pursued him, planting myself firmly by his side. The bipedal creature ascended the stairs with ease. His large legs made short work of the steps, each of which I had to leap on to with great expenditure of effort. My four little legs were not designed to accommodate such a task.
After a stretch of exhausting climbing, we reached the summit of the stairs. We stood together on the cliff face, looking out across the vast expanse of sea, in complete silence aside from the gentle roar of the breeze in our ears, the trembling of the flora that surrounded us, and the crashing of the waves. My companion leant down, and his fingers caressed my skull, causing my hairs to stand on end with unprecedented pleasure.
"You're a good boy."
As we stood, I realised that there was a distinct beauty to the moment. Together, as we shared the intimate bond that is shared by all life, but only tapped on occasion, we were something entirely other than animal. My companion rose, and stepped further towards the cliff ledge. I did not have the courage to wander so close to the edge, and I admired his bravery in doing so. When he turned and looked down at me, our eyes connected. We could say nothing. We could only feel, together. He looked desperate, scared and angry.
Suddenly, he looked hopeful.
"What will I be?"
And he was gone.
I hoped that this particular animal could swim. Personally, I never could. I climbed back down the incredibly high stairs, and continued on my way. It was a good walkies.
- Andrew O'Connor