Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen. –Orhan Pamuk
In the Jeux olympiques maison (30 April 2021), two athletes compete in the Stack the Blocks on the Tower of Drawers Behind a Vase Full of Long, Skinny Branches Covered in Little Red Flowers game. Will the green team win, or the red? For the moment, it’s too close to call. As far as sports competitions go, this one is a real nailbiter. Not for the television commentator, though. That dog is bored out of his mind. This game is not interesting, apparently.
The Coupe de monde de danse artistique au yo-yo (13 May 2021) which takes place two weeks later isn’t that much more interesting, either. Strangely enough. Those are some stunning moves, right? Not in the commentator’s opinion, in any case. That chicken is half asleep.
On the heels of the Home Olympics and the World Cup of Artistic Dance with Yo-Yo comes the Interntional du meilleur buveur de jus d’orange (21 May 2021). There’s no commentator at this event, but we don’t need one to help us understand that here, finally, is a game worth watching. We see the players close-up; we are with them at the bar. The moment is intense. The moment is exciting. The referee is about to pull the trigger, and when he does, we’ll be right there with the drinkers as if we, too, are guzzling down a tall glass of pure, unadulterated, freshly squeezed orange juice.
Ask me when precisely I understood what love is, and I will tell you: Sometime between five and six pm on Saturday, the eighth day of May 2021. The Home Olympics have just ended, the World Cup of Artistic Dance with Yo-Yo is in full swing, and the International Best Orange Juice Drinker Competition is set to start soon and run for about a week. I’m doing a quick walk around the block with Sophie, and I’m annoyed. For two weeks now I’ve been taking her out every two hours, hoping she’ll pee and poop outside, but it’s not working, and I’m sick of cleaning up her messes.
The mess I’ll have to clean up when we get back from this walk is the one I discovered in her crate. I’d barely been gone two hours. I’d taken her out right before leaving; couldn’t she have peed then? Why did she wait to do it in the crate? On her blanket, no less? What kind of dog pees where it sleeps? It’s not normal. What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with Sophie? Whatever it is, it’s annoying. I have things to do, places to go. Dinner on Court Street with a friend at seven o’clock, for example. I’m going to be late, and all because of Sophie!
I won’t be getting the job at the Pacific Ridge School in California because of Sophie, either. Who could I possibly have asked to take on this foster dog who isn’t housetrained for the three days I would have needed to fly out there and do the interview and the demo-lesson in person instead of on Zoom? Nobody, that’s who. My ticket out of Brooklyn has slipped through my hands; I am stuck here for another year, and all because of Sophie!
It’s not until we’re back in the apartment that I notice the fur on Sophie’s hindquarters. It’s damp, and matted. The sight of it, of Sophie’s damp and matted fur: it breaks my heart. While I was out on a walk with my friend enjoying the sun and the fresh air, she’d been in here, in her crate, sitting in her own pee.
“Viens, Sophie,” I say to her, “Laisse-moi te laver.”
In the bathroom, I lift her into the tub. I kneel before it. Before Sophie. She sits so still, so quiet, her shoulders hunched, her head drawn down into them. In her eyes: shame, fear, confusion. She knows she did something wrong, but she doesn’t understand it exactly. She’d only ever known her cage in the medical lab. It’s where she ate, where she slept. It’s also where she peed and pooped. She’d peed in her crate because that is what she has always done. She didn’t know it was bad. It’s not her fault.
“Pardon, Sophie,” I say, “Pardonne-moi.”
Ask me now what precisely I understood in the moment I understood it. Ask me: What is love? And I will tell you: Love is a dog who lets you wash it all clean, who lets you start over. With patience this time around, with kindness and understanding. With a heart that sees, a heart that listens. To her, of course; Sophie has important things to say. But also, to her maker, the one who sent her to me. To God.
Pacific Ridge, says this God, is about as exciting as the Home Olympic Games. As for the job that will pop up next week at the Calhoun school in Manhattan, that one will be no more interesting than the World Cup of Artistic Dance with Yo-Yo. The position that will become available at the end of the month in Providence, though? That’s the International Best Orange Juice Drinker Competition! I’ll make you the player who wins. So when I say go, you go. You are not to hesitate or ask any questions. You are not to think. You are not to cry. There will be time for that in the rental car on your way out of Brooklyn, but only after the city is behind you, and only until you cross into Providence. It will be a beautiful day; you’ll have a few hours to kill before the movers get there with all your stuff. Grab the keys from the office manager, and head back outside with Sophie. Let her lead you to Donigian Park. Let her show you how to turn the page.