Boy with a Dog, Pablo Picasso, 1905
by Etgar Keret
In the dead-pan humour of this story by a young Israeli cult author, published here in translation, the violence of the Arab–Israeli war is there, but not there.
I got Clint for my ninth birthday from Sammy Zagoori who was probably the cheapest kid in the whole class. He lucked out, and his dog had puppies right on the day of my party. There were four of them, and his uncle was going to dump them all in the river. So Sammy, who only cared about how not to spend anything on the class gift, took one of them and gave it to me. The puppy was tiny, with a bark that sounded more like a wheeze, and when he got mad, he’d give a deep, low kind of growl that didn’t sound anything like a puppy. He seemed to think he was real tough, so I called him Clint.
From day one, my dad couldn’t stand the sight of him. Clint didn’t care much for Dad either. The truth is Clint didn’t like anyone much, except me. From the start, even when he was just a little puppy, he’d bark at everyone. And when he grew a little bigger, he would snap at anyone who came too close. Even Mickey, who isn’t the kind of guy that says things about people, said that my dog was messed up. He never snapped or did anything bad to me though. He’d just keep jumping on me and licking me, and whenever I’d move away from him he’d start whining. Mickey said it didn’t mean anything, because I was the one who fed him. But I know lots of dogs who bark even at the people who feed them, and I knew that what Clint and I had going for us wasn’t about food, and that he really did like me. He just did. He didn’t need a reason. Go figure out a dog. But it was something strong. Fact is, my sister fed him too, but he hated her like hell.
In the morning, when I’d go to school, he’d want to come with me, but I’d make him stay behind because I was afraid he’d make a racket. We had a fence around our yard. And sometimes, when I’d come home, I’d still catch Clint barking at some poor slob who dared to walk down our street. He’d get so mad that he’d smash right into the fence. But the second he spotted me, he’d just melt. Right away, he’d start crawling on the ground, wagging his tail and barking about all the creeps who’d got on his nerves that day by walking down our street, and about how they’d barely made it out of there alive. He’d already bitten a couple of them, but lucky for me they were kids so they didn’t complain, because even without that kind of thing, my dad was on Clint’s case, just waiting for the chance to get rid of him.
Finally it happened. Clint bit my sister, and they had to take her to the hospital for stitches. Soon as they got home, Dad took Clint to the car. I didn’t need long to figure out what was going to happen, and I started crying, so Mom told Dad: ‘C’mon Joshua, why don’t you just forget it. It’s the kid’s dog. Just look at how upset he is.’ Dad didn’t say anything, just told my big brother to come with him. ‘I need him too,’ Mom tried. ‘He’s a watchdog, against thieves.’ And my dad stopped short just before he got into the car, and said: ‘What do you need a watchdog for? Nobody’s ever tried to steal anything in this neighbourhood. What’s to steal here anyway?’ They dumped Clint in the river, and stuck around to watch him being washed away. I know, because my big brother told me so. I didn’t talk to anyone about it though, and except for the night they took him away, I didn’t even cry at all.
Three days later, Clint turned up at school. I heard him barking from below. He was awfully dirty, and smelly too, but other than that he was just the same. I was proud of him for coming back. It proved that everything Mickey had said about his not really loving me wasn’t true. Because if the thing between Clint and me had been just about food, he wouldn’t have come right back to me. It was smart of him to come straight to school too. Because if he’d headed straight home without me, I don’t know what my dad would’ve done. Even so, soon as we got to the house, Dad wanted me to get rid of him. But Mom told him that maybe Clint had learned his lesson, and that maybe he’d behave himself now. So I hosed him down in the yard, and Dad said that from now on he’d be on a leash all the time, and that if he pulled anything again, that would be it.
Truth is, Clint didn’t learn a thing from what happened. He just got a little crazier. And every day, when I’d get home from school, I’d see him barking like a maniac at anyone who happened to walk by. One day, I came home and he wasn’t there. Dad wasn’t there either. Mom said they’d come from the Border Patrol because they’d heard he was such a smart animal they wanted to recruit him, and that now Clint would be a scout-dog who’d track down terrorists that tried to sneak across the border. I pretended to believe her. That evening, when Dad came back with the car, Mom whispered something in his ear, and he shook his head. He’d driven fifty miles this time, all the way across the bay, before setting Clint loose, just to make sure he wouldn’t be able to come back. I know, because my big brother told me so. My brother also said it was because Clint had got loose that afternoon, and had managed to bite the dog-catcher too. I wasn’t mad at Mom for lying. I knew she was doing it for my sake.
Fifty miles is a long way, even by car, and on foot it’s a thousand times more, especially for a dog. I mean a dog’s step is like a quarter of a human’s. But three weeks later, Clint was back. He was there waiting for me at the school gate. Didn’t even bark, he was so exhausted. Just wagged his tail without getting up. I brought him some water, and he must have lapped up about ten bowls of it. When Dad saw him, he was speechless. ‘That dog’s like a curse,’ he told Mom, who quickly got Clint some bones from the kitchen. That evening I let him sleep in my bed. He fell asleep before me, and all night long he just whined and growled, snapping at anyone who pissed him off in his dream.
In the end it was Grandma of all people that he had to pick on. He didn’t even bite her. Just jumped on her, and knocked her over. She got a nasty bump on her head. Everyone helped her up. Me too. But then Mom sent me to the kitchen for a glass of water, and by the time I got back I saw Dad dragging Clint towards the car looking really mad. I didn’t even try, and neither did Mom. We knew he had it coming. Dad asked my brother to come along again, except that this time he told him to bring his M-16. My brother was just an army cook, but he had a gun anyway. At first, he didn’t catch on, and asked Dad what he needed a gun for. And Dad said it was to make Clint stop coming back.
They took him to the dump, and shot him in the head. My brother told me so. Clint didn’t realise what was going to happen. He’d been in a good mood, and was turned on by all the neat stuff he found at the dump. And then, bang! From the second my brother told me about it, I hardly thought about Clint at all. All those other times, I used to wonder about him a lot, trying to guess where he was and what he was doing. But this time, there was nothing to wonder about any more, so I tried to think about him as little as possible.
Six months later he came back. He was waiting for me in the schoolyard. There was something wrong with one of his legs, one of his eyes was closed, and his jaw looked completely paralysed. But soon as he saw me, he seemed really happy, like nothing had ever happened. When I got him home, Dad wasn’t back from work yet, and Mom wasn’t there either. But even when they did come home, they didn’t say a thing. And that was it. Clint stayed from then on – twelve more years. Eventually he died of old age. And he never bit anyone again. Every now and then, when someone would pass by our fence on a bike or just make some noise, you could still see him get worked up and try to pounce, but somehow he always ran out of steam in the middle.
Translated by Miriam Shlesinger.
Read more about the stories of Etgar Keret here
Piece originally published at Open Democracy |
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