Dog days

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

A story from Avantgarderob ja muuta irtaimistoa (‘Avantgarderobe and other moveables’, Tammi, 2008). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

The air between the old dog’s teeth cuts like a crosscut saw.

There is a furious rhythm in her bark.

She’s been left out of the moose-hunting pack.

The more decrepit her body is, the stiffer her joints, the more her bark is filled with passion for the hunt. But she shows no sign of nostalgia, she’s not hankering after some long-ago days of glory, when she was the leader of the pack. This is clearly a bark of command. Even from kilometres away, she tells the other dogs where to go — not that way — a little more to the left — behind that stump, you blockheads!

She’s lifted her nose into the air, her ribcage and tail straighten themselves into a kind of rack so that her baying is supported by her entire body. The position of her head says that her entire being is devoted to this cause. She’s yapping the way some people telecommute.

There’s been no sound of the hunt for quite some time.

The dog moves with dignity to her gravel foxhole under the skirts of the spruce tree.

From there under the branches, she keeps watch over the activities in the yard — more vigilantly at mealtimes. She’s such a rascal — as her sight weakens, and gradually her hearing, too, she has them all fooled. She sees and hears what she wants to, but let mealtime come around and she shoots out of her foxhole like lightning, and she licks the bottom of the bowl, too, after she’s got it turned upside-down.

The grey sky is drawing grids in the air.

The dog slurps water into her mouth — slurp-slorp.

She has red fur between her toes that works as a shock absorber and keeps the snow from caking up in the winter. She already has difficulty getting up. But even so, she’s still her own dog.

Hidden by the lilac bush, the sand in her foxhole is slightly cool, even after a hot day. Before she settles in to lie down, she softens up the bottom of the hole, digging the sand away to where it’s moist underneath — it feels cooler under her thick fur. If you look closely, you can see her smoky grey eyes peering out, round like in some old photograph from Lapland by Yrjö Kokko, ‘Mistress of the Smoke Sauna’. She is a reindeer shepherd, raised by Sámi women, a hut warmer for the kota, the kind carried in fur bags on women’s backs as puppies when they moved from one pasture to another.

The dog goes to her hole in the morning like she’s going to the office. And if the neighbour’s afoot and manages to surprise her, she realises she’s late, and she’s like a janitor who’s fallen asleep in his chair and, when he’s startled, fumbles with his cap and puts it on backwards in his confusion.

A nap is particularly nice after a meal.

And if a car happens to drive into the yard later in the day, she’s so deeply asleep that when she jumps up from the hole onto her stiff legs and takes a couple of running steps and barks, she forgets that she can’t do two things at once any more, can’t run and bark at the same time, and she falls over on her side. Then the visitor must look away. A dog has its pride, too, after all.

You must look over and past the dog. As if there were something interesting to see in the nearby field, like a chariot pulled by a pair of moose or Queen Elizabeth landing in a helicopter. Then and only then may you greet her.

By that time she’s already back on her feet, and she fits the sound of her bark to the rhythm of her paws. Her lungs rattle like a washing machine.

‘Hello.’

You must say ‘Hello’, and wait until the dog puts her muzzle into your hand and, with her tail wagging in perfect cadence, brings her visitor, like a trophy, to the front door.

Translated by Lola Rogers

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