MONOLOGUE FOR A DREAMING DOG
A response to Liz Magor, Samuel Roy-Bois, and Jon Sasaki
SCENE ONE – TWILIGHT
(The dog lifts her head. She sniffs the air. Softly, she asks:)
How long has this been going on?
I’m not hungry. I don’t have to pee. I do want a cookie, but it’s not a desperate need. Not yet, anyway.
(The dog rises from her pink blanket. Moves toward the door. Then she turns to the audience and explains:)
This is odd. The door to ‘out’ is ajar. Perhaps my Owner left it that way. For me. So I can escape a fire if all the neighbours’ electrical candles melt and burn like pyres while She’s out. If the oxygen-plumped plastic spheres that line these reams and reams of bubble wrap combust. It’s an accident waiting to happen, this one bedroom apartment, set among all the matchstick buildings, set on the banks of the cool, clear water, where just yesterday I swam. Where yesterday I lost a frisbee to an eddy. Now I have lost everything to an eddy. Or so it seems.
My heart is barely beating.
Has my Owner left me?
(The dog goes to the door. The dog lies down at the door.)
SCENE TWO – DEEPER IN THE DUSK
(The dog wanders aimlessly through the one-bedroom apartment. Sniffs at an empty pizza box. Steps on some bubble wrap. Bubbles explode and sound like a BB gun, startling the dog. The dog scrambles sideways, tries to act cool, but her manner betrays some anxiety. Slightly clipped:)
Inside this apartment, the air smells of ‘Cardboard Seven Ways.’ Laced through the air is also ‘Plastic Seventy Ways.’ And now I smell the air released from within the polyethylene bubble pods my claws are jabbing. POP! I smell the exhaust from an ancient Ho Chi Minh generator. POP! I smell a Seattle picker’s sigh. POP! I smell copper and cable. I am weirdly buzzed on the whiffs from these oxygen-filled hemispheres.
I can barely smell my Owner in all this adhesive and Uline. She is fading. But–
(The dog holds still: totally frozen.)
What am I doing away from my bed? I’ve lost my mind.
(The dog tiptoes back to her pink blanket.)
SCENE THREE – DUSK ENTERS NIGHT
I am restless.
(The dog goes to the door again. She does not lie down.)
I have never been able to push doors open with my head. I’ve always been thrown back into my own body: intimidated by the structural certainty of Slab or Shaker dimensions – and by the fact that ubiquity is juxtaposed with oh-so-variable weights and swing-speeds. These realities, as well as my never-ending confusion around how hinges can make doors open out or in, render me humbled by doors and, generally, I keep my distance until my Owner invites me through.
Today is different. I float up, and my haunches are pressed against the ceiling of this apartment by something nameless and faceless. My ears dangle. I arch my neck and… my head opens the door. The door dissolves into a soft hardboard vapour, then swirls around me.
(The dog is floating down the hallway: a clean new corridor. She floats on a vaporous cloud – part moonbeams, part dis-ease, part hardboard mist.)
I’m in the hallway on a hunt for my Owner. I’m in a clean new corridor and I see bright lights reflected in the tall windows that loom above the thick sills onto which I land, and hold.
(The dog perches on a thick window sill, like a mini cougar. She stares out.)
Through the steam I make with my breath on the quake-proof glass, and through the shatter-proof glass across the street, I peer into AQUARIUM. It’s a condo that sometimes holds aquariums but more often holds Ultimate Grey Square-Arm Loveseats. Glowing TV’s. Gypsum islands. Twig Orbs. There are some animals and their owners and there is one cat.
Through the glass, I can see the owners at their desks, on their beds, counting their dollars on their laptops, listening to their podcasts. I can see them having sex. I know sex from my Owner, who sometimes has sex and asks me politely to ‘go ‘way’ if I stare for too long at the other person, which I do on purpose. Stare. Put my chin at the edge of the mattress and just stare. For a while.
And so I am inured to the scenes I see below me: owners on cotton sheets, gripping onto iron headboards, lighting lava lamps, drinking from bottles and eating dinners from large brown paper bags. I see one person sleeping. At this early hour. I hope they are okay.
I wish I had their money. I would not know how to hold it, but I would know where to spend it.
I scour AQUARIUM for my Owner. I scour all the tanks.
(The dog presses her nose against the window, which melts into a wafer-thin waterfall. She falls through the water, dream-spirals, transforms into a Styrofoam peanut and…)
SCENE FOUR – NIGHT FALLS DOWN
(The one bedroom apartment is quite dark now. The dog speaks softly:)
I’m on my blanket.
(The dog is, indeed, on her pink blanket. The dog can’t see much, and so she sniffs the air. She turns to the audience.)
My nose is my genius; my special skill. (She sniffs.) Strangers have recently been in our apartment, that’s clear.
(The dog gestures with one paw, indicating the mounds of plastic-wrapped things and boxes and piles of chaos. Her displeasure is unconcealed.)
I smell work gloves. Work shirts and work pants and all the pets and members of the families of the movers. I smell metal and old coffee. There is an empty pizza box. I know it’s empty because I checked it out earlier, and it was empty. All the things I have come to know, the things that smell like her, are plastic-wrapped. The sofa is new, and so its scent is meaningless to me.
(The dog wraps her tail across herself: the closest thing to safety she can conjure. She murmurs:)
Moving is a kind of painful progress. ‘Change’ means longing for what we’ve left behind, but also dreaming ahead. This is what I wish I could communicate to my Owner. She mostly only ever picks a new apartment based on whether we will have some place that’s safe to dream, which is super. It’s the inner void She has a hard time tolerating.
Dogs never say goodbye, we only ever say hello.
(The dog stares into the darkness. She trembles. She senses something coming. All around her, the moving boxes seem to glow. Styrofoam popcorn squirms and shifts. Now there is a glow coming through the door. The dog looks into the glow. She stands. Her body floats up and is pressed against the ceiling by the nameless faceless thing. Now the dog is glowing. The light outside is blazing. The dog floats through doorways and walls…)
SCENE FIVE – MIDNIGHT SUN
I have never been outside on my own before.
(The dog floats through a residential neighbourhood. People are working on their homes. There are lawn-and-leaf paper bags and ladders everywhere. In driveways. On stone paths.)
Everywhere, there are ladders and hardware and things I only remember from visiting one time when a kind of family fell in love with me and let me see their ripped-apart hearts when She came to get me. They were just babysitting, fostering me, they said, but they were deeply kind. They scratched me behind my ears and hugged me until She arrived, my Owner.
I know the smell of money.
I float by the family. I wish them well.
I float by a river. I wish it well.
I float by a tiny condo. The condo is terrifyingly tiny. I have heard from Her that such tiny places exist: ‘sinister’; ‘small condo movement’; ‘space joke,’ She says. I feel nothing about these buildings, but I do sense the disappearance of floor and walls and window. Of space itself framed by wobbly angles and unreliable geography, which remind me of the unreliable angles of my Owner… And I try to eat a wet rag. Why? Because it’s there. Why? I don’t know why it’s there, but I can’t breathe and it’s clogging my throat. I try to swallow…
I hear them calling:
MY BODY: I swallow.
CHILDREN: Puppy, come!
And so I do. To a house built from fetchingly anodyne materials – a house built with tools, by hands – and I remember this beautiful smell of ‘building.’ Wheelbarrows plastered with a patina of leaves and rock dust and sweat.
Out of the bushes, a pack of children. They lift things from the garage in their tiny hands. A sink, a chair, a leveller, which even I know is hilarious: what does it matter how level this ground is when floors are ceasing to exist? The children haul a mattress up to the height of a human head. I sniff the mattress: tears and sweat and sleep, ancient relics of the common cold (so cute, says my Owner, these days, the common cold). Children holding up. Things falling down. Children holding up. Things falling down.
CHILDREN: Come, Pup!
Because I am not a puppy any more. I am a witness now. To the motions of their bodies through the ether; the motions of these objects through space; the courtship between them all that never tires; the dance that never ends; the dance that defies gravity’s immense hold on us all. Motion. Freedom.
But the objects all fall down.
A little girl just my height comes up from behind me. She scratches me behind my ears and I collapse into her. I look into her eyes, which look like perfect screens. I smell licorice and Disney toys and flannel pyjamas. My Owner is fading away. Must not forget Her … wake up … wake up.
And I’m running. And my tears are rolling across my cheeks like when it’s raining on a moving car and my tears are making tracks along my ribs and over my haunches toward my tail, and both the streams of tears are joining together now, and all the tears are rushing together and soaking my tail and weighing it down with such sorrow for what I have seen in that yard, and the tears are flying off my tail and into the night and spraying the street with what I saw.
(The dog runs. Her tears flood the asphalt around her and then the dog herself transforms into a mini-tsunami of tears, whose force transforms itself into a small dog body, hers, pressed up against the ceiling of the one bedroom apartment.)
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
(Pressed up against the ceiling, in the dark, the dog speaks to the audience – very softly:)
It feels like we’re always moving, my Owner and I. Sydney. Zurich. Vancouver. I’m pretty sure it’s always better cities that we’re moving to, though. Dreaming ahead.
(The dog floats through the apartment. She is searching for their mattress, but it is wrapped in plastic and so she can’t find it.)
I’m staying away from the bubble wrap for the moment, but I really want to eat some corrugated cardboard. Just a bit. Maybe the edge of one moving box. And not even “eat” it, really. But I haven’t chewed on a box since I was a puppy and I would only humiliate myself if I did it now.
(The dog floats to the non-existent door. It is just a hinge-less door-sized hole, now. Glowing dimly.)
She left the door ajar in case She had to leave me. To let me find a new owner and a new ball or some dog’s old ball, sheeny with their saliva and dirt. The pandemic has changed us both, my Owner and me. Dogs are not immune. There was a Pomeranian in Hong Kong who died of the plague. He was 119, but still… I should really leave the city. I don’t know how to work the elevator, though.
(The dog floats through the door-hole, into the corridor. She stares way down the corridor.)
Oddly, I smell metal.
(A moonbeam strikes an electrical outlet nearby and the small child from the previous scene emerges from it. The child is the size of a beetle.)
THE CHILD: (reading) ADAPTOR! Proudly leading the front in sustainable living. ADAPTOR! Condominiums for all Peoples. ADAPTOR! We sing the Body Electric.
(The beetle-sized child is reading from a miniature condominium brochure. The dog is mesmerized: she loves kids.)
THE CHILD: (reading) ADAPTOR! 570-1200 square feet of pink laminate, scarlet gypsum and industrial steel.
(The miniscule child runs away. The dog follows her. The dog turns to the audience, panting a little:)
Oddly, I smell scissors heating up. I smell warm rubber wrapping electrical cords.
(As the dog runs down the corridor, she sees that there are many electrical outlets that have been jabbed with metal things: scissors, nutcrackers, tweezers, nail files. The dog whispers to the audience:)
It’s okay. I’ve got this.
(The dog turns a corner. There’s a man on a ladder. The dog runs toward him, her claws clicking on the hardwood floor. The faster she runs, the farther away he gets. The dog turns to the audience and, though her body is wild, her voice is utterly calm:)
But as I run, my dew claws fall off and all my teeth fall out of my pink mouth. As I run, I leave bloody pawprints, and foam from my mouth runs along my fur in frothy rivers.
(The man on the ladder sets his ladder onto another ladder. And then a third ladder. The dog finally reaches him and cries out:)
MAN ON LADDER: Silence.
DOG: You are way higher than your body’s head!
MAN ON LADDER: Silence.
But now his ladder has a ladder on the freaking ladder on the ladder. I can see what’s coming, clearly he cannot, but I am a dog and so I have no way to mouth the words,
‘Sir, you cannot escape all this.’
(Over the course of the following routine, a lightbulb flickers: lighting and blacking-out the man on the ladder.)
But I mean, what is it with these guys and their ladders? And what if YOU saw a ladder on a ladder? Sorry, dream-talking here, but I saw two of them once, piled like acrobats, atop a thin layer of ice. (The lightbulb crackles. If the dog could pick up a comedy mic at this point, she would. But even in her dream, she cannot hold a microphone.) I once saw a MATTRESS on a ladder, smelling of sleep and tears and summer sweat and yes… sex. (The bulb blacks out. In blackness:) Look, I’m not the one who is obsessed with sex, it’s the two-leggeds. I just tolerate it. I know they have to do what they do. Just like when it happens in the park. (The lightbulb crackles and restores. Brightly:) Hey, we’re all animals.
(The dog watches the man climb onto a fifth ladder. Shakes her head. Mutters:)
Just another jobless god working eternity…
(There is a new mist. The dog sniffs. Then, like a reality show host:)
Surrounding us in this wide corridor, I smell more metal. Metal chopsticks and clippers and pins and tongs. There’s a coin. I once ate a coin. It’s still inside me.
(Now, the tiny beetle-child goes to turn a key in an outlet, as though it will unlock some cosmic door. The dog pushes the child aside and swallows the key down to protect the kid and ZAP! The audience might see a cartoon lightning bolt through the smooth pink skin over the dog’s belly. There might be electric sparks dancing on the dog’s wet nose.)
But it’s when I swallow the tweezers that I see stars. I know my Owner would say I’m a bad girl, that I should never eat metal or steel. But without my Owner I am nothing, so I don’t care. Like anybody, I just want to feel good again. So:
(The dog eats a nutcracker, then a little metal lock, then she bites down on a bright orange rubber-encased electrical cable – ZAP!)
And I’m flying.
I’m flying into the face of God and He has a perfect beard, trimmed with a Kent razor and moisturized with combination of sage milk and rosemary moisturizers, and I remember that my Owner smelled like that sometimes.
And as I speed through His perfect nostrils and toward the dark grey coils of the Brain of God, I’m sure I’m dying here, and I’m relieved that my Owner will not find me burnt and hairless from licking electrical sockets and tweezers, my once-perfect belly disfigured by the rags and silver chopsticks I swallowed ‘cuz I was wishing they were hers.
And I’m just about to recognize that I’m hurtling through an ether that is particular to this and only this light heartbeat in the history of time; and I’m just about to grasp that my life has been shorter than a billionth of a second in the longer flow of time, endless before me and endless after; and I’m just about to apprehend the wonder of the galaxies and the myriad sea creatures fossilized beneath my paws 200 million years ago whose previous existences make my life both nearly and beautifully meaningless…
But then –
I smell Windex.
I smell cheese.
I smell rosemary and sage, and I hear:
“There, there, Puppy. It’s okay. I’m home.”
(The dog is on her pink blanket, waking. Her Owner is putting groceries away.)
(Very quiet:) I’m on my blanket. A little sleepy. And She’s setting up the TV now, unwrapping the screen. And now She’s scratching me behind my ears. And She’s putting on my necklace and now we’re in the park. She throws my ball. It’s pasted with dirt and my saliva, which is quite shiny in the street light.
(The dog chases her ball into the shadows. A cloud above sails away, and a moonbeam hits the ball.)
In the highly reflective surface of my ball, I see the beetle-sized child waving at me. She is back inside her usual body, though, I realize, as I look over my shoulder. I can see her actual self, passing by. She’s holding hands with her siblings in a chain. I try to wave.
OWNER: Puppy, come!
(The dog brings the ball to her Owner.)
And now my Owner and I are back in our one bedroom apartment. She’s watching TV. I’m watching her like TV. She asks if I want a cookie, and though I hadn’t been thinking about it, I realize that I do. Yes, yes, I do. I’m like one of those frogs who’s been rescued from the frozen mud: my heart is beating strong now. As I eat my cookie (maple-bison) my Owner is quiet. Longing for what we’ve left behind and dreaming ahead. Me, I’m quite fine for the moment.
Acknowledgements: Cobra Collins, Blake Brooker, Tony Kushner, an Infiniti Ad Content Provider (anonymous).