THE TALKING DOG
I was besotted with this particular spaniel I had, Jeffrey. Obliging, obedient, devoted. I felt he knew me through and through; he seemed to intuit which direction I would walk, which people I liked best. His fallback expression was one of doleful tolerance. I loved Jeffrey with all my heart (or as much of it as I could spare). Sometimes I wished he could speak, and I would imagine the high-flown conversations we would have. We’d pat the ball of dialectics to and fro between us, arguing through points about politics, art, food: we’d only disagree enough for it to be stimulating.
I fantasised that Jeffrey would have the sort of mellifluous voice that always turned me on: a sort of canine Alan Rickman, perhaps.
Just occasionally, the thought is father to the deed. One day I was trying on a new outfit, scrutinising myself in the mirror, and I heard this voice: “what do you think you look like in that frock?” It was a strong Birmingham accent (one which I have always rather disliked). I looked round: no one was in the room. Perhaps it was the radio. But no, the voice came from Jeffrey’s direction, and it intoned something else: “that is an unbecoming shade for someone of your colouring.”
I bent down to Jeffrey and opened his mouth: teeth, tongue, lips. There was no speaking mechanism: how could I have been so silly? But then, the voice came again. It was clear that somehow, through some magical means, Jeffrey had been able to communicate with me through the ear of my mind, as it were. I squealed: “Jeffrey, is that really you?” The voice replied “yes, and I’ve been waiting long enough for you to hear.”
At first I was overjoyed to hear my favourite’s utterances. He did indeed love me, and told me so all the time. Not in a flowery way, but rather forthrightly and in his unambiguous accent. Of course, I had bought him from a lady spaniel breeder in Great Barr in Birmingham: why would he not speak like that? The trouble was that Jeffrey had very firm views. First of all on my appearance: he was very good at noticing little flaws - “there’s a mark on your skirt” - “that hem’s uneven”- “I can’t understand why you don’t change your shampoo”. Secondly the company I kept: he didn’t like my friends - “can’t she talk quieter?” - “why do you let that man hold your hand?” - “they never leave any food on their plates”. I did feel loved: but I also felt judged.
Really, Jeffrey only wanted walks, dinner and me. I had hoped for sparkling conversation, but most typically he would look round the quiet evening room and say “this is nice”. Then he’d say it again. And often a third time. I had to agree, to keep the peace. But it is in my nature to be devious, and eventually I took to keeping secrets. He always knew, of course, and said reproachfully and sententiously: “tell the truth and shame the devil!” He was fond of little proverbs like that, never missing an opportunity to take the moral high ground. And as I was something of a bohemian and a vagabond, that could be irksome.
In the end, Jeffrey died in his sleep and I mourned him bitterly. But I never got another dog. Jeffrey taught me the folly of never expecting from people what they could not give. And I also learned from him that love can be possessive and judgemental. I got a cat after that, and her scorn and indifference was easier to live with. Though she never spoke a word.