I once lived with a whole lot of dogs.
I don’t recall their breed, which is strange, because we were close, and spent all that time together. I loved those dogs, and they loved me. There were dozens of them, each one bright white like freshly fallen snow. I spent my days warm and comfortable in a room with a fireplace, not seeing anyone. The dogs did ask to be let out, but I never once saw them doing their business – which was also strange, but at the time, I assumed that they were modest, and had set up some kind of toilet area away from the cabin. I didn’t like beds, so I slept standing up, leaning against the windowsill. The dogs would gather around me at night like an overcoat, leaving only my mouth and eyes exposed. I enjoyed drowsily gazing at the fire, drifting to sleep, with the heady feeling of being engulfed by the mass of dogs.
At the time, I had some work that I could do holed up in the cabin. It involved sitting at the desk in the attic from morning to night, peering into a magnifying glass, tweezering tiny pieces of paper of innumerable colours: work too mind-numbing for most people even to contemplate. For many years, come winter, I’d take several weeks’ worth of food and water and hide myself away in that cabin, which belonged to someone I knew.
The cabin consisted of a high-ceilinged living room, a small bedroom and an attic, but that was ample. When I first reached the isolated cabin, having driven inexpertly over the narrow, winding mountain roads, I was still on my own. I remember dropping the keys, and struggling to pick them up again while still holding all my luggage, because of the bulky scarf which covered half my face, preventing me from seeing my hands. Autumn had just ended. Towards the beginning of my stay I’d definitely gone to sleep alone, looking out the window each night and feeling as if I were at the bottom of a deep sea. Strangely enough, I don’t recall when the dogs started living there.
I loved all the dogs equally. At first, I made an effort to name each one of them, but that was short-lived because I never actually liked naming things. I was happy just looking into the glossy black of their eyes, which shone as though they’d been fired in a magic kiln. And after all, it wasn’t as if the dogs called me by name. But this got to be a little inconvenient, so I came up with some names to try out on them. I lined the dogs up in front of the fireplace, and told them to bark if they heard a name they liked. Then I held up the collars I’d fashioned and, looking into their eyes, called out the names one by one.
‘First up, Early Morning.’
Heh heh heh heh.
‘The Day the White Goods Arrived.’
Heh heh heh heh.
Heh heh heh . . . Yap!
The dog stuck his tongue out deferentially. I placed the collar marked pastrami around his neck.
Heh heh heh heh.
Yap! Yap yap!
The dogs took care of their own meals as well. I surreptitiously let them out in the mountain woods, so they probably hunted animals as a pack. Once when I went for a walk among the trees, I found what looked like a bird’s skull at the bottom of a tree. I slipped the skull into my coat pocket and, when I returned to the cabin, I threw it at the dogs where they lay lounging. ‘Boo!’ I shouted. The dogs didn’t really react, but I thought that must be because they were ashamed that I knew they’d been eating birds. They never let me see them feed. What I did see them doing was drinking plenty of the very cold water that I got from the well behind the garage. I tried warming it for them so they didn’t catch a chill, but they wouldn’t touch that. For some reason, the dogs preferred flimsy plastic supermarket dishes to ceramic, wooden or glass. With their tongues hanging from their mouths, they drooled everywhere, but I didn’t worry about it too much – I just went around the cabin with my feet wrapped in plastic bags. They seemed to be at their most energetic just after drinking their ice-cold water.