“If You Were a Puppy, My Sweet”
by Glenn Hauman & David Mack
If you were a puppy, my sweet, you would be a wild one. You’d be big and neutered, just like human-you. You’d bound from place to place, unburdened by any thought of consequences, full of energy and bereft of conscience. Some would delight in your antics, your perverse rejection of dignity. Others would quail from your manic slobbering and call you a nuisance, but you would be excused, because that’s just how puppies behave.
If you were a wild puppy, I’d hear you yelp. I’d bear your endless braying and wonder what you were going on about. Sometimes you’d growl at people passing by, innocent people doing things you didn’t understand or thought dangerous, and you’d bare your tiny fangs in an impotent snarl. Other times, you’d bark at shadows or at nothing at all, and I would imagine that in your head you were facing down dinosaurs with mighty roars. You’d be crazy-brave.
If you were crazy-brave, you’d be impossible to housebreak. No matter how many times I tried, you’d have a mad streak in you, which would become a different streak on the floor. You’d confound me by defecating in your own den, devouring your mess, and doing it all again. I would do my best to help you stop, but you would be defiant, my sweet. You would become angry and think I was trying to stop you from doing anything you wanted, at any place and any time. And that would make you sad.
If you were sad, I’d try to make you happy again. I’d add something solid to your imbalanced diet of red meat. I’d give you a chew toy to see if it cheered you up, hoping that having something to gnaw on would satisfy you. I would enter you in a dog show, but no award would suit you. You’re too proud to be placated by such small gestures; you would never be satisfied with any bones thrown your way. You’d resist my advice until you made yourself sick.
If you got sick, I’d take care of you. I’d take you to the vet and get you all the medicine you needed, and I’d be on the watch for any of the horrible diseases you could get: Lyme disease. Worms. Fleas and mites. Arthritis. Puppy strangles. Parvovirus. But you’d slip your leash, flee into the night, make friends with the wrong animals, and come home infected with rabies.
If you came home infected with rabies, I’d watch, helpless, as you twitched and foamed at the mouth. I’d stay back as you lashed out at nearby objects, attacking and biting anything in range, trying to infect everything around you with the very thing that has driven you mad. I would try to soothe you as your voice became dry and rough and hoarse, the spasms of the muscles in your throat degrading your bark to a miserable “chorf.” I’d be heartbroken as the disease consumed your brain, and I’d wish there was something, anything, I could do to free you from its madness.
If I could free you from your madness, we’d both see you’re not really rabid, that you do what you do with the power of reason. We’d know you were once a thinking human being, responsible for your own actions—an honor you sacrificed to become this gibbering beast I can’t understand. I still wouldn’t know what you hoped to become. I couldn’t tell if your plans went ass-over-teakettle or if you planned to become this all along. I’d know you once were human, but that you chose to turn your back on that for reasons known only to you… to become something different.
If you became something different, all you’d do is howl strange love songs to your legions of the spittle-flecked, and you’d respond to nothing but dog whistles. Even so, in spite of evidence and experience, I’d try to reason with you.
If I tried to reason with you, I would soon discover it to be in vain. I’d realize you thought your fury would make you big and strong, and maybe you’d fool more than a few, but I would see the truth: I’d see that you’d shrunk, your stature diminished by your swelling savagery. You’d still think yourself a creature of courage and strength and righteousness, whose claws and fangs intimidate your foes effortlessly, but your anger and delirium and weakness would only make you an object of scorn, a walking tragedy defined by wiser souls than you. Honor and glory would desert you, and all you would be left with are your regrets and your incurable rabies.
If you were afflicted with incurable rabies, no one could save you as you weakened and drooled, a grotesque public spectacle. I would be sad but resigned to your tale’s inevitable conclusion, and you and all your puppy friends would be sad, too.
If you were sad and rabid, I would bring you with me to the wide-open rampart, and we would watch the mighty spaceships fly. I’d tell you to look up, and we’d see those ships break our world’s surly bonds to depart for alien shores. We’d wish their crews well as they explored great wonders yet unknown. Then you’d fill the lengthening dusk with your pitiful whimpers as the shiny rockets soared away … without you … never to return.
with a tip of our hats to Rachel Swirsky
(Read the backstory behind this piece, and our apology to Ms. Swirsky here.)