Once a bloodhound lost its sense of smell. One day, just like that, the scent-trapping folds around the hound’s face ceased to pass along to its nose any of the familiar odors that had guided it unerringly through the world until then. The resulting disorientation proved as severe as it was sudden. Not that the bloodhound plowed directly into the side of the hound next to it and then careened back across into the one on the other side. It at least retained the presence of mind to continue swinging its snout left and right and to press forward at a pace that might have seemed hesitant to the alert eye but which, with every other snout so low to the ground, went unnoticed by its companions in the pack. Praised be, they hadn’t located what they’d been sent out to find, the bloodhound sighed to itself once the search had been called off for the day. Imagine the embarrassment of stepping right over the object of their pursuit while the others ceased baying and looked on in disbelief! Then there’d have been no hiding its failure to carry out its tasks as expected, and once failure was confirmed, no saving the bloodhound from being sent to a dreaded animal shelter of last resort, or worse. What an appalling thought! As appalling as the signal inevitably sent to all bloodhounds that this one now lacked the defining quality making any bloodhound a bloodhound. To have your identity taken away in such a wrenching and total manner must leave you at a loss even to guess at how to fill the resulting hole left in the self. The more you strained to think of a way, the larger the hole would likely become, until the deepening crater threatened to swallow up all trace that a self had ever existed! In alarm, the bloodhound tried to reconstruct its sense of smell from memory in hopes that when enough scents had been recalled, they’d somehow fill any hole in its being and allow it to start over again from just before disaster had befallen it. Try as it might, however, the bloodhound failed to retrieve any of the scents it was sure must have crowded its nose in the last moments leading up to the fateful one. Confronted with this baffling olfactory amnesia, it couldn’t even be sure there had in fact been scents in its world, although the idea there wouldn’t have been struck the bloodhound as preposterous. Equal to claiming a corpse wouldn’t signal its decay far and wide, or those still living didn’t do the same, for that matter. Then again, who was to say the very idea that everything on earth smelled to some extent or other wasn’t all in one’s head—merely a trick of the brain, the creation of twitching neurons and nothing more? It was all very confusing to the bloodhound. If the senses were uncertain, what kept them from being in essence mere ghost trails of the mind? What proof would remain that your life wasn’t simply what a needy imagination fashioned, whether out of psychic demand or in recompense for whatever you might have suffered at the hands of reality—that in an effort to remember the life you were convinced was yours, you unwittingly buried the one you’d actually led? But if, instead, the senses held the truth, and all that the bloodhound had smelled, tasted, heard, seen, and felt over the course of a lifetime, all of it, truly existed and wasn’t simply what it wanted to exist, wouldn’t it follow that the bloodhound too existed? Desperate for this to be so, the bloodhound turned to thrusting its snout again and again into all the close, dark, hushed, rank and bitter corners of its past, seeking proof, even the most loathsome, that it hadn’t been the victim of delusions or mistaken identity all this while. For the more loathsome the remembered sensation, the more likely was its power to overcome the years and plant that distant moment once again right under one’s nose. There was something shameful about finding yourself forced to these measures, the bloodhound had to admit. Who wouldn’t prefer to spend day and night in more worthy pursuits, those that raised the spirit high above the world of the senses altogether and carried it to where it would never fall into doubt, secure in the confidence that majestic, everlasting truths were not only within reach but were as constant in their company as the sun and the moon? If the bloodhound could find such sublime promise in its current plight, this abrupt severing of all that had tied it to its senses, shouldn’t it rejoice in its unexpected good fortune rather than striving to bring those senses back to life, renewing its bondage to them? Instead, like some aging lecher, though fully aware of the ludicrous figure he cuts, still cannot resist pushing through the crowd to overtake a woman from his past and steal a glimpse into her eyes, only to be stopped in his tracks at that very moment, gasping for breath as she walks on without noticing and the crowd strides forward around him, just in this way the bloodhound was helpless to free itself from the obsessive pursuit of its lost senses. The pull of the bloodhound it must have been, must still be, was just too strong.
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Grosshans