THE SHAGGY DOG
Once a shaggy dog spent every afternoon retracing the path it had taken since morning and collecting any tufts of its fur to be found on something it had brushed against. You could never be too careful about leaving your DNA about, the shaggy dog was convinced. Suppose you’d wandered, quite by accident, through a crime scene. Would you find yourself convicted of a horrific trespass by a few strands of hair stuck in some bush? And if the place wasn’t a crime scene already, what would prevent it from becoming one in the future? Judging by the growing appetite for public horrors, sooner or later absolutely everywhere you’d ever been in life might feature in non-stop “investitainment” updates from the scene of that week’s “crime of the century.” What hope would there be then of getting any of your life back? Or suppose the fur simply blew away in the wind or was washed away in the rain. Would that be any better? Where might it disappear to? Strands of a coat the dog had nurtured for years, as much a part of its being as the depths of its brain, could end up anywhere, mired in sludge even. Or worse. Imagine any portion of your life defined by the lowest point in it and all that finds its dank level there! To say nothing of the unforgivable slight done by such neglect to the shaggy dog’s forebears. How could it so dishonor the thread of life that might be traced from a single hair back through countless generations to the dawn of dogdom and those protocanines to whom it owed the very presence on the planet of its DNA? Did it have so little respect for the long, long struggle of its ancestors as not to care what happened to the precious gift they’d handed down to it? But what was that gift precisely? Would anyone be able to grasp the whole of the shaggy dog’s story from a random bit of it left snared in shrubbery or the odd patch of weeds? Would anyone understand what the loss of that small proof of its very existence might have meant? Of what firm self-awareness preceded it and what followed and how large the new gap between them was? Of how its life might no longer have a reassuring unity to the experiences making it up? Or would the slightest trace of itself left behind by the shaggy dog be spun by whoever found it into some laughable conjecture, more ragged fiction than reality, like an artist’s rendition of an extinct life form guessed at from a sliver of fossilized bone? How could the shaggy dog bear the possibility of being completely misunderstood on the basis of such scant evidence? Better to take everything back, then, to gather up all the scattered strands of hair before a few might be mistaken for the whole and the shaggy dog’s entire life story be reduced to a muddled tale without beginning or conclusion. A pile of loose ends frayed out until there’s no meaning at all to be found in them.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans