Written By Doobie
The dog wrote a story. Technically, I typed it out, but she fed me every word.
On the title page, I attributed the story under my name instead of Doobie’s. Doobie noticed this. Apparently, she didn’t know how to type, but she could read.
She questioned why I used my name instead of hers. My face flushed with shame. Plagiarism is disgraceful, but since no one was going to read Doobie’s story, I wasn’t trying to take credit. “I put my name down for security reasons. My own sense of security.”
Doobie cocked her head. Her original owner did not clip and point her ears, the way you commonly saw on a Doberman, so the flat leaf of her right ear dangled in the air, while she waited for me to explain myself.
“Look, only crazy people hear things from dogs. Since you obviously didn’t type these pages, someone seeing your name as the author will think; Oh, Chris is a crazy person. He’s the Son of Sam.”
Doobie stretched her paws, sliding forward until her belly rested on the floor. With great patience, so as to not sound insulting, Doobie explained the Son of Sam’s claim he heard voices from a dog telling him to kill was pure bullshit. He never heard no voices from a dog, he just thought that was a good excuse to tell the police. Anyone accusing me of being the Son of Sam didn’t know what they were talking about.
This relaxed me. Enough to retype the cover page, crediting its real author, Doobie, before mailing the manuscript to a magazine in New York.
The story Doobie wrote was a sad one. The language was nice, and there were wonderful lines (I fondly recall, “A man without his clothes has few secrets, but a man without his skin has none”). Like a good joke, I had the whole thing memorized after only hearing it once.
Doobie’s story concerned a woman dedicated to her dog. Since adopting her as a puppy, she spent thousands on vet treatments. The dog’s health was secured by only feeding her raw food (“There’s no such thing as a kibble tree”). Yet health issues attacked the woman, draining her energy, stealing the time she once spent with the dog. After work, wracked with pain, she could only lay on the couch. She didn’t notice, but entire days could go by with the only thing she said to her dog being, “Go to bed and leave me alone.”
“Is this about Vicki?” I asked. Vicki being her owner, my roommate, who shared a few traits with the woman Doobie wrote about. For example, both were cabinet makers.
Doobie snapped her teeth, a sign of impatience I usually saw when I took too long putting my shoes on when she wanted to go for a walk.
Doobie explained the story wasn’t about the woman, it was about the dog.
Some months later, the SASE boomeranged into our mail. Woefully thin, I knew it didn’t contain any publication contract, but I still tensed up with jealousy as I tore open the side, afraid the dog had achieved success selling her work to a prestigious magazine that paid well and was read by celebrities like Steve Martin.
The rejection letter read hostile in its brevity. “We regret your submission does not suit our present needs.”
Doobie slept on the floor of Vicki’s bedroom. I watched her stomach, waiting for its rise and fall, needing reassurance she was still breathing. Doobie had grown into an old dog. Twelve years. The average age for a Doberman is nine. Aware Doobie was playing with the house’s money, I was terrified of being the one to find her dead. I never wanted to be in the position of having to break that news to Vicki.
Clutching the letter, I wondered if the rejection was worth telling Doobie about. In the past months, she hadn’t mentioned her story. Maybe she forgot all about it. Her paws twitched in her sleep, it looked like a happy dream. There was no sense in waking her for disappointing news.
I crumpled the rejection and tossed it into the trash. When I checked on old, sleeping Doobie later, her paws continued to twitch, dreaming of rabbits no doubt. I hoped she caught them in her sleep.
Two weeks later, another letter arrived from the magazine. This one sent by over-night rush-mail. I had to sign for it.
The second letter explained a mistake has been made. Doobie’s story wasn’t supposed to be rejected. The editors were impressed by the strength and voice of her writing, which according to them “causes the reader to confront their own pre-conceived notion of how one occupies a body preternaturally resistant to fascism.”
I spoke to the editor on the phone. She told me in twenty-seven years editing fiction for the magazine, this was the first unsolicited submission accepted by an unknown from the slush pile. She also complimented my “pen name”. “Unless you’re a cartoonist, one-word names are pretentious, but there’s something natural about Doobie. It’s almost an onomatope. Just sounds right. You read this story and think, I bet Doobie wrote this.”
I asked her when she expected the story to see print. Her response disappointed me.
“We’ve got the next twenty-four issues of fiction lined up, but we’re eager to present this one as soon as possible. I’m slotting it into the first available issue, two years from now.”
I thought about Doobie’s bad hips, how she struggled to come up the apartment stairs. In two years, she’d be fifteen, almost sixteen. More likely, she’d be an urn on the shelf.
I could afford to move out of the apartment when the film rights were sold. Because all the contracts were signed in my name, the money was deposited in my account. Just as chimpanzees lose the copyright to photographs they take, dogs cannot hold copyright to intellectual property.
After long consideration, I decided not to share the money with Vicki. My supposed literary success filled her with pride. She excitedly bragged to her friends about “my” story being made into a movie. All these years, I never realized how much of a supporter she was of my work.
I asked Vicki for a favour come moving day. “I want you to take Doobie and go out. Go for a drive somewhere. Take her to the beach, let her walk around. I just don’t want her here when I leave.” Making the request caused me to tear up. “I don’t think I can take walking out that door, knowing that’s the last time I’ll ever see her.”
“You’ll see her again. You’ll come back to visit,” Vicki said, rubbing my shoulder. She stopped and frowned. “I mean, unless you don’t want to.”
Doobie sleeps on the floor all the time now. The bed has been too high for her to climb into for years. Now, she can’t even make it onto the couch.
I lay beside her, not bothered by the foulness of her wet breath. I see past the milkiness of her cataract eyes and the brown goop leaking from the corners. Her face is cute, as I remember it nearly ten years ago when we first met, her on a leash, obediently sitting at Vicki’s side. Some of my closest friendships didn’t last ten years.
Her tongue laps out of her mouth, licking my forearm. I move my hand so she can lick the palm.
I think she went senile a couple years back. Sixteen is ancient for a Doberman, almost unholy. Instead of waiting for the magazine to come out, I took an old issue, gluing the pages of Doobie’s story inside (I formatted it in the style of the magazine, three skinny columns of text per page, leaving gaps to squeeze in the one-panel cartoons) so that Doobie could see her work while her mind remained strong enough to appreciate it. She responded by putting her head between her paws and napping. I got a bigger reaction giving her a celebratory frozen herring.
Part of me wishes we had started sooner. She might have more stories I missed getting down on paper. Although there is nothing preventing me from publishing work of my own under “my” pen-name, Doobie, I won’t spoil her legacy. Long after Doobie has crossed the rainbow bridge, readers and literary scholars will marvel over that one perfect story.
I doze off beside Doobie, lulled by her breathing, even though it is wheezy, and laboured. I lay there waiting for Vicki to do as she promised, and take Doobie away to the beach so she won’t be here when I leave. Take your time, Vicki. In fact, I wouldn’t mind being the one to fall asleep and never wake up before Doobie did. Vicki is young and healthy. Doobie and I could be urn-mates on her shelf for a long, comfortable time.
I wonder if I’ll still be able to hear her.
Riddled with Arrows 5.4: