Saturday 15 June 2019

'Canis Major' by Helen Rye

Dog noses look like alien faces, close up. Have a look next time you see one. Their breath on your face is the foetid hot stink of all that rots in the gutters of backstreets and forsaken corners where small things creep to die, but their cold damp noses are little angry creatures of the stars, and they know what it is not to belong.  

I smile at dogs. It’s just a thing I do. I smile at them all, and they recognise a kindred spirit. Canis lupus familiaris, the friendly wolf, the familiar. Whenever I see one down on the street through the dirt-mottled window of the bus that I ride with my bags just for something to do I press my forehead and the tip of my nose to the cool glass, feel the sweat migrate from my brain to my skin to the pane and I smile. And they feel me looking at them and they look up, look back with eyes deep as galaxies that say to me, Us too. We are not part of this.

And then I don’t mind the stink of piss and old chips so much, or the sly mustelinae grins of the weasel-boys splayed over the back seat who think I can’t hear the names they call me, pissy-pants bag-lady, old dog breath, shit-for-brains. No. They don’t have cute alien noses, just sharp little weasel features, close enough to greasy sewer rats, and their rancid boy-smell is all made up with malice and tormenting, like they’d yank your scarf from your neck so it chafes your old skin into a burn, spit in your half a hotdog that you got from the man by the bin at the bottom of the market when it’s still warm and filling your nasal passages with the sweet homey tang of white onions like your Gramma used to cook them so that you breathed in the smell, the smell, and they ruined it. A dog would never do that to you.  

Breathed-out air contains over 3,000 different molecules, did you know that? Some of them alter when you’re sick, which is why a dog always knows these things. It knows the complex and delicate balance of organic compounds exuded by a human body that is tired and alone and afraid and does not, will not ever belong to this world.

A dog will sniff you out, bone-cold in your hiding place under the old black wooden stairs outside of the back of the theatre.  A dog will push its way under the low step beside you, make its wiry-coated body a baffle to the nipping wind gusts that send the chill and the dust and the leaves and the litter huffing in. A dog will lay its sad little angry little not-belonging alien nose face right up beside yours and stay there with you, all through the night, unbelonging together in no-dog’s-land because a dog knows, a dog always, always knows.


First published in Connotation Press in November 2017.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I think I remember this one. It's brilliant. Great to read it again


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