Dogs

My brother's dog Thomas has always seemed autistic to me.

I love dogs and usually connect with them well. In childhood, I had a whole pack of stray dogs that recognized me as their human and followed me around town.

I helped one of them learn to hunt mice when he was a puppy. He would leap towards the mouse, but his paws kept landing at the spot where she was a moment ago. Once, I stepped on the mouse's tail, pinning her down—and the next second, she was only a half of a mouse. My dog ate one half and left the other one to me.

A couple years later I saw him catch a squirrel and felt a mixture of pride and guilt. Squirrels are adorable. Kids love feeding them in our town. I felt complicit in the kill.

My opinion of squirrels has changed for about year once, when I lived in Houston. Houston has too many squirrels. They don't seem special there. They look like very agile rats as they run on electric wires along the roads ("streets," they call them in Houston; but they are just roads with houses on their sides).

Anyway: I usually get along with dogs very well. But Thomas has always seemed a bit off. He never looks at you directly or follows your movements with his eyes. He's not very responsive in play. I sometimes have dreams, in which I'm barely aware of what's going on. I move through the plot like through fog, operating purely on momentum, either reacting to events in a clumsy, semi-random fashion, or not reacting at all. That's how Thomas is most of the time. He seems blind in some non-literal way.

I was at my brother's birthday party last autumn. It was two or three in the morning. I left the small room where people were getting high and went into the kitchen to get some water or tea or alcohol. Thomas was standing in the middle of it, at a random angle to the walls, not looking at anything in particular, with his head down and his tail moving slowly from side to side. I hugged him, and he stopped moving his tail. We stood like that for some time.

This made me think that some of the most precious and heart-breaking experiences that sentient beings share are the times when they know communication is not possible, and so they choose to be silent next to each other, not trying to communicate. Sometimes this happens during a break-up. Sometimes I visit my father's grave and stand there silently.

My pack of stray dogs broke apart when the matriarch of the group, a yellow-haired bitch Hera, grew too old to keep it together. She would still meet me at our usual spot, but only to lay down in front of me and touch my leg with her paw, asking to scratch her belly. The pup that I taught to hunt mice grew into a beautiful lone stray and was hanging around town by himself. I saw him a couple of times from the bus window on my way to school. Then, several years later, he saw me.

We were standing maybe 50 meters apart on an empty road, a dead end. I called him. He tilted his head. I called again. He slowly moved his tail from one side to another, then moved it faster. Finally, he recognized me and launched in my direction, wagging his tail so hard the whole rear part of his body was moving left and right. He looked as clumsy as when he was a puppy.

He suddenly stopped about mid-way. His tail stopped moving and stood straight instead. Then he started barking, angrily.

He either decided that I was somebody else, or that I have become somebody else in the years we haven't seen one another.