by Kleitia Vaso

Unlike Chekhov’s story, in which the lady with the dog falls in love with a married and, hence, partially unavailable man, our contemporary lady is in love with her own dog. And, fortunately for her, the dog can constantly and indefinitely stand by her side. By substituting man for dog, I’m in no way implying that her love leans towards the perverse, although love is never sterile and any kind inherently contains traces of the indefinite. Yet, what I witness, uncomfortable thoughts aside, is a display of love, pure and simple.

What allows me to observe the unexpected appearance of the most magnificent feeling is the lack of motion. Fortunately, our lady is not walking the dog but is seated with him in a train compartment. Initially disinterested, I merely look at him as a slightly annoying element and she looks so tough that, intimidated, a stranger in a strange land, I try to avoid her gaze. Yet, she turns towards him and suddenly her entire face is illuminated, softened into something entirely harmless and almost enviable.  Almost shocked, I look at her feeling a surprising but growing sense of nostalgia. “Nostalgia for what?” one may rightly ask. I realized, sadly, that it had been a long time since I had observed such loving and wondrous looks exchanged between two people. Well, I guess exchanged is not entirely correct, as this love is slightly lopsided. But, by now, the dog expects her loving gaze and needs her affirmation.

She laughs so happily when he barks or does something cute that I smile stupidly just not to make her doubt the validity of her love. In vain, I try to look affectionately at them both but my face is too transparent. Any attempt to fake an unfelt emotion is and always has been futile. But, I cannot look away either. I have been sucked into this quiet melodrama.

At times, she looks out of the window and, then, she seems profoundly lonely. Luckily, these moments are short as the dog barks or jumps, pulling her back to a pleasant place.

So much for her.

But what about him? I’ll just use him because it seems more natural than it or her. I shift my focus and look at the dog. Unaware, he acts as dogs do, sleepy and all of a sudden awake, appearing to smell something, run after it, the instincts of a hunter suddenly visible under the assumed veil of domesticity. But, what can he hunt? The dog is, after all, in a train.

Should a dog be in a train, I wonder? Its paws make an awkwardly loud noise on the metallic floor,  its fur seems too fluffy so close to the steely interior, his face tired and lifeless under the neon light. Actually, all of our faces look drained of blood. What an unnatural mix of materials. No grass here, no earth, just bars of metal which always make me imagine, for one split second, their fatal meeting with flesh. Something distracts me from these dark thoughts. A pungent smell of urine comes from the dog’s direction. He looks away, ashamed perhaps that he had the strange need to pee right when and where he shouldn’t have. I am almost glad he was naughty and relieved himself, slightly humiliating his owner and temporarily poisoned all of us with the metallic-tinged pee smell. But, it’s not his fault that it smells so horrible. With the earth or grass, the same smell would mix nicely, could pass undetected but here, the metal highlights it in unflatteringly, indirectly showing the poor animal that it should not be here, that it has lost its way.

Now, I look at the lady accusingly. She loves her pet blindly, happy for his dependence on her. In such alien surroundings, he needs her to guide him. She knows this but has somehow forgotten that his grateful face results from a need rather than a want. Neutered and helpless, like a declawed cat, born with the desire to scratch but deprived of the tools, she has turned him into a perfect companion. She basks in the reflection of her own love. The one side that matters, after all. Yet, as he leaps from the train and runs toward the crowd, for an instant assuming a more intimidating previous existence, elongated and stronger, I wonder whether one day he will rebel, forget where he is and bite the hand that feeds him.

by Kleitia Vaso