Black Eyed Dog

‘Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay 

To mould me man, Did I solicit thee 

From darkness to promote me?’

John Milton, Paradise Lost

I awoke with a start, sweat-soaked, choking and stifled of breath in the cloying warmth of the room. In the far off distance thunder rumbled in the canopies of clouds that shrouded the night. Darkness, deep and velvet and impermeable settled all around me, enfolding me in its weighty cloak. A distant and trebly sound, but one with familiar and beautiful cadences came from somewhere… befuddlement passed and became recollection – the listening device… yes, the I-Pod. I had placed it under my pillow along with that other electronic device… I fumbled under that selfsame pillow for the cellular telephone, located it and pressed its eerie greenish light into life. 2.45am… and on the periphery of my vision, a movement, a darker shadow than any other object in the room, caught in the fading edge of the light from the telephone. I reached for the bedside lamp switch, pressed it on and scorched my eyes with the sudden intensity of its light. A moment passed, and as my eyes adjusted to plain sight there could be no doubt. It sat, absolutely still, on the tiny stool at the foot of my bed.

‘You’ I cried out ‘you have come to… to…’ my voice vanished, strangled in the fearful closure of my throat at the sight I beheld.
The creature raised its head and gazed directly at me. Water – mayhap rainwater, was trickling down its fearful visage. After several seconds it spoke.
‘No. This time I have not come to kill thee. I have come to take my leave of thee.’ Its voice held no anger, as it had done so many times before. Now it seemed weighted with a deep and unimaginable sorrow, how changed from the blazing terror that I knew from experience could be unleashed by its tongue.
‘You are leaving me?’ relief had unblocked the stricture of my throat, and now I could scarce believe the words that had emerged hoarse and laboured from the scarred lips of the beast before me.
‘truly, you leave?’
It nodded, saying no more, yet conveying the absolute truth of its intentions in the slow gravity of the gesture.
Minutes passed. The creature continued to stare directly at me, in absolute stillness. No breath appeared to pass from it, no blink of an eyelid to confirm humanity. I saw now that it was wearing my Navy greatcoat, that which I had inherited from my uncle, and that it was flecked with mud and shimmering with droplets of rainwater. In the right hand pocket I could clearly see my copy of ‘L’etranger’, now water stained and grubby. Upon seeing this, I clearly recalled my teenage years of existential doubt and angst, and once more my throat constricted.

The creature leaned forward, and extended a parchment dry bony finger in my direction, jabbing it toward me for emphasis as it spoke. “Remember this, if you will of me – It was thou that created me, thou that breathed life into me, thou that needed me… ‘ it leaned back into the corner, and gazed upwards to the ceiling before continuing ‘but I know… I know now that it is time for me to leave thee… forever. I have brought much pain to you and to the ones you love…’ I fear he almost spat the last word out ‘… but hast thou ever considered me? A dark thing, unloved, unwanted… I cannot bear to see myself… I cannot walk freely in daylight…’
his voice broke off in a choking sob. At that moment, I felt sorrow for him. True sorrow. I felt as God must mayhap feel toward mankind, the frustration that endowing one’s creatures with free will must cause the creator… yes, I had created this beast, called it up from the depths of my dark mind, bestowed life upon it, a shape, a form… and now I had to recognize that the time had come, and the tragedy was that it too knew this, and had come almost willingly, it seemed, to his nemesis, his maker… yes, to meet his maker.

The thunder having calmed, the room was now almost silent, other than the sound of the I-Pod, the music seemingly shimmering in the still warm air. The creature leaned forward again. ‘That sound… it is so… so calming, so beautiful. What is it?’
‘It is Nick Drake. It is called Black Eyed Dog.’
The creature allowed a slight smile to flicker across his lips, and nodded his head slightly. ‘Ah yes, I know of him. He was born in Rangoon.’ I was surprised at this, and my surprise must have shown, as the creature let out a harsh, barking laugh
‘ha! You wonder at my knowledge. Here!’
from inside my greatcoat he threw a ragged parcel upon my bed, wrapped in torn and stained brown paper and held loosely together with fraying string. It was clear his intention was for me to open it, so I duly did. Inside were many familiar loose leaf printed sheets, individually printed from the internet it appeared. ‘I know these’ I said, quietly. ‘As do I’ retorted the creature ’As do I…’ he reached over, lifted one up and squinted at it before reading aloud slowly and deliberately. ‘Lost – in – Space. Ha! The vanities of man!’ he threw it disdainfully back onto the bed. ‘Enough of this! Tell me about this music, this song. What does it mean?’ In truth I was fearful of where this discourse may lead, but to humour him I answered. “It comes from his last album… record. It was named Pink Moon. He died soon after making this, from an accidental overdose of anti-depressants. Many people think it’s a song about suicide, or depression. A metaphor for them… do you know, Winston Churchill used to describe his depression as a Black Dog, following him around…’

‘Really? How interesting. But this is a Black Eyed Dog… perhaps it means something other… perhaps it looks to better times…’

Abruptly, the creature stood up. Startled, I moved suddenly and knocked the bedside lamp spinning. I hurriedly straightened it up and in that brief moment it was beside me, leaning over me, inches from my face. ‘Goodbye’ it said. In that instant, I saw that its eyes were the deepest, darkest black imaginable…

…and then it was gone…

Historical note – the reference made to Rangoon by the creature is generally accepted to be a direct reference to the author’s visit to Yangon with his wife and child in 2009 during the New Year water celebrations. From contemporary accounts it was clear that they had a wonderful time, and were enchanted with the city and overwhelmed by the kindness of their hosts, Nick and May Yei.

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‘And so’ expounded Alice ‘lets just cut to the chase and fill in some of what’s been happening in the last couple of months, albeit in a surreal manner (as indeed and as usual, much has been surreal anyway)’
‘ Cut to the chase?’ The White Rabbit dropped his sandwich and wrinkled his pink nose in a contrary manner, which seemed to Alice to mingle both curiousity and disgust in equal portions.
‘Cut to the chase? Oh my goodness, her Majesty will be so distressed that language such as that is being used… oh my goodness!’
‘You sir, are a rabbit, and a conversing one at that, which is unduly strange, if not surreal in itself, and I will thank you to keep your opinions firmly to yourself.’
The rabbit muttered away inwardly as he scoured the tablecloth for the remaining crumbs of his sandwich, which had been lifted aloft and carried away by a battalion of extremely large ants garbed in scarlet uniforms during the brief exchange with Alice.
Alice scowled at this behaviour, and waited until the rabbit peered up at her again with his crumby snout before directing a steely gaze at him and intoning ‘Whatevah!’ in, Alice was deeply amused to think, a particularly ‘chavish’ manner.
Suitably chastened, the rabbit wiped his whiskers, glanced briefly at this pocket watch then sat at attention opposite Alice. Alice shifted a little, then from her apron withdrew a small gingham-wrapped package, which she placed carefully before them on the tablecloth before unwrapping it and withdrawing two small and somewhat dog-eared spiral bound notebooks.
‘Now rabbit, I ‘borrowed’ these from Mr. Skip’s desk, so I will thank you to refrain from mentioning it when next you have discourse with him.’
The rabbit sighed deeply before replying. ‘ He believes me to be a figment of his so-called feverish imagination in any case, so that should not be anything of an issue.’
Alice ignored this statement and opened the first notebook, and read aloud from the first page.
‘Conversations with J, volume 17, 2008’
‘Heard it all before! Heard it all before!’ snapped the rabbit. Alice knitted her eyebrows angrily at this interjection, but nevertheless closed the notebook and cast it to one side, picking up the second, leafing through the first few pages before pausing, nodding, clearing her throat and commencing to read. ‘ Today we mused on cockfighting…’ she began…

“J recalled the Saturday afternoon where he and A had firstly become embroiled in a circus procession along the riverfront, then had repaired to the Riverhouse to sip a late afternoon cocktail and muse on the flurries of activity happening across the road against the huge green corrugated fences bedecked with advertising hoardings which screened the river from gaze during the lengthy work being undertaken to replace the city’s ailing sewerage system. Wow, that was a lengthy sentence, wasn’t it? When they left a few minutes later and drove past the scene, they could see it was in fact cockfighting training taking place, there, in broad daylight, on one of the busiest thoroughfares in town. The following week, the Prime Minister outlawed cockfighting. Fortunately J and A had nothing to do with this decision, so they had little to fear from such as the deputy Prime Minister’s henchmen, as he was a breeder of fighting cocks and very upset by this new law. Perhaps, pondered J, a quorum of the National Assembly will outlaw the keeping of man-eating crocodiles and then it will be the Prime Ministers turn to be suitably aggrieved (if the stories are true) …
… and so to Khmer New Year, with J, A and O repairing firstly to Bangkok and then to Yangon for the celebrations, but unwittingly becoming embroiled in the Thai political crisis through being present at the taking of a tank by the redshirts one Sunday afternoon. Let J elaborate…

‘The briefest of tenures as a BBC correspondent (‘are you in Bangkok? Have you witnessed what is happening? Let us know!’ ‘Ehm, well not much actually. It’s a bit tricky to get to the shops, but mustn’t grumble…’) and puzzlement at the hotel staff being completely oblivious of the situation (‘no problem sir, all shops open, all safe’ – ‘I’m sorry, we can see from our room the entire city centre is closed and if you have a peek out of your foyer over there you can see two tanks and some armed soldiers. I don’t think it’s a fancy dress parade….’ – ‘oh, sorry sir…’) led to us decanting to the relatively sane insanity of the only place open in the entire Siam Square, the Hard Rock Café. The staff were amazing – they absolutely loved O, and he loved them back, delighting in water fights, balloons, playing drums, colouring in and more, as mummy and daddy struggled to devour the American –size platters on offer. The Hard Rock was a godsend, that and the Sky Train which O watched endlessly criss-crossing its way above the city from our vantage point on the 17th floor and appeared to be infinitely more interesting and diverting to him than the 27 violent cartoon channels available on the hotel cable TV. So it was good to escape from one madness, the factionalised Bangkok, to another, the water drenched craziness of new year in Yangon, Myanmar…’ “

Here Alice paused. The rabbit sat with his chin on his chest, apparently fascinated by the buttons on his somewhat admirable weskit, but Alice knew his quaint ways well enough to know that the bewhiskered one was actually asleep.
‘RABBIT! Awake!’ she screamed at the very limits of her lungs, and the poor creature physically leapt upright from his repose, eyes startled wide open, before falling backward to gasp upon the tablecloth, scattering the still marauding ants as he did so.
Alice laid the notebook face down and leaned over the unfortunate creature.
‘I fear we shall have to wait for the next part of this tale until you have sufficiently recovered your composure’ she hissed at the rabbit.
He sat himself up, blew his nose noisily upon his pocket-kerchief, and returned the fierce gaze of Alice with his own watery eyes. There was what appeared to be a lengthy pause before he answered.
‘Am I bovvered?’ he replied.