[For a Thai-language version “เสียหมา,” click here.]
Early in the afternoon they stop in front of the museum where they are showcasing the last of king dog’s royal projects. Around them the world smolders and the city in the distant flutters and dins like a broken illusion. City but nothing above ten-storey in sight, old chinese dominion when they first came in junks south down the river and still is. The other night when he saw the crowning on TV and asked about king dog she told him that he was chinese. So he said Bull-fucking-shit and How the fuck does that even work. She couldn’t really say but that’s just how it is with blood. You’re more of what you got less in it and facts such as this are rarely gainsaid.
It is early afternoon and she knows he can’t go on in this subequatorial prestorm. Few wooden steps lead from the street up to narrow double teak doors set in a mortar facade the color of pig rash. Light blinks in a shallow recess fixtured up there on the underside of the front stoop and she turns to ask him in the oncoming gloom if he wants to take a look inside. Down to bare arms and shoulder blades he looks red as a pickled plum. He takes off his cap and passes his hand back and forth once through the short buzz for the dry itch all over his scalp and he looks far down the street like they could do better. Like he’s thinking there were much more to old culture than this. The first drops begin to fall. A group of four hurries from across the street pushing past them where they stand and in through the doorway. Watch where you’re going, he says but either they don’t understand his words or what they just did, or they pretend not to.
Nowhere else to go but two tickets for seventy each and that’s cheaper than one going to the cinema. In that place the grim agent takes their red bills and doles out with three licks of his thumb crisp green ones from his zipper fanny. Outside the light pounding of seawind scorn. Together they wait. Both kids at the bench on their phones and the man with them shaking his leg like a fucking epileptic. The woman’s hand on the man’s thigh but that’s just making it worse. He sighs and puts on his cap again.
There’s barely anyone here, he says taking her hand in his. They don’t even have tickets to give.
I thought you didn’t want to be a tourist.
Tell me this is any good.
I’ve seen it once. Somewhere else when he was still alive, when they couldn’t print them fast enough. This one’s about Cupri.
You mean to tell me he got a museum show dedicated to a goddamn housedog.
She shrugs. I doubt he had a say in any of it.
The man or the dog.
Eight minutes in and maybe certain that the growing drizzle would yield no more strays, the agent gets up from his desk to shut the doors then he turns facing his charges to reveal himself the sole docent. He beckons. Through the narrow unlit hallway they singlefile after him like dreamers, humdrum parquet-floor march muffled in the storm and the cloistered dark. In the first room long panels line one whole wall, blocks of text trapped between old photos. Stories framed this way. And because to him these may well be deliriums and hieroglyphs she narrates the saga of Cupri, prime basenji shebitch of the royal kennel. How she was born one of five at a construction site, how they say she came from a shelter and not some death row, how she loved as all dogs loved, how she stood bristling up to feral ridgebacks but ran from a groomed pom’s least canty hail, how much of a good girl she was.
Look here, she calls attention to a display case at the end of the room. Inside there’s a small velvet rug stained here and there and frayed at the fringe.
She used to sit in court at his feet.
The group of four crowds behind them. One of the kids steps to the side and takes out her phone and angles it down at the glass. ห้ามถ่ายรูป, interjects the docent but too late. A click and a flash. The girl shies away from the case like it’s showing porn. She looks uncertainly at the man then at the docent, but neither acknowledges the violation.
One time when she was about three years old she pissed on both backlegs of his chair and the old trainer was never heard from again.
I’m sure that’s what they all say.
You’re mistaken. No one here says anything about anything but everyone seems to know it anyway. The common delusions are that words require people to tell and to hear and that somehow in the saying of them we lay claim to a truth we do not deserve. Don’t you see that everything springs from him? Rains and storms are the sky’s bastards of his seed. Clouds hide the sun from his eminence and mists cool the entire city because he’s feeling a little hot crossing to his limo from the front porch. Even beggars observe good taste by refraining from crying out their despair, which is his despair on an indefinite loan.
And this time he can’t tell how much she is shitting him.
The room’s end drains into dark so tight he has to advance crabwise with shoulders wedged wall-to-wall. Passage coils down then out but that doesn’t make any sense. He loses its shape and his place in it and he keeps his head low after the first few bumps into bone things hung from the ceiling. Sweatless, hard of breathing, he turns back to suggest Maybe it’s time to go but the four step close behind her and the docent leading will not stop. He sees the girl by the light of her phone at the backmost of the formation and he doesn’t see she is bringing up on screen the roll of her camera. Doesn’t see her hit delete on the first small square as they emerge onto the long hall in the false twilight. Stale stench like unaired latrine rises tendrilous through his held breath so that he smells it anyway. What the fuck, he says and exhales but no use. Skylights up there to tease storm’s mercy, storm’s embrace. Storm’s heart like the one months past where she was waiting maybe all his life for that chance glance and no shame at all if you wanted a peek of her nipples poking through the dogwet cling of her grey shirt. Just remember to show them the dollars before popping the question. What the fuck, he says.
The fuck in this case lies on a two-by-two display stand kneehigh and cordoned off with rope stanchions. In the gloom it looks like a congealed puddle next to a white head of dried and crumbled cauliflower. Primeval stew with garnish spilled in the first dawn. He thanks god he can’t see any clearer. The docent gestures for all to gather round and she takes his arm so he wouldn’t just stay too far back. The docent asks a question. She tells him the question is How many weeks does it take for a dog to lose all semblance of a dog. Two says the girl, Three says the boy, this much he understands. She shakes her head.
Even after four months in the elements you can still tell it’s a dog when you see it in the street. This one’s been kept here ever since his organs failed and that was six months back. Who knows how long it really takes.
I don’t believe you.
I’m not the one saying it.
Let’s just go.
More lies people the way forward, the way out. Sun up and worse than any he’s been in and she walked leashless in his shadow, walked among those who lamented the days of villeins, who bowed and touched and kissed and kept for good karma the soil in his footprints and some even scooped from hers. They dug with pocketknives or ends of spoonhandles where beads of sweat fell from the tip of his nose and these bits of earth ran upward of ten thousand. Then, the day they jogged by the lake and stopped to watch the sundown beyond the headland across a mirrored nightblue. The day he let slip his deepest hurt. I wish, he began then waited for the aeronauts above to finish their approach at the threshold. I wish they could all be more like you, and he went down on his knee to steady her trembling frame because she could never get used to turbojet roar.
Can we please just go? The rain is probably stopping.
I want to see what else they got this time, she says.
No, you don’t. Come on.
Yes, I fucking do.
He forges on by himself through an empire of steel and promises. Replicas bear sigils of kingly genius and they hum and the opaque vats bubble and the shrivelled shapes in them turn in the slow churn of their solution. He hurries by and tries not to look, hurries a deeper dark where they keep the centerpiece so his face cracks loud against the bearcage. Stars in his eyes that aren’t there and his head sings and the cap lost and the floor gone from under his feet.
He catches himself on the bars and when he looks up he first smells the sudden pantbreath in his mouth. Bloodsweet metalrot like his lungs hemorrhaging. Could taste it before his eyes stop with the bullshit and register the man looking up at him from between the searing cold in his hands. The man speaks to him, his tongue hanging too long and most of his teeth gone and half his head caved shut one of his eyes and he was naked and on all fours. The man continues to speak. What are you saying. What the fuck are you saying? Just get me the fuck outta here. The man sniffs where his hands clutch tight and retreats to raise one backleg in the far corner. Quartets of tiny feet kick and stir in his swollen stomach. He staggers back from the enclosure, back into the group coming in and into the docent who sighs a few words at him and shakes his head like he usually does when dealing with tourists in this room. She catches his deadweight as fire rises in his throat, her playful canine on the lobe of his ear.
He said No photos.
The boy and the girl cross the street and stamp ahead through black puddles. The woman raises her hand at them and shouts and the man follows. After a while a true stray comes hobbling down the pavement and the stray does search. He favors his lame front leg broken inward long ago and his lean head nods and his balls slap this way and that as he sniffs along the drying wormbricks and he searches for things flavored. He comes upon the docent supping from a bag of meatcakes and he feigns disinterest five meters away. The docent looks at the dog. The dog looks out at the cars in the street, ears flat along his skull. The docent looks down at the last meatcake and an excess of tamarind sauce. He aims the bamboo stick and lances the cake through and swirls the cake in the slather. He then pinches his finger and thumb above the cake and slides the cake off the stick onto the ground. Finally, he breaks the stick in two and balls the bag in his fist and pitches the waste close to a streetside pile of oozing blackbags and wipes his hands on his trouserlegs and goes inside to close up. When he’s gone the dog snatches up the morsel in his mouth and chews. He laps at the faint patch of sauce on the concrete yet he seeks after the bag and the broken stick and from this he sucks every last drop and he crushes the wood with his jaw for the lingering taste and eats the pieces whole.