The Country/The Country

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17. Life in a Cage

Stepping down the rail-less stoop from the shack that served as an animal control office, he turned left instead of right and found himself sniffing the acrid, feral odor of too many dogs.

Still he walked toward them.

There were two rows of cages. The barking increased at his approach. He listened for a tone of expectancy. Excitement that someone was approaching, paying attention. Someone outside their cage, their prison, would look at them, speak with the unintelligible speech that nevertheless they registered and read, perhaps, in their canine souls. They knew, perhaps by smell, that the stranger’s approach was not the same as the routine approach of the assistant, or the volunteers, or whoever it was that cleaned the manure out of their cage and sprayed from a can or bottle to neutralize the heavy acidic odor of the urine. Then locked their cage door, again, perhaps even without a word.

No. The volunteers at least would talk to them, try to soothe them.

“There, girl, they would say. There, there. Look at you. Look how dirty you’ve got yourself! You’ve got to lick yourself, girl. Keep yourself clean.”

“Don’t roll in it, boy! For god’s sakes don’t roll in it.”

The dogs were shouting their barks now. Little ones were going ‘yip!-yip!-yip!’ like something underfoot and still determined to protect the mobile boundaries of its tiny, fierce, possessive, self-assertive existence. Determined to let you know and remind you continually that they were there, underfoot. As if otherwise you would forget about them, and step on them with your heavy, stupid, thoughtless feet and crush their fierce little bones; their bright, anxious, eager souls. In fact, people might.

The bigger dogs were less expectant. They slouched up against the front of their cages, as if taking some space from the world that was denying them everything they truly needed, especially space to spread out and lie on the ground; find someplace soft and lie down on their flank, stretching their legs out fully with whole yards of space surrounding them, free in the physical cosmos for which they were born. Instead of cooped up in this pretend space, this little prison island of boring food and the impossible smells of so many other imprisoned beasts whose propinquity confused their judgment and their nascent ability to think. Should they expect to fight? Or walk away with supreme confidence, nose in the air? Leaving the bad smells of too many bodies cooped closely together disdainfully behind.

The older, wiser dogs for the most part cared little for Keel’s approach. Another stranger who might poke his eyes at their cage door, overwhelm the soured space with man-smell, and blunder on after an uncomfortable moment, to offer the same useless presence to a neighbor, the next scent over. The sick one, maybe. The skinny one. The one who ate dirt, or tried to.

Coops and cages, Keen thought.

How did these captive creatures bear it?

Overwhelmed, he turned away.

The barking increased now that the canine eyes watching his progress could sense his abandonment of them, monitor his departure. Were they triumphantly barking him off the property? Or begging him to return and rescue them?

Life, in the Era of Pig -- the unwelcome thought came on its own, from somewhere; from a dream? -- would be like that.

Each man or woman, each human existence in its cage. Waiting for release.

What has he learned from this member of the Dormand clan? he asked as drove back to his own dogless domain.

That there are ‘others.’ That neighbors have complained their streets are clogged with vehicles taking up all the parking. They have to drive to blocks away, in the dark, and find somebody else’s house to park in front of. Thinking, all the while, that somebody will stick their head out, wondering “who’s that?” Is that Aunt Billie wandering around at night in her old-fashioned Cuddle-lac? Somebody dropping by to see the Smutzes across the street?

‘Who’s that, Jo?’

‘It’s nobody, sweetheart. Nobody we know.’

Nobody wanted to be that somebody else’s ‘nobody.’ They didn’t want to walk around in the dark feeling a need to apologize. ‘Sorry! Somebody’s having a party down the block! No place to park!’

Displaced is how they were feeling.

Get used to it, Keel thought. You will not belong -- when Pig’s revolution comes to town. His gang.

They will park wherever they want. They will live wherever they want.

They will roll their trucks and the motorcycles up on the lawn wherever they want.

They will park them in Town Square, on the green in front of City Hall, and stamp their ciggies out on the grass. Their paper plates, beer cans, and junk food bags will pile up, overflow the couple of trash cans kept there by Public Works. So much for the piss-ant ‘public.’ Then they will walk down Main Street, stick their noses into a shop and kidnap a few kids to make them pick up their trash and haul it way.

’Where should you dump it? We don’t care where you dump it. Go find their place. Dump it there.′

Yes, Keel thought, dump it on our country.

(What was this? Was he dreaming again?)

You have no respect for our country. You want your own country, where you can do what you want, turn the world into a pigsty, the kind of place you feel comfortable in. Where you can target-shoot all day. Kill all the wildlife you can find. Shoot the pigeons off the statues in front of City Hall. Hold rallies in the park all night, with all the beer and booze and grating, boring, thumping music you can pour out of your sound-boxes, and call up your ‘vain-angel’ preachers to preach to the converted.

Thou should not kill!... unless, of course, you really hate somebody. In that case, go right ahead, they probably deserve it.

Keel daydreamed when he walked, he always had. But now his daydreams seemed to summon up those other dreams -- the ‘seeing’ dreams that came at night.

Everybody dreamed, but Keel suspected the way he dreamed -- some of the time --

was different, different in kind, from what happened in ordinary anxiety or wish-fulfillment dreams, when in the midst of hours of shut-eye those REMs started revving up.

He was revving up as well, but to a different engine. Sleeping Keel, dreaming Keel, was transported to somewhere more absolute, and shown things -- visions, perhaps; messages? -- of what was happening, had happened, or was still to come. He was taken away: transported. But by what?

Ordinarily, he would say ‘his own mind.’ But what was happening now did not feel ordinary. Something more than ordinary. What ‘more’? Whose mind?

The dogs were there.

They were always there. (Except the time they weren’t.)

The white one, the large mean-faced one, leapt up against the fence, confronted him loudly. Its face was full of wild angry desire. What did it want? Something more, he felt, something more than ordinary canine wants and needs.

It wants its freedom, he thought. To do what? To run with its brothers in the wild night --and tear up everything it finds. Why else be animal? Why else be wild? Why else was it possessed of such power, such fury?

Enough of these people with their people smell, their people, their fences, their rule! It wanted the wild chaotic nights, the country of formless confusion where shapeless power ruled.

The animal wants its fellows, Keel thought. It wants to belong; to run with the pack, to nuzzle its nose under the butt of its fellow. It wants to be one of the Pigglies.

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