selection prepared by Max Hartshorn
Every once and a while Terminal Laughter likes to take a break from its constant stream of silliness and hahas to showcase the work of some emerging animal authors from our creatures publishing division: Animalia Extant. This week it is our honor to present our readers with an excerpt from promising young writer Rex Woofington’s upcoming novel: The Barked at and the Bitten. Due out in hardcover next spring, this tale of lust, passion, hurt and ultimately dignity is poised to assert Woofington as a major presence in the highly competitive canine market.
A member of our editorial staff first became aware of Woofington while dog sitting for a friend over a long weekend. He, along with the rest of the staff, were deeply impressed with the samples shown, and immediately forwarded chapters to Animalia. On first encounter, Woofington comes across as something of a good boy, with a kind, sensitive demeanor that belies his gruff, mutt appearance. His work veers away from the typical MBF (mixed-breed fiction) themes of mutt identity and pedigree prejudice, in favor of a more personal approach. As one staff member noted, Woofington combines the nuanced characterization of a Schnauzer with an emotional directness more commonly found in large Border Collies. We are certain you’ll be hearing much more of Rex Woofington in the dog months and dog years to come.
Young novelist Rex Woofington at his Park Slope den and workspace
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Cranberry wished she could believe him. She wished she could chalk it up to some sort of accident, the clumsy jerk of atrophied muscles, unaware of their remaining strength.
“If only it didn’t happen so often,” she thought. The routine was familiar. At first a mild mannered “here girl,” followed by her placid denial. Just a few more seconds to smell the flowers, how could he deny me my greatest pleasure? Then the demand, “come on girl, now!” The wrenching of the chain coinciding with the accent on the final word, almost preempted by her defenseless howl.
Why is it that owners abuse their pets? Cranberry had developed a theory. She believes the act of hurting a pet is an attempt to repress one’s love for it. Not sexual love, of course, but the true expression of caring, the kind we reserve for our mothers, and perhaps our favorite nephews and nieces. Man cannot admit he extends this grace to animals, indeed he cringes at the thought. Thus they reach for what is in their minds the complete negation of love, violence. What’s more is owners expect their pets to be grateful for it. They expect unrelenting love in return. Loyalty they call it, what farce! As if all love is is an act of loyalty.
This is what went on in Cranberry’s head: “Jeremy loves me, yet he refuses to admit it to himself. I must therefor make a show of my suffering.” No, he would not receive the benefit of her capitulation. He would not woo her with delicious treats. She would be strong and wounded. She would make him heel to her. But then again, Pupperoni was her favorite. Perhaps just a tiny bite, just a nibble, just a—grumph.
Jeremy scratched gently behind her ear. He could be so sweet, there was no doubt of that. He knew just how—as if by some sorcery—never had the lifting of pain felt so cruel. Yet she had no room for self-pity. “A dog must not be ruled by her emotions,” Cranberry was oft to state. Though more accurately she believed a dog must choose the emotions that rule her. Happiness for Cranberry was as much her choice as it was the outcome of certain daily events. So too of course, was sadness.
Cranberry imagined that if she could speak, she would have a distinct southern drawl. She wasn’t from the south, and neither was Jeremy, her mother, or anyone else in her life for that matter. Yet the idea was firmly entrenched in her self-concept since childhood. Perhaps she felt it gave her a certain dignity, a grace she believed was lacking in her manners and body.
On lazy summer afternoons, while Jeremy was out, Cranberry would strut around the house with, she imagined, a great piece of colored ribbon affixed to her neck. She would enter the living room, blush, trot gracefully to the sofa and twirl around, imagining the whole room full of guests. Suddenly she was a hostess, standing at the head of a grand parlor. Colonial legs of ash wood would grow under the sofa and armchair, now upholstered in a fine burgundy brocade. The cocktail table was a Davenport original, full of exotic teas, crumpetted delights, barkening back to a forgotten age. She would survey the room with a hazy sense of satisfaction, breathing it all in before she addressed her audience.
“Hi there. I’d like to thank all y’all for comin today. ‘Specially with the weather bein’ as hot and humid as it is.” Her piercing eye’s would survey the gathering, various members of the social register, taking careful note of who was not there. “This is what we as children used to call lemonade weather, as opposed to gin weather.” She’d pause for polite laughter, perhaps a golf clap or two. During the mild reverie she would lock eyes with a dark pedigree standing in the corner, hold it for a socially determined two seconds, and chuckle knowingly. “And now I’d like to direct your attention to the Whistler over in the corner, we just got it framed last week.”
The same scene had been repeated hundreds of times until the key components more or less solidified into ritual. Often she left out words entirely and would simply pace across the room intoning outlines of phrases. These were the best because she could go on for hours. She didn’t know what she was saying but the audience would always respond beautifully. They’d laugh, cheer, awe in amazement, and always with the strict modesty their caste dictated.
Bonus Readership Question: It has been said that all dogs go to heaven, yet to what does one attribute their universal salvation? Historically dogs have no particular religious affiliation that we are aware of. In the Greek mythos it is Cerberus, the three headed dog, who is even found guarding the gates of hell. Perhaps the slave mentality surrounding their relationship with humans holds as its corollary the redemptive element.