The Brautigan stories
3. A man and his dog
I’m lying in my hospital bed. It’s not a mental hospital but it could easily pass for one. I’m in the neurological-trauma ward. The nurses on the ward are kind in a busy and bustling way. They tell me how to use my morphine machine. I like the effects of morphine – but they monitor how much I have used: I’m not allowed to exceed a certain limit.
The man who was in the bed next to me has been moved out of the room. He’s gone to a convalescent home somewhere on the outskirts of the city. I liked him. He hated television so the tv set in the room was never turned on. Today, though, a new man arrived. He immediately went to the tv and turned it on. An asinine game show was taking place; I had to turn my face to the wall. The new patient was still watching the tv when the nurses came to turn out the lights. It was 9pm – and that was that. No lights. No tv.
That night I had morphine-dreams; I was floating in a purple-lattice world – just floating carelessly. I wanted my morphine world to go on forever.
Then the nurses arrived to begin my day. Briskly they checked the machines to which I was attached and then they checked all the data that the machines had produced. Then they left.
The man, the tv man, who arrived yesterday, was taken off for an operation at around 9 a.m. He was wheeled out on a trolley. I was eating my breakfast when he was taken away. Later that day the tv man was wheeled back into our room. Then a professor of medicine appeared and the professor told him that he hadn’t needed to be operated on. Since he hadn’t been operated on he would be free to leave the next day. I was really glad to hear this news because it meant I wouldn’t be driven insane by the tv.
BUT in the evening, at the first opportunity, he put the tv on again. He started to watch a football match between Arsenal and Bolton. As the match progressed the man got more and more excited and started to give a running commentary on the behaviour of the referee. I thought it strange that he spent far more time questioning the decision-making of the referee rather than the ability of the players (It was a good match and Arsenal were playing football like it should be played.)
He began to speak to me. In no time at all I learned that he was a football referee. He refereed games at the second highest level in the French football league. He told me all about the various memorable moments that crop up in the life of a football referee and emphasised the strategic use of yellow cards. He told me that if you get them out early enough in a derby match and make sure a player from each team is yellow-carded then the teams are likely to remember that football is a game and that that there is life after football.
But then he moved on to tell me about his dog. He drew himself closer to me and I noticed that he was wearing nothing but his underpants. The more he talked the closer he came until he was standing right next to my bed. My head was at the same level as his hips. I didn’t really want to see his underpants but I didn’t have much say in the matter. They were boxer shorts – and his dog was a boxer. He told me that he loved his dog more than he loved his wife. And then it turned out that he was still in mourning for the loss of his dog. The boxer had died more than a year ago but the tv-underpants-man had not recovered from losing his one true friend. I learned that the dog had been cremated and its ashes were kept in an urn on the mantelpiece in his living room. The urn had been decorated with a plaque bearing a special tribute to the dog. I asked him what the boxer dog was called.
‘Raymond,’ he replied.
‘I think of him every time I’m in the living room,’ he told me. ‘I don’t really want to see my wife anymore. I just want to be with my dog.’
And then he added:
‘I’ve made special arrangements for my funeral. Raymond’s ashes will be buried in the same coffin as me. We will be re-united in death. Then I will be happy.’
And at that, he smiled.
[Date: January 2009]