The Voices of Dogs
by JON MORGAN DAVIES
At night, I listen to the voices of dogs. At night, I creep beneath them. They have superpowers. They are things no one can break or confiscate or hide inside a box. If I were to throw dog voices against a wall, they would not shatter like glass does. They would bounce off the wall, slam through it. They need no machines, no cars, no telephone lines, to journey to other neighborhoods or time zones. They fly. In my old neighborhood, I did not know of the voices of dogs. I did not sneak out nightly to walk beneath them. No, in my old neighborhood, I listened to the voices of children in my parents' tongue and the bouncing of balls against tenement murals. I am certain, however—I know this from the dogs I listen to no—--that if I had listened to their voices, they would have been much the same. They would not have been happy. They rarely are. What dogs wish for are simple things. They wish to have another haircut, to be in the places they came from, or simply not to be left alone. They wish to gather in swimming pools and chomp at water. Or they wish to be chasing cats and chickens, to be reliving some joyful untamed past. If I were a dog, I too would talk of possible meetings with old friends and of lost neighborhoods and of time gone by. But I am not, so instead I talk with you. You tell me it is 3:24 p.m. and thirty seconds. In one hour and fifty-one minutes, my father will be home. In the place where I am now, this dark closet, this hidden passage, I cannot hear the voices of dogs. I hear only your voice, monotone and rhythmic and never ending. My father will take a switch to my buttocks when he finds out. He will lock me in my room for using the telephone and for other misdeeds. And he will tie me to the bed to stop me from running away. This has become an evening ritual, this roping, this locking up. I scream, and no one hears. I wriggle through bedsheets, through cords and through windows, and into the night. I avoid bushes and streetlamps, fences and private roadways. I wander alone and in shadows, and I listen. There is no one else listening. The other boys are stowed in their rooms, reading a summer book list a hundred miles long, a private school secret I cannot know. I have my own secret, which I share with the dogs. I have destroyed my family's Christmas lights, cast them against the walls of the alley behind the barbershop; later, the hidden ones, against the floor of the bathroom tub. This was last night, and the sixteen nights before that, and now, this morning. I have created mosaics of red and green and white on the ground, color shadows of the bombing raids that Vic, my barber, has told me about. This is what he has told me: that in the dark, missiles swim through air like darting glow fish—and he did say, "swim," because he says the air in Asia is liquid. And he has told me how the bombs are red and green flares, an underwater Fourth of July. Last winter, my father told me the story of the lights. It was a story that happened in another country, in a place far from where we live now, many years before I was born. For several nights, firecrackers pinged through buildings and streets and, sometimes, people. My grandfather did not hide from the firecrackers as he was supposed to. They exploded in his chest and arms and buttocks. Upon his death, he gave the lights to his son: 240 multicolored bulbs of glass. Every year, in my father's hometown of Tepito, the people light candles on their front porches to scare away demons. They sing holy odes and pray for those they love. If a dog had a light, he would not keep it caged in glass. He would not shelter it with his paws. He would smash the bulb in his mouth, let the glass crunch on his teeth. The light would spring free with his voice, a cry for which the world would glare out the window, for which it would leave its summer reading, its late-night television nest. Tomorrow, my mosaics will be gone, swept up with the week's garbage, washed away with the evening's bath. There is one month left in summer. One month left in summer. You tell me it is 3:26 p.m. and forty seconds. In one hour and forty-nine minutes, my father will be home. There is a logic of dogs. A bone is a bone for burial. Children are objects for barking. There are two meals a day, unless you catch your own. One bark deserves another. Speak when spoken to. Wag tails at owners. Growl at those who do not feed you. Lick that which you do not know. Destroy that which is not yours. Dig up the dirt. Smell everything. Save your bones. Mark your spot. Defend your territory. Never withdraw. Run when the chance presents itself. One day soon, tonight actually, I will free a dog. I will free them all. I will run from gate to gate, yard to yard, snapping chains and ropes. The dogs will run and catch their voices and make them once again their own. When this happens, they will stick their noses in my crotch. They will nudge me in the behind and grab at my clothes. They will lift me on their backs and take me to a private pool. They will buck me in, pounce onto the water beside me, and we will swim. Later, wet, we will run to the barbershop. We will stand outside the windows, looking in at the single, lighted bulb. The floors will be clear white with black lines, the room shelled out and empty, like a tomb in a television war movie. We will advance down the alley, sidestepping my mosaic, surrounding it, picking it up with our teeth, storing it in some safe location I haven't found yet. The dogs will find it for me. They will take it to wherever dogs go. They will bury it in their underground world. We will run together to Alhambra, to El Monte, to East L.A. We will go south. We will eat together, steaks and ribs and the buns in the dumpsters outside Top's burgers, soft things. We will lick ketchup from castaway meat, let it slip into our nostrils. And we will sneeze. We will empty a whole snot world onto the sidewalk. Boogers will walk with us into the streets, and worms will crawl out and eat them, and we will eat the worms, and together, we will howl. Can you hear me? I am losing my voice. Even you, I ask you a question, and all you tell me is the time. 3:28 and thirty seconds. This was not the case with the other ladies. I called, and they listened, and they told me naughty things about love. Love is a telephone. It is a place where voices merge, where two breaths come together. If I could talk to the other ladies now, I would tell them that the boys of this world are in love with their voices, and that in the world of dogs, it is only the voices that matter. It is the voices that wander the neighborhood, that live in the air and the night. The world of dogs will have ladies to speak to those who are not spoken to. They will call between ten a.m. and five p.m. They will moan and say dirty words. They will love themselves and the boys on the other side. They will know that dogs too speak of love, that dogs too call out for it. And they will know that when one takes away the voices, one decrees the removal of light. In this world of dogs, people will not be called "Burrito Boy." Every kid will have a swimming pool, every dog its hot tub. No one will live in a two-bedroom garage with a Spanish tile roof and white stucco for walls. There will be no doghouses. No one's mother will be a cook at Top's Burgers, a maid at the home out front. No one will have to soak a pair of feet in salt water each night. No one will have a gardener for a father. There will be no screaming parents at night. There will be no two thousand dollar phone bills. There will be no fathers. There will be a thousand Vic the barbers. One for each dog, one for each boy. There will be a billion Christmas lights, and each night, we will cast them against the sides of houses, create a million mosaics on the ground. There will be no police officers asking us where we are going, asking us what is in our bag. No one will have to tell them about the Christmas lights, and they will not ask to see them. They will not look inside. They will not stick their hands in the bag and feel around, the bulbs clinking with each movement of their arms. And when they are finished, they will not stare at us. They will not tell us to go home, and no one will have to tell them that this is our home. No one will have to ignore them. They will not drive into our alley behind the barbershop. They will not light us up like actors in a movie. They will not take our bulbs. They will not arrest any boys, and they will not call anyone's parents. There will be no secret hiding places for adults. There will be no chains, no ropes, no rooms in which to lock up people or dogs. And at night, the dogs, the humans, we will howl at the air, and our voices will meet there, and our voices will be happy.
JON MORGAN DAVIES is a native of California currently residing in Georgia. His work has appeared in such publications as Cutbank, Summerset Review, and Yalobusha Review. Read more at http://no1bag.angelfire.com.
"I have heard the voice of a hound, just before daylight, while the stars were shining, from over the woods and river, far in the horizon, when it sounded as sweet and melodious as an instrument."