Dreaming Dog by Shane Kowalski
PN's Hayley Fitz on today's bonus story: Shane Kowalski's "Dreaming Dog" somehow accomplishes the tightrope walk between cozily familiar and fabulously unique. I've been in this bedroom before, asking or being asked about names of things and wondering where twitching paws took pets when they slept. But Kowalski packs this story with a sincere complexity simmering just below the surface. This is not a conversation I've had before.
We were having a discussion of my dog’s name in bed. Her name was Wanda and she was a lawyer and she wanted to know if I had named my dog after Martin Luther King Jr. or Martin Luther.
Who? I said.
Your dog’s name is Martin Luther, she said.
Yeah, I said.
So it has to be one, she said. She was getting very fervent with me and I felt guilty.
We were just lying in bed after a good time filled with a lot of touching and I had practically forgotten about Martin Luther. When she first asked me about his name, I almost said, What dog?
She looked at me. I looked at her, trying to feel her out. Then I looked at Martin Luther, who was sleeping in the corner.
Does it make a difference? I said.
Kind of, she said. Yes.
I told her I didn’t name him. Which was the truth. I got him from a shelter, and miraculously at that, since I had no prospects at the time and I was living in an apartment in that terrible small city that was just eh. I had the sense the shelter just wanted to dump him on someone—wash their hands of him. He was an old dog, with a wobbling walk, and he seemed to have a canine form of Tourette’s. He’d howl depressively at nothing or anything during the day. It would wear him out by the evening and he’d sleep like a dead dog through the night. I considered changing his name when I got him, to kind of, you know, make him my own. But then thought: How rude would that be? After nine years, what kind of a jerk changes the sound a dog knows himself by? Who was I even to name something?
What would you have named him if you did? Wanda said.
You ask hard questions, I told Wanda.
Then I puffed up my pillow and let my big head slowly sink back into it. Wanda, thinking of her next question, watched me do this.
In the corner the dog was fast asleep. He snored and his one good paw moved now and then. He was dreaming now. He had just been barking it seemed and watching the intercourse on the bed, but now he was dreaming of dancing tennis balls in hula skirts, of cars that slowed down and talked in baby voices, of gods with hands used only for petting.
Shane Kowalski is a fiction writer in Cornell University's MFA program.