JUST BILL: INTRODUCING A DOG-MAN COLLABORATION

My name is Bill, and I’m a four-year-old Lab mix. Of course I can’t talk or type, but I’m on good terms with my mister. He’s decided to speak for us both.

Why doesn’t he just speak for himself? No idea. After all, I’m a dog. But maybe speaking for both of us frees him in some way. Maybe imagining that I understand him helps him to think and type what’s on his mind.

Is he exploiting me? If it makes him happy, fine with me. He’s done a lot for me. I was born a mistake, at a puppy mill. I wasn’t supposed to even be, let alone grow up, but here I am. The breeder didn’t drown me with my littermates. He let me grow up, out of curiosity. Then, when I was nine months old, I escaped into the pine forest.

That’s when my mister came along. I was in the woods I don’t know how long, but one day I came out on the road, and followed the man who’s typing all this down. You could call it my leap-of-faith day, an act of intuition. I was sick with parasites, couldn’t keep food down. I’d lost a lot of weight and would be dead soon.

But I didn’t die, and I was right to choose that moment to come out on the road. This man decided to stop on his morning walk, turn around and wait for me. He put out his hand, and I touched it with my nose. Years, later, here we are.

Maybe thinking of his dog as a co-writer has to do with how disgusted he is these days with humans. He talks about it mornings while reading the paper, evenings when he checks the TV. He never watches long, just checks. Sure enough, the same dough-colored, yammering heads are still at it. Especially he talks about the dough heads if he has an extra rob roy before dinner.

“Dough heads” and “yammering” don’t sound much like a dog, do they? Chalk it up to life with the mister. He’s always coming up with stuff like that.

Clicking up there at the table, he stops to think, reaches down and scratches my head. As we look at each other, he speaks a word. I know the sound if not the meaning, but it doesn’t matter. His voice is soft and his eyes are friendly, the way they are when we walk in the woods. Collaborate is the word. My mister really does believe we’re doing something together. He’s convinced by the way I return his gaze, knowing I’m ready at any time to go anywhere with him. That’s what makes me his partner. His collaborator.

Other times, he says words I do know. Old Bill, old timer, good dog, fetch, walk, down, here buddy, no, come, attaboy. Mostly, I understand what he means from his voice and eyes, how his smell changes when he's happy or mad. Or drinking rob roys.

The way I trust him--to feed me and not forget to fill my water bowl, to crack the van windows when we go shopping--that's how you should trust him. You won’t be sorry, I’m sure of it. Because my mister knows me almost as well as I know him.
www.barryknister.com


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