THE SHAGGY DOG
Once a shaggy dog spent every afternoon retracing the path it had taken that morning and collecting any tufts of its fur to be found. You could never be too careful about leaving your DNA about, the shaggy dog was convinced. Suppose you’d wandered, quite by accident, through a crime scene. Would you find yourself convicted of a horrific trespass by a few strands of hair stuck in some bush? And if the place wasn’t a crime scene already, what would prevent it from becoming one in the future? Judging by the growing appetite for public gore, sooner of later absolutely everywhere you’d ever been might feature in hourly investitainment updates from the scene of the latest “crime of the century.” What hope would there be then to get any of your life back? Or suppose the fur simply blew away in the wind or was washed away in the rain. Would that be any better? Where might it disappear to? Strands of a coat the dog had nurtured for years, as much a part of its being as the depths of its brain, could end up anywhere, mired in sludge even. Or worse. Imagine any portion of your life defined by the lowest point in the landscape and all that finds its swampish level there! To say nothing of the unforgivable slight done by such neglect to the shaggy dog’s forebears. How could it so dishonor the thread of life that might be traced from a single hair back through countless generations to the very dawn of dogdom and those protocanines to whom it owed its very presence on the planet? Did it have so little respect for the long, long struggle of the species as not to care what happened to the precious gift handed down to it? That gift—who among the day’s passers-by—would any of them be able to grasp the whole of the shaggy dog’s story from a random bit of it left snared in a bramble or the odd patch of weeds? Would anyone understand what the loss of that small proof of its very existence might have meant? Of what firm self-awareness preceded it and what followed and how large the new gap between them was? Of how its life might no longer boast a reassuring unity in the experiences making it up? Or would this one trace of itself left behind by the shaggy dog be spun by whoever found it into some laughable conjecture, more ragged fiction than reality, like an artist’s rendition of an extinct life form guessed at from a sliver of fossilized bone? How could the dog bear the possibility of being misunderstood on the basis of such scant evidence? Better to take everything back, then, to gather up all the scattered strands of hair before a few might be mistaken for the whole and the shaggy dog’s entire life be reduced to a pointless tale without beginning or conclusion. A collection of loose ends frayed out until there was no meaning at all to be found in them.
Copyright © 2005, revised 2007, by Geoffrey Grosshans