is the Artist. He will document in pictures the slow death of the dog because
he, only he of all humans, sees the filth and squalor of the streets. By
witnessing this incidental demise, he will act as the conscience of the dizzy
world. He will neither feed the dog nor seek the care of a veterinary expert.
No, he will suffer to see the dog suffer. But he will not help, because that
would not be art.
the people watch and drink the wine. The scent of the delicate finger buffet
prepared for their delectation reaches the nostrils of the skeletal dog, lying
beneath the harsh lights of the gallery. Saliva runs into her dry mouth and her
erratic heart beats a little faster for a few moments. But she is too weak to raise
her head towards the art lovers, who applaud the artist and the brutal purity
of his vision, but are glad the dog cannot meet their eyes.
is a man in the crowd who stands apart. He does not drink the wine or partake
of the delicate finger buffet, though he watches the faces of the art lovers
and examines the images that track the slow decline of the dog. He has listened
to the Artist rage against the abomination of death on the city streets and he
has heard the world spin.
he watches as Monsieur René Descartes enters the gallery. Having been dead
since 1650, Monsieur Descartes has never been to a gallery such as this before.
But, an urbane man in his lifetime, he will not let unfamiliarity shake his
composure. He accepts a glass of wine, looking closely at its ruby colour
through the lead crystal which catches the lights and dazzles the eyes of the
dog interests him and he ponders its purpose in this strangely white room. ‘You
will dissect this animal for the advancement of knowledge?’ he asks, and the
Artist is appalled. ‘Certainly not. If this animal had been left on the street
to die, no-one would have even known of its existence. I am not here to inflict
pain but to bear witness to it.’
Descartes smiles. ‘Pain, sir? I proved that only the thinking creature feels
pain. Animals do not think. They are machines powered by instinct. My discovery
shaped the world in which you live: I think, therefore, I am.’ He bows his head
in elegant humility. ‘You are, of course, familiar with my work.’
says the Artist, ‘but you were wrong: in the modern world, we understand that
animals both feel pain and have some primitive thought process. Their suffering
reflects on our misuse of the world.’
world is ours, Sir,’ says the formerly great man, ‘to do with as we see fit -
as ordained by God who gave mankind dominion over the animals.’
yes, but should there be no compassion for the resource?’
is a pause while the living artist and the dead philosopher regard one another
without comprehension. But they agree on the superiority of humankind. That, at
least, they have in common.
dog’s ears twitch as her sensitive instincts respond to the raised voices. She
is uneasy in this strange place, with the polished floor wearing sores where
her bones are pushing at her thin skin and the rope chafing her neck. But she
is little moved by the wrangling. She carries on dying quietly, her fine ribs
protrude from under her dehydrated skin, her liver turns her body toxic and her
shrunken stomach shrinks from the cold floor.
art lovers are impressed by the conflict. Some want the autograph of Monsieur
Descartes because it is not often that a great figure from history returns to
cast his eyes on the world he helped to make. Others turn away. Animals are
only animals, after all, but being aware of their suffering is part of being
human, like understanding their inferiority.
has noticed that the quiet man has knelt down and laid a light hand on the
skull clearly visible beneath the dog’s skin. No-one has noticed him dribble a
few drops of water into the corner of the dog’s mouth. Carefully, he unties the
coarse leash then coaxes and reassures the dog but, when he stands up with her
cradled in his arms, there is an outcry.
Look what he’s done!’ cries one art lover, who earlier turned his back because
the lolling tongue of the dog offended him.
Philistine!’ complains another, but he is scribbling in a notebook, delighted
at the unexpected copy for his column in tomorrow’s paper.
work!’ The Artist is dismayed. 'You have ruined my work! How will the world
know of suffering on the streets now?’
work is pointless.’ Descartes shrugs and pours himself more wine, ‘It is a
dying dog. It feels nothing.’
wants to watch a fucking stray dog die anyhow?’ A woman tottering on spiky
heels slurs her words a little. Earlier in the evening, when she was pretending
she understood the exhibition, she would have been appalled to think she could
forget that she is an art lover long enough to say such a thing. But four,
maybe five, glasses of full-bodied red wine can alter one’s perception of art
arrogant bastards! It’s a living creature – what right have you to use it like
this?’ A young woman joins the debate. She looks out of place in her tie-dye
t-shirt, a hippy tree-hugger with a bleeding heart perhaps, but could she be an
art lover too? The dizzy world is a complex place – certainly she has an
invitation in her hand.
man behind her sneers, ‘There are people dying out there - children. It’s just
a bloody dog!’
man of perception!’ Descartes smiles, ‘It is merely an animal made by God for
Man’s resource. We can dissect the creature and see how emaciation has affected
its internal organs. We’ll do it now: a live dissection is far more revealing.’
callousness offends me!’ the Artist cries, ‘God made the world for us to use,
not abuse.’ He waves his arms in an extravagant gesture and wonders how all
this will look in tomorrow’s papers and if he can get hold of the man with the
notebook before he leaves. ‘Guards, stop this idiot – he’s destroying my
the security guards don’t move. One has a dog he is very fond of and the other
likes a bit of a scrap, especially between these up-themselves art-types.
if,’ the quiet man asks, his voice calm so that the others have to stop raging
to hear him, ‘what if our lives are all built upon a mistake?’
reasoning, sir?’ Descartes is intrigued, and the wine is warm while the grave
is cold, so he is content to debate with these strange people a while longer.
He raises an eyebrow in a way women found fascinating when he was alive, hoping
that the inebriated woman wearing heels like assassin's knives will fornicate
with him before he returns to his tomb. ‘Your reasoning?’
reasoning, Monsieur,' says the quiet man, smiling a little, ‘is that maybe God
did not intend humankind to be greater than animal kind. Maybe among all those
scribes and translators thousands of years ago, there was an error. What if,
instead of “have dominion over” the text should read, “have responsibility
cries Descartes and the Artist joins his protest but they falter because the
silence of the quiet man is like the silence between one moment and the next,
and as troubling.
in that silence they hear the burning world grating on its axis, while polar
ice drips over their troubled faces and the heat of the unfiltered sun fries
in that silence, they hear the crashing of ancient trees as they fall to the
ground and the calls of the last tiger and the last whale, no longer two-by-two
but one-by-one, balanced on their final precarious foothold in mankind’s
in that silence, humanity closes its eyes because the vertiginous spinning
the quiet man looks down at the dog in his arms and knows that he is part of a story, just a fiction, inspired by a
newspaper report that may have been a hoax in the first place. He knows that the
truth is a slippery thing to grasp.
knows too, that while the earth groans and the tears of heaven rain hot and
metaphorical over its tribulations, humans have not evolved sufficiently to
resolve their dilemmas without resorting to violence - against children,
against dogs, against each other.
a fiction, he can step forward, a thinly disguised Christ-figure maybe, and
gather up the dog to save her. There could be a happy ending whereby he
inspires the Artist to go out and feed the strays and Monsieur Descartes to
feel the reality of pain to a starving puppy. Together they could start a
rescue centre for homeless dogs with the slogan, ‘I think, therefore I feel’,
and they could change the world.
the quiet man knows that this unlikely outcome would stretch the boundaries of
magical realism and even fantasy, and that beyond the fiction, dogs and
children will still die, and the crazily spinning world will one day gyrate off
its axis and hurtle into oblivion.