by Elisa Webb
Bill Plant woke up and sighed. He was sick to death of being Bill Plant. But no time for self-pity, he had a dog to walk. Since his wife died he’d struggled. It was the quiet; a seeping silence filled the neat house. His daughter came over most days and banged about in the kitchen but her noise wasn’t the same as Sue, love. Bill had taken to talking to the dog but now there was something very amiss there too.
‘Help, my dog is Isaac Newton,’ Bill Plant wanted to shout down the town centre. He wasn’t mad, well not yet. He knew full well shouting would get him ignored by shoppers or worse patronised by the new bobby. But if enough people heard him on a busy Curry’s-Sale-Saturday, someone would come over. Quietly, like after the bobby had gone. Maybe put a brown hand on his arm and smile. They might introduce themselves, as so-in-so who had an uncle or aunty in-the-know at the new Hindu temple. Since Sue, love’s death news of the new Hindu temple had made quite a splash in the local rag. All plaster elephants and hysteria about traffic jams. There hadn’t been any traffic jams on the day of the funeral. God, it was such an ordinary day. Bill had wanted a drama to mark his wife’s passing. A giant jam of elephants, billowing saris and that pink powder they threw about. Anyway his thoughts began to digress. He wasn’t a Hindu. He wasn’t anything really, not anymore.
The dog, Isaac Newton (or should it be Sir Isaac?), was straining at his lead: keen to walk on, and Bill assumed, keen to ruminate upon physics. He had seen the dog, Sir Isaac, watching the Mars landing on telly. He wore an intense, involved look and wagged his tale. He growled when Bill’s daughter hit the controls to watch more near-bollock-naked athletes powering round the Olympic Stadium. Bill set up a laptop so Sir Isaac had a continuous Mars news’ feed. This stopped the growling, but still he was finding the whole situation quite a strain. Life had become unpredictable.
They headed towards the tatty park. It began to rain. Sir Isaac looked ahead and up at Bill and then ahead again as if to say ‘Yes, we are finally going in the right direction.’ The rain got heavier and then slackened off, then got heavier again: typical London rain annoying and inconsistent like his daughter’s latest boyfriend.
At the park gateway, the gate had long since gone, Bill undid the lead. Sir Isaac ran straight up the hill. Bill clambered up after him. Feeling the strain in his knees and chest, he tried to organise his thoughts. Hell, if a dog could analyse so could he.
It all started when his wife died. His daughter befriended the pretty Indian girl next door. She began to change. She went to Zumba and swopped recipes: drop-scones for daal. The daal experiment, as Bill called it (when he was alone with Sir Isaac) had failed. It was one slice or two, not a bit like the takeaway version. Man and dog shared a smirk.
There had been joss sticks, a trip to the temple, a festival. He cut his best roses for that, in silent thanks to their neighbour. She’d sent a pan of her own daal round: thick, warm liquid, golden yellow with delicate flecks of garlic and red chilli. It was like tasting the afternoon sun. He even put down his scraped plate for Sir Isaac to lick. He was unsure if they had Indian takeaway in Sir Isaac’s human life time. However the dog wanted more and barked at his daughter as she washed the pan.
Bill’s daughter had even borrowed a book on ‘Indian culture’ she called it, from the library. She read it after tea, pointing bits out.
‘Listen to this, Dad. It says reincarnation is… ‘ And ‘Look at that photo.’ Or ‘Do you think Mum could comeback as…?’
Bill would sigh and thump his newspaper down.
‘I’ll walk the dog,’ was his reply. However the more he heard, albeit only edited highlights, the more he came to believe in a slim possibility. The author, Gowrieshankar Balasubramanian, had done his research. Reincarnation was presented as a sensible explanation of many things Bill had wondered about recently.
On the annoying day, he had to pay a hefty fine for the overdue reincarnation book; he noticed a large poster of Sir Isaac Newton above the library counter. He was struck by the resemblance between Newton and the dog: the long nose, the sceptical glance, and the dark eyes. On the spur of the moment he asked for a book on Newton, with pictures of course. Then later, discreetly at home he put the book under the dog’s nose. He wasn’t sure what to expect, the dog was hardly going to quote the three laws of motion. However what the dog did do sent a chill down Bill’s spine. The dog looked at the book, now open on the coffee table, and then looked at Bill. A sceptical look, as if he could not believe his owner had the wit to work out his secret burden. Bill leaned forward to turn the pages. The dog appeared to skim each page and then looked at Bill to turn over. And so the wondrous afternoon passed: man and dog engrossed. Bill apologised to Sir Isaac after a while. It was only a local library book, not a definitive edition of Newton’s work.
The dog pushed his wet nose under Bill’s hand as if to say: thank you anyway, I appreciate the gesture. Bill noticed the dog wagged his tail more after this and he dreamt a great deal. Sometimes Bill noticed the dog looked sad, in the quiet house. The long, empty days stretched ahead like a forgotten canal.
It must be tough being reincarnated as a colour-blind dog, Bill mused. Perhaps they should visit the vets.
‘My dog, well Sir Isaac here, is depressed. He can’t see in colour and after his great Optic Work,’ here Bill would show off his new expertise, ‘on prisms and rainbows, is there nothing that can be done? We’re insured, could some lenses be made up?’
Bill had half a mind to make an appointment but he couldn’t really find the words to explain it all to his daughter. She would probably say Sir Isaac deserved what he got; there was a reason he came back as a dog and not something else that could see colour.
Bill wondered if he should just look the other way, for a quiet life. His dad was good at that. One time when his dad picked him after school; some older boys had pushed him into the road. They laughed as his dad braked abruptly. Stupid, crass 13 year olds, full of it. Yet his dad said nothing. The boys ran off jeering. Billy (as he was then), had been stunned. Yes the boys were intimidating to him, a first year, but he was only 11 after all. But his dad? The boys weren’t thugs just prats looking for a cheap laugh. His dad could have taken them on, told them off. Billy remembered sitting in the car. It was very hot. He began to sweat in his cheap nylon blazer. His dad talked in a loud, hearty voice. Billy picked at this bag, chipping away at the Tippex tags Spider and Dean Dukes added during an anti-bullying assembly.
They stopped at a garage. Billy watched his dad flirt with the forecourt attendant, Fat Flora.
‘Twat’ Billy thought. ‘I’m not having it anymore.’
Of course at this stage he wasn’t sure what it was but after that he became a boy of quiet action. He chucked the Mars bar away his dad bought from Fat Flora. He wrenched his bag away from Dean Dukes next lesson. As to the bullies: well let’s just say when one of them ‘tripped’ on the stairs, he took his mates with him. They weren’t injured exactly, because as usual there was a stairwell crush. They fell on a couple of lanky mares who spilt Tizer on Deputy Dog’s shiny suit. Deputy Dog, to give her credit, decided to tackle corridor and stair crushes after that. First years got to leave before the bell. They were in the canteen before the queues. Billy treated himself to Banana milkshakes to celebrate and wondered if Napoleon (or some other general) ever wrote about little acts leading to big stuff.
So, with the taste of Banana milkshake on his mind, Bill decided he and Sir Isaac would go out more, widen their horizons. He printed off some fake registered-blind I.Ds, from some teenage website. They were Canadian which Bill explained to Sir Isaac was pukka. If anyone asked he could say in Canada they used mongrels as guide dogs, as they were more intelligent. With Bill’s senior citizen pass they had been to almost 20 museums and several classical concerts, almost for free, though both became restless after an hour. One night they had even come back drunk after Bill realised pubs might be of historical interest to Sir Isaac.
At this time of day other dog owners were absent from the park, except the batty woman with blue hair, some species of FE lecturer Bill thought. They’d chatter occasionally about distemper and vet’s fees. Blue-Tit ‘hallooed’ her way towards him, blowing her nose in a giant paper towel. They tramped down the hill and sat out of the rain under the rotten wood of the Victorian bandstand. They smoked and talked and Bill found himself telling her about the library book on reincarnation. His theory unfolded, Blue-Tit was a good listener. She didn’t interrupt unless she had to shout at her fat old dog and scoop up shit. He showed her a picture of Isaac Newton he’d photocopied at the library.
‘Yes, Yes,’ she said impatiently. ‘I know who Newton is…or was…’ Blue-Tit laughed knowingly, as if she used to date him. ‘I’m very intrigued by all this. I used to work as an Art Lecturer, before the cuts. I’m convinced I was a Potter in a Previous Life. I even had a reading by some sort of Clairvoyant, a Specialist in past lives… or was it a Medium…? No,’ the woman continued, ‘it was a Hypnotherapist.’
Bill noticed how Blue-Tit sign-posted key words, a lifetime in FE he supposed. She frowned as the rain increased but showed no inclination to call her dog.
‘Of course it is all Very Well Accessing Our Past Lives with a Trained,’ Blue-Tit stressed the word ‘Hypnotherapist, but I’ve Never heard of anyone working with Dogs… imagine,’ she said warming to the theme, ‘Belle could have been Marie-Antoinette.’
They both gazed out across the park, Blue-Tit in wonder; Bill was as sceptical as Newton. Only if Marie-Antoinette was known for farting continuously, he thought. Bill felt Blue-Tit was only interested in her dog. He sighed. She heard the sigh and looked at him carefully.
‘You let me know what you find out; we could go together… ‘
‘To the Dog-Medium-Hypnotherapist person, have a Coffee after; make a Day of It…’ she replied. She leaned forward, her giant bosom squeezed to a massive ball in her tight puffa-jacket. Bill decided to go to the new temple instead. It would probably be free and less pretentious. He wouldn’t tell Blue-Tit about it. And Sir Isaac didn’t like farting Belle either.
Later as he hung about by the park gateway waiting for Sir Isaac, he imagined a book-lined study and a man not unlike Mahatma Ghandi sitting on a desk telling him not to worry, everything would be alright. Mr Ghandi would share anecdote after anecdote of such situations. Perhaps Bill would be introduced to other people. They would become friends, with a shared burden of grandiose pets. The youngsters could set up a website and reach out to others across the globe.
The dog returned panting and wet. He looked up with a disappointed air, such a dim owner his eyes seemed to say.
‘Cheer up, Sir Isaac,’ said Bill, hating himself for his hearty tone. ‘One of these days you’ll be reincarnated as… ‘ His thoughts trailed off. As what? As who? Bill wasn’t so cocky about predictions since Sue, love died. He changed tack.
‘If we hurry back we can get dry, grab a snack, Stephen Hawking’s on the radio.’
Sir Isaac rolled his eyes and shook his head spraying dirty water on Bill’s damp trousers. They trotted off together. Life was as good as it was going to get, Bill decided. They would have to make the best of it, stressful though the changes had been. After all it could have been worse. His dog could have been Hitler.
Elisa Marcella Webb created and managed the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Law at a top London School for 8 years before taking a gap year graduating with an MA in Creative Writing in 2013. She is currently a part-time Ph.D. student at Kingston University. Her first novel Darkling Park, published by Patrician/Pudding Press, will be out Halloween 2016. This is her second story for Fictive Dream.