The Tale Wagging the Dog
When I walked out of the toilet and surveyed the scene in front of me I resigned myself to the fact that I was a bad person and probably going to hell. I hadn’t been gone that long. A little longer than normal, I guess, because I had paused to check that the toilet paper was recycled and the soap locally produced, as anyone would in the toilets of the Green Party office. I must have been gone longer than anticipated though because in my absence the problem gambling meeting had concluded and Dexter was now surrounded, pack like, by a group of rabid campaigners. I felt bad as I stood watching them, all yapping away, desperately trying to get Dexter’s attention.
There was no denying that I had misled him about the mission. As I walked toward the group I could see Dexter’s eyes darting around the room, looking for an escape route. He looked like he had been kidnapped. When he saw me approaching his face split into a grin of relief, and his big brown eyes looked up at me trustingly. I interrupted the conversation brutally, saying “’Come on Dex, let’s go.” He all but bounded after me as I turned on my heel to walk out.
Dexter was not my first choice of companion for this excursion. My first choice was Dave. I like to have a companion when I go on trips, but it had to be the right companion on the right trip. I wanted Dave as a side kick because I don’t have to engage in mindless small talk in an effort to entertain him, and I discovered recently that Dave liked catching public transport. It wasn’t until I was researching the trip I discovered that Dave was actually banned from using public transport. Well buses and trains anyway. He was still allowed to go on the ferries. I considered Waiheke, but I really wanted to retrace Dave’s steps from his last trip. Well at least the train portion.
Dexter was happy to oblige, excited even. I wasn’t dishonest, just a little misleading. I said I had to go into the city to attend a meeting at the Green Party offices for an assignment and could use his help, and why didn’t we make a day of it and catch the train. Dexter is also a Westie, so I suggested meeting at the Swanson Train Station. He still didn’t sound totally sold, so I had to throw in the promise of dinner afterwards. Dexter agreed sounding strangely excited by the prospect of the outing. I knew he would. He may have thought it was a date.
Though we both live in the West, Dexter lives on the other side of the tracks up in the Waitakeres, not down in the boondocks like me, in Massey. Dexter is an academic and yet still surprisingly good company. He works as a lecturer at another university. I had some five minute fascination with the idea of possibly shagging a teacher. Unfortunately after just two dates I had established that I was only attracted to his mind. I was exploiting his affection for a grade. We are so suited in so many ways, and yet there is something that just doesn’t work for me. It could just be that I find him physically unattractive. It could also be that even I’m not prepared to go that far for a grade, well not yet anyway.
It’s the same way I feel about the Green Party. I’m a member, but I’m a socialist, not an environmentalist. More a low fat, Lite Green. I put out my recycling, but a compost heap is just too hard. I wanted to be a Greener, I wanted to like Dexter, but I know in my heart that really, I’m just using both of them. Neither relationship was really going to work in the long term. When I walked out of the toilet it hit me. I could feel the flames licking at my conscious and I knew if I didn’t want to burn it was time to do the right thing and stop stringing them along. I would deal with it later. After I had finished the assignment. I wondered what Dave was getting up to at home?
The trains don’t go to Swanson on the weekend so we had to meet at Henderson. When Dexter arrived I was already upstairs standing on the sky walk that goes over the tracks, looking down on the street below. The glass connecting tube was being inexplicably pumped with loud opera music. Dexter was heading determinedly toward the escalators that were turned off because it was the weekend. You can only escalate Monday to Friday. Dexter greeted me a happy grin, panting slightly after his run up the non-escalating stairs. We walked down the other side and I asked about the music. He wasn’t sure but thought it might Wagner. I like the train. I would like to catch it more often, but it breaks a lot.
Once we were on and seated Dexter enquired about the purpose of the trip. “So we are going to a Green Party meeting for an assignment?”
“Not quite,” I replied.
“What do you mean?”
I explained that my assignment was about public transport. “So the Green meeting is about public transport and you thought that you would catch public transport to the meeting? Nice”
I sighed. Of course that would have been ideal. Unfortunately the Green meeting today wasn’t about transport, it was about the dodgy deal that the Government had done with Sky Casino for a conference centre. I passed on this information to Dexter, who started to look slightly puzzled. “So why are we going to the meeting?”
“I needed a destination.” I replied.
“And why did you invite me?” He queried.
“Well, I felt the story needed a sidekick?”
“What story?” He asked looking even more confused.
“The story I have written for this assignment, on public transport. I needed a sidekick, but I couldn’t bring Dave. He’s not allowed on the train.”
The train was rocking along, I gazed out the window. Dexter was quiet. He looked cute when he was puzzled. He held his head to one side just like Dave. I pulled out a pad and pencil and started making notes. Dexter asked why I needed to take notes if I had already written the story. I told him I had only written the part about Dave, and I felt like I just should take notes. I mean, I wanted to do the assignment properly. “Are you writing about policy dictating who is allowed on the train?” Dexter enquired. I sighed loudly.
“I’m writing the backstory.” He was looking even more perplexed, so I told him the assignment was for Travel Writing. He had thought it was for a politics paper.
“So are you writing some kind of anti-travel piece?”
“No.” I replied, “More like an anti-assignment piece.” Dexter wasn’t sure if I was joking. Most lecturers don’t seem to see the funny side of assignments.
Dexter looked around the carriage and gestured with his head to a middle aged woman falling asleep. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I looked at Dexter with disgust and said “For fucks sake Dexter, I’m not going to write some clichéd shit about the people on the train. Making assumptions or inventing stories just because they are on public transport!” Honestly. Sociologists, psychologists or criminologists, just no bloody imagination. Dexter then started looking out the window and said, “Well you get a different perspective on the city from the tracks.” Or some such bullshit! I just rolled my eyes and said “Yes Dexter. You see back yards. Look, the story is about Dave catching the train.” A hurt expression appeared on Dexter’s face. He looked at me with those lipid eyes and I felt guilty. “I’ll buy you a coffee when we get to the city?” I said smiling at him, trying to jolly him with a treat. Straight away he seemed to perk up.
As the train rattled along I gazed out the window, taking the occasional note (olive oil, bread, washing powder), and thinking about how much Dave would have loved this, and what he would have made of the scenery. When you go from the West to the CBD you are basically traversing from poor to rich, but the only outward sign from the train is that the low cost, high density, housing they build by the tracks becomes newer and leakier looking as you get closer to town. The problem with the concept of being a visitor in my own city is that I’m not, and I didn’t feel like I was going somewhere. This trip, I knew, was going nowhere. I thought about the story I had written for this assignment and worried my lecturer would hate it because nobody died. I glanced at Dexter and considered it briefly, but it seemed a big ask for twenty-five percent of the grade. Now if it was fifty?
I didn’t know Dave had caught the train till after. In fact I didn’t even know Dave had gone out. I was working in the garden when my phone rang and a giggling young voice asked if I was Dave’s mum. I replied that I was and amongst the giggling I managed to pick out the message that apparently, Dave had gone to the city.
“What? Did you just say Britomart?”
“Aha.” She replied.
“How the hell did he get there?”
“On the train. He got on the bus at Reynella first. Then he just kinda followed us.”
I still wasn’t sure that this wasn’t a prank, and had started to walk toward the house to look for him. How the fuck could this be happening. As I realised that Dave was not in the house, and that somehow this was no prank the panic started to set in.
“Is he all right?” I asked with my voice rising. More giggling from the other end.
“Aha, but can you come and get him?”
“I will be there in half an hour. Don’t move!” I replied whist reaching for my car keys and hand- bag and running to the door. “Wait outside the main entrance on the square.”
I did the trip to the city in half the normal time and twice the speed. I pulled up at the bottom of Queen, tyres squealing, where I illegally parked on Customs Street, and leaving my hazards flashing, jumped from the car and ran toward the entrance to Britomart
There, sitting on the sidewalk outside were two young girls, aged between thirteen and twenty five and slightly to the side a gangling, spotty, emo of sixteen. It was easier to age boys. I walked toward the group and I could see Dave’s eyes darting around like he was looking for an escape route. When he saw me approaching his face split into a grin of relief, and his big brown eyes looked up at me trustingly. Dave leapt from the girls lap and came running toward me and as I bent down to scoop him up he jumped into my arms. I don’t think he has ever looked happier to see me. Hugging him fiercely, too relieved that he was all right to be angry.
Dave’s cute looks are deceptive. While he looks like the white West Highland terrier that models dog food, Dave is a Cairn so he’s greyish-brown and scruffy. He might look like shortbread wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but really he is a grumpy little arsehole, with a mind of his own. Dave steals food from children, and sometimes, Dave bites. Dave is not a lap dog.
I asked the girls what had happened and they explained that Dave had boarded the bus at Reynella Road and when they realised he was on his own they decided to look after him. They had got off the bus in New Lynn, and he had followed them onto the train. They were giggling all the while they told me, their long hair flopping over their faces. Looking to each other for reassurance and completing each other’s sentences. I thanked them profusely, relief sweeping over me, I was already starting to see the funny side of it. What a story! Dave had travelled from Massey, deep in the West to the City. What a fucking legend!
It was just as I was asking if I could drop the girls somewhere that they sort of broached the question of some sort of reward. At the time I was so thrilled I didn’t think it odd, so I gave them fifty dollars. Now that I know that Dave isn’t allowed on the bus or the train I realise I just paid a ransom.
I bundled Dave into the car but instead of taking his usual position, standing on the centre console he insisted on sitting on my lap, leaning against my stomach, his little furry head on my chest. He had started to tremble. As I paused to look at him, he looked up at me and I noticed he had been brushed, and with the use of some product the girls had styled the fur between his ears into a Mohawk. He smelt like dak. When I got him home I would discover he had pink nail polish on two paws, but I didn’t discover the tattoo for a couple of weeks. A Star of David, the size of a ten cent piece where his belly button should be. Frankly I was relieved, it could have been worse, especially considering that Dave could be embarrassingly racist. Thinking about it now of course I realise Dave had the same expression on his face when I arrived at Britomart that Dexter had when I walked out of the toilet. Dave hadn’t caught a train, Dave had been kidnapped.
Dexter and I walked back along Karangahape Road, and meandered down Queen Street. It was still early and we had plenty of time before the next train. I suggested we stop at Tanuki's Cave for dinner. We sat facing each other, waiting for drinks. Dexter seemed a little subdued, so I chatted mindlessly, telling him how Dave had caught the train. Dexter interrupted me just as I got to the part about the nail polish.
“So have I got this right?” He sounded a bit pissed off. “You invited me on a date, because you couldn’t take your dog, to a meeting you didn’t want to go to, just so you could have a sidekick in a story? Have I got that right? So what the fuck am I in this story?” Shit. I looked at him across the table. He looked sad. I had the overwhelming desire to pat him. I decided it was time to be honest.
“Well, you’re a simile and a metaphor. You’re not just subtext. Mostly though, you’re the tail. Without you I can’t tell the story.” He looked at me, starting to smile, and though I wanted to do the right thing and I didn’t want to go to hell, I just couldn’t bring myself to disappoint him, so when he said, “So I’m the main character in the tale? Not the dog?” I just smiled and nodded, but what I was thinking was, I must remember to get a doggie bag for Dave.