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12.28.07 | 1 Comment

Yes, here is a very short story I wrote, derived from a impression of Robert Browning’s “A Death in the Desert”.  Since that is a very long poem, obviously my impressions were of a specific point — ‘Was John at all, and did he say he saw?’ is the relevant line, and that’s the mystery of St. John the Apostle in brief.

Was John At All
by Gryffyd Eamonn Dempsey
        They walked in from under a hot desert sky. The lobby inside was cool 
and dim behind smoked glass windows.  A counter directly in front of the main 
entrance guarded access to corridors and doors beyond.  A woman wearing medical 
scrubs sat at the counter, writing.  She looked up and smiled.  "Hi there!  And who 
are we bringing in?"
        "I found him on the old State Road," he said, tugging slightly on the 
leash to present the dog forward of him.  "Was out hunting."  He tugged again to pull the 
dog back from snuffling at the base of the counter.
        "Such a cutie."
        "Yeah.  Well I took him home and fed him, took him to the vet yesterday."
        The woman walked around the counter.  She squatted in front of the dog, 
who sat down on the man's foot.  "Did he have any identification?"  She put one 
hand out for the dog to sniff, then felt along its withers.
        "No.  No tags.  Nothing on the scan.  No collar or nothing even.  So he 
says, the vet, I should bring him by the shelter, see if anyone reported a lost 
dog of similar description."
        "Well that was really kind of you to go to all the trouble and care for 
him so.  I'm sure that such a beautiful boy has a home?  Hmm, don’t you?  Are your 
peoples worrying about you?  Don’t worry, for sure we'll find you a home right away."  
She ran her fingers through his thick, long coat.  Her voice modulated from sweet to 
soft.  "He looks like a purebred golden retriever.  Such beautiful, friendly dogs."  
She scratched him under the chin.
        The man cleared his throat.  "Well, I was thinking that if no one's reported him 
gone, then I'd like to keep him."
        "Of course!  You'll have first dibs."  She ran her fingers through the fur over 
its brisket, parting it as if looking for fleas.  
"Some owners have a bar code put on their dogs. If he's unmarked and doesn't match 
any missing reports, why then he's yours."  
        The man kneeled beside the dog and scratched his head as she searched his chest.  
The dog's tail thumped on the linoleum floor.  "Weird," she said.  "Take a look at this."  The 
man shuffled on his knees to her side.  She held the fur out of the way with one hand.  
Beneath, on a shaved or depilated patch of skin near the breastbone, was a small 
tattoo.  It showed the head and upper body of a robed man.  The details of the 
face were crude, as if unimportant, but clearly outlined were the man's halo, 
a book he held in one hand and a cup in the other; over one shoulder hung a serpent 
and over the other loomed an eagle.  In the calm light of the lobby it looked 
other-worldly and the woman leaned back as if she suddenly recognized it as evil.
        "Yeah, weird," said the man.
        The woman was silent for a moment, her happy disposition now displaced by 
worry and fear.  She looked around as if someone might be looking.  "This is 
some kind of crypto-catholic icon, I’m sure of it.  I had heard that they tattooed 
communion medals on themselves.  I didn't know there were any around here anymore."  
She stood and looked around again.
        "Who would do that to a dog anyway?"
        She shook her head and walked back, putting the counter between herself 
and the dog and man.
        "Maybe I should just take him with me now?"
        She frowned, as if biting on her lip had pulled her scalp down.  "I don't
think you want to invite trouble."
        He shook his head.
        "And I don't even want to think of what would happen if the people who 
did this come in to claim him.  I don't want to have anything to do with that.  Do you?"
        He shrugged.
        "It's a slow day.  No one's seen you come in.  We're short-staffed anyway, so 
we can be quiet about this."  Her perkiness returned.  "There's usually a euthanasia 
fee for drop-offs, but I think we will just waive that since we're being hush-hush, right?"  
She walked around the counter, took the leash from the man.  "Come on puppy," 
she said brightly.  She led the dog behind the counter.  As they went through 
one of the doors the dog looked back at the man.  The dog’s brown eyes showed 
white crescents of fear.
        "Sorry, dog," the man said.  "Don't say you saw."

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