Friday, October 21, 2011

The Dog and the Snowball

More than a decade ago I was listening to NPR when a short story reading came on. It was about a man and his dog at the park. I can't recall the particular wording nor the author but a memory of the story has stuck with me all these years and I still think about it with unusual frequency.
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A man and his dog go to the park. It has snowed recently and the entire park looks like a perfectly frosted cake. Smooth, pristine, glistening snow. The man plays with his dog, tossing a stick and having the dog fetch, a time-honored tradition between canines and their owners everywhere. The man throws with all his might but the dog never fails to retrieve the object. Eventually the man decides to play a little trick on his faithful companion. He bends down and packs some snow into a ball. He pitches it out into a snowdrift and, as always, the dog bounds over to find it. But, of course, the snowball disintegrated upon impact. The dog pauses on the spot for a moment, confused. It circles a bit before digging. Digging. The man laughs at the success of his hoodwinking. He tires of the spectacle quickly as a bit of guilt trickles into his mind. He calls for the dog to return.

The dog looks up, a bit of powder frosting its black nose. It takes a few steps but turns back and digs down further. The man calls again. The dog does this a few times. A couple of hesitant steps toward its master before returning to the place it saw the ball land. It knows the ball landed there. It can find it, it knows it can. It has never failed before.

The man calls louder, agitated. What a foolish animal! he thinks. The dog returns with its head down, failure in its eyes. The man reassures his dog. The man can't explain the truth, though. How could he communicate the concepts to a dog? But he does the best he can. The dog is stubborn. It doesn't want to let go. It looks forlornly at the spot a few times more. He tosses the stick twice more to distract the dog from its "failure" before they return home. Later that night, lounging in front of the blazing hearth, the dog chews valiantly on a bone, its tail happily wagging. The man marvels at the zeal (and foolishness) with which the dog had searched (futilely) for the lost snowball and chuckles at the equal reluctance with which it had abandoned the pursuit.

Still later, the man and his dog turn in for the night. The dog curls up and drifts off, quickly, contentedly; the snowball completely and utterly forgotten. For a long while the man lays beneath the covers, staring at the ceiling.
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I hope I did the story justice. (^_^)7