“Shaggy Dog” by PD Penley
“I do, in fact, have a recurring dream. Is that what you would call interesting?” James inquires as he adjusts his upright position on the polyester couch. To lay down, he thinks, would be too much like the movies.
“It could be.” Responds the long-nosed psychiatrist sitting scholastically cross-legged in his subtly creaky, wooden chair. “Would you mind telling me about it?”
“Okay, well, a man, no I guess I’m not positive it is a ‘man.’ Let me start again.” He takes a deep breath and collects his thoughts. He’s not sure why, but he has to get the words just right. Dreams are fickle things that exist somehow outside of worldly possibility, while still dangling in front of his mind’s eye, daring him to attempt description, taunting endlessly.
“Okay.” James clears his throat.
“A figure of indeterminate age and gender sits on a bench in front of a picturesque residential neighborhood. The figure is a humanoid silhouette, made of dark grays and charcoals, lanky in stature, but confident in posture. Beside the figure sits a shaggy dog of indeterminate breed. The kind of shaggy dog that always comes to mind when one uses those words in that order: ‘shaggy’, and then, ‘dog’. You know the one. To the right of the bench is a tall lamppost, clean and in good repair. Far off on the horizon, skyscrapers of various sizes shoot to the sky, all evenly rectangular, with properly-spaced rectangular windows of four blue pains each, separated by two black lines that form a symmetrical cross. Somewhere in the picture, though I can’t say where in terms of relative space as we know it, an all-too yellow school bus passes an all-too-red fire engine, both of which duck their way under an all-too-cleanly-white airplane fuselage with all-too-blue-tipped wings. Puffy snow-white clouds with bold black outlines, the kind a child might draw, float by and cover the sun just enough to leave an air of mystery, like the carefully chosen placement of clothing on a pin-up girl. Are you getting this?”
Dr. Ward responds without lifting his eyes from his notepad. He doesn’t seem to have written a thing.
“Yes, keep going.”
“Well, the figure of indeterminate age and gender rises to its feet and pulls from the bench a loose charcoal silhouette of a fedora, placing it squarely on what I can only describe as its head. It begins walking, aiming its gait at the entrance to the residential neighborhood directly behind the bench. Shaggy Dog follows. The entrance lies at the end of a gray road with a row of yellow lines down the middle. The road curves slightly to the right as it fades between two rows of mutually-facing town-homes, each with a set of six stairs ascending to its respective doorway. Each home is a mirror image of the one beside it. Still walking, the figure turns its gaze to the second home on the left.”
“And then what happens?”
“The figure slowly ascends the six steps, one by one. It seems to deliberately be making an event of each motion, of each tedious rise and fall of its spindly gray legs. It then stands before the door and turns its head to look at me, or us, or the viewer, or the camera, or whatever you want to call it in a dream. The point is it’s aware we’re watching. It knocks on the door, head still turned, awareness still concentrated on us. There is no face, but we can feel the grin that wraps around its gritty quintessence. Shaggy Dog and the figure await on the doorstep for an answer. The doorknob turns.”
Dr. Ward interrupts, “And then you wake up?”
“And then I wake up.” James repeats back with finality.
Dr. Ward nods his head in understanding. James knows immediately he didn’t explain it well.
“This is classic. The setting is a painting, or drawing. It’s something simple, something that a child could create. The figure is the wild-card; the gray, chalky complication of this world and it’s otherwise clean lines and bright colors. It is the thing that doesn’t fit, that won’t go away. It is knocking on your door.”
“So, what does it mean?” James asks in a detectably skeptical tone.
“That you are reading too much into things, complicating them. It’s…” Dr. Ward has to collect himself. He smiles and shakes his head before delivering his own punchline. “It’s that simple.”
“Well, I paid for an hour,” James says, “so let me try again.”
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