When I was a kid I read a short story, “The Emissary,” by Ray Bradbury. It was about a sick, bed-bound, weak and very lonely boy who longed to be able to run outside, free, and be part of the world beyond his dim sickroom.
He couldn’t, but each day he’d send his faithful dog out to roam and bring back stories for him.
He’d wait, anticipating the moment the dog came back. And when it did, the boy would bury his fingers and his nose in the dog’s fur and, in a sort of telepathy of the senses, imagine all the places the dog had been during his wanders that day.
I think the story – this was Ray Bradbury, after all -- had a darkish, spooky ending to it, but that’s not the part I recall. What stayed with me was the little boy’s joy as he stroked and cuddled and smelled his patient dog, his “emissary” to the outside world.
Although “The Emissary” touched something deep inside me when I read it, I hadn’t thought about it in, oh, about 30 years. Maybe longer, because I don’t remember now when I first read “The October Country,” the name of the collection that included this story. I loved that book, though. I carried it with me all over the world for years, until finally during one move or another I finally misplaced it.
The memory came back to me suddenly today, as memories do sometimes. I’d just let my own dog, Logan, inside, and he’d run to the laundry room door for his treat.
Logan, I should tell you, is a psycho-dog. The best we can figure out, he’s part Chow and part Queensland healer, and somehow when all the molecules were coming together to form him in his mama’s womb, something didn’t get a perfect fit in his brain. Don’t get me wrong – Logan is the most intelligent dog I’ve ever had the privilege to share my life with, and he’s lived with us for close to 10 years now. But he’s intensely protective and has been unable, his whole life, to socialize with people other than those of us who are part of his “pack.” Since he weighs about 90 pounds and is a compact dynamo of muscle and energy – and has very sharp, strong white teeth -- we're very careful when other folks come around.
As a pup, he got gold stars learning the basic commands – sit, stay, lay down, heal – but he was afflicted, even then, with something the dog trainer called “fear aggression,” which made him cringe and snarl and snap when approached by strangers. He’s been treated with nothing but love and kindness by myself and my family, but perhaps before he came to us, he was abused somehow? We’ll never know. Thus the “psycho-dog” designation. He’s a little bit cracked.
At any rate, to reinforce the “good dog” aspect of doing his business outside, Logan always gets a treat. I got a biscuit for him from the box on the shelf, and saying, “gentle, gentle” I touched his nose, fed him the goodie and ran my hand over his head, around his ears, and down his furry neck.
And that was when the memory of “The Emissary” came back. Why? I was expecting, when I touched him, to feel cold fur. It’s still fairly chilly up here at about 3,200 feet early in the morning; on Wednesday this week, we actually had nearly a foot of heavy snow fall overnight. It’s all melted away now, but what I sure didn’t expect to feel when I slid my hand along Logan’s head and neck was ... warmth. The warmth of the sun. Good, healing, life-giving warmth.
It stopped me right where I stood. For some reason, that warmth, along with the sudden memory of Bradbury's wonderful story, brought tears to my eyes.
And when Logan finished crunching up his treat, he got a long, joyous hug right there in the laundry room doorway as I buried my fingers and nose in his thick, russet fur and breathed in the gift of spring he’d brought for me.