When the phone rings, the dog and the bitch are about to go out to the theatre. The dog picks up the phone: it’s the pig, his friend and business partner. From the panting and squealing he deduces that the pig’s upset and listens while the bitch taps at the face of her watch with her paw to remind him that if they don’t leave immediately they’re going to be late. In the midst of all the grunting and sobbing the pig tells him that he’s just had a fight with the sow and needs to talk with him. The dog covers the earpiece and woofs softly to the bitch, “It’s the pig. He’s had a dust-up with the sow. He wants us to meet.” She pulls a face that, on the domestic scale of dangers, he locates somewhere between annoyance and reproach. The pig insists. The dog would like to tell him that it’s not on, that he has to go to the theatre but, at the same time, he feels bad about his friend – and increasingly partner as the years go by – and, although he doesn’t want to admit it, he foresees that he’ll end up giving in, despite the consequences he divines in the threatening sighs of the bitch. “I’ll call you back”, says the dog. When he hangs up, she doesn’t give him a chance to open his mouth. “The one day we go out together you’re incapable of telling the pig he’s a big enough boy to get his act together”, she yaps. He reminds her that they’re friends – and partners – and it’s reasonable that he should try not to abandon him at a difficult time. Instead of feeling sorry for him, she weighs in. “He’s immature and, if every time he’s got a problem he has to wreck the lives of others, rather than helping him, we’re contributing towards perpetuating his character weaknesses.” The dog knows he hasn’t got the bitch’s dialectical talents. In order to avoid confrontation he suggests she goes to the theatre alone. She waxes indignant. Perhaps he doesn’t re¬member that it was he who invited her to the theatre, and it was he who said that “to reactivate the relationship” they should do more things together. Without arguing back, the dog tries to defuse the tension by going over and sniffing her. She rebuffs him. Grudgingly, she melodramatically divests herself of her anti-flea collar and, heading for the bedroom, she pronounces, “Do what you’ve got to do”. Right then, the pig phones again, even more distraught than a moment ago. Aware that there was going to be no getting round anything in this conversation, the dog says they’ll meet in a quarter of an hour and talk things over quietly. When he goes into the bedroom the bitch is putting on the collar she wears round the house. Not daring to look her in the eye, he promises to be back early and repeats that he’s really sorry. As he runs to the bar where they’ve arranged to meet, the dog thinks the bitch should have been more understanding. He knows they’re not going through an easy patch, that their coexistence is rocky and that, for some time now, they’ve been labouring to come through it but the energy they’re putting into it is more token than effective. When he goes inside he sees the pig leaning on the bar, emanating an affliction that’s as histrionic as the hugs he gives him. The dog listens. He participates in the conversation with soothing monosyllables and the odd question that has more vocation as a response than as advice. The seriousness of the row, he ascertains, is relative. The dog gets him to understand that even though at times we get pissed off and express ourselves in a hurtful way, we’ve still got the chance of being sorry and, if appropriate, to apologise. His speech isn’t convincing to himself. He’s aware he’s not wholly concentrating on the woes of his partner – and friend – that he’s more worried about the unfinished conversation he’s just had with the bitch. The minutes go by, more interminable than ever (if one dog year equals seven person years, how many human minutes would correspond to this time, he wonders), and the words go by too, a river of clichés about couples, studded with the pig’s confessions that are making him feel slightly uncomfortable (details of his sex life – a pig’s sex life, different from a dog’s). By all appearances, the dog’s listening but the reality is that he’s been caught up with his own troubles for a while. He suggests that the pig should phone the sow, that he should be brave because if she picks up the phone the battle’s half won. If, after that, he can muster the right-sounding grunts, she’ll surely listen to him and they’ll be able to talk about it like civilised animals. The pig promises to do so, on one condition: that the dog talks with the sow first. The dog agrees because he wants to get back home as fast as he can. When the sow answers the phone the edginess is patent in her voice. The dog is pleasant. He guides the conversation with intimate questions that heighten the tone of trust yet are cautious enough not to seem invasive. Without squealing, the sow says all right she’ll talk to the pig. And, by the way, she’s sorry to have involved the dog in this mess. “You’ve got enough problems with the bitch without having to take us on as well.” The dog deduces that the sow knows things she shouldn’t know. From the silence that creeps into the telephone connection she feels obliged to tell him she’s just spoken with the bitch, who’s told her about the “low blow of the theatre”. He feels that the description “low blow” is far-fetched but, putting a brave front on it, he hands the phone to the pig to continue the conversation and so he can take his leave. He runs all the way home, tongue lolling out and feeling his heart thumping. He finds the bitch curled up on the sofa, disconsolate. He goes cautiously over to her, with tender whimpers, aware that any false move can set off the volcano. The conversation blazes up like string of fireworks, with successive, mounting explosions. The dog sees he’s lost control. He curses the pig and his own weakness of character in not knowing how to shake him off. He also regrets having had the idea of going to the theatre with a bitch who doesn’t want to resolve anything and who prefers conflict as a destructive form of entertainment. He’s always heard it said that love is the other side of the coin of hate but he laments living out this cliché that, in other couples – the pig and the sow, for example – he’s always found puerile. When, baring her fangs, the bitch threatens to bite him the dog knows that if things aren’t to get any worse, he’s going to have to leave. In the street, he feels the weight of the night, the circular rain of the sprinklers and the need to calm down. He’ll have to find some open ground, think about things and, the next day, perhaps, go and see the bitch again and talk to her with the same good sense that not long ago he was urging from his friends. But he can’t. He feels like he’s choking, wants to howl and let it all out. It occurs to him that the only friend he can phone is the pig, who right now, is starting to calm things down with the sow. Having said he’s sorry, he’s now caressing the skin of the sow who, perceiving the proximity of the pig, is trembling with the imminence of pleasure. Although it’s absurd and not very coherent, the attraction she feels for the pig is more liberating than squabbling with him. And, even though she knows he’ll cheat on her again – when she met him, she already intuited the catastrophe, but felt the need to substantiate it through experience – she lets herself go and, just then, the phone rings. The pig, vexed because the ringing interrupts a flash of primary excitation, picks it up. He hears the yelping and groaning of the dog and, covering the earpiece, says to the sow, “It’s the dog”. Irked, the sow huffs and puffs and, waving her trotter from right to left like a windscreen wiper, says, “Please”. He feels he has to find the way to tell the dog to pull himself together, that they’ll talk later but he can’t because in the whimpering of his friend – and partner – he recognises the anguish he himself has felt on other occasions. Even though he recognises the growing chagrin on the sow’s face – of an intensity superior to that of before because each let-down undermines credit and trust – he says, “Sorry, but I’ve got to go”.
Our annual winter support keeps the Rail independent, relevant, and free