My dog Paul was twitching beside my chair in his sleep, and I knew what that meant. The bad dreams had returned. A few months earlier, I went to a pet psychic to try to determine exactly what these bad dreams were about. It had gotten so bad at that point that I’d wake to find Paul hovering over my body, growling at me in his sleep. After I slapped his muzzle to wake him up, he would lick my hand, at once embarrassed and ashamed.
I learned from the pet psychic that several lifetimes earlier Paul had been the head Buddhist monk in a Tibetan monastery, and I his loyal and faithful servant. Aside from my duties as some sort of glorified gong-sounder at the approach of prayer time, I massaged the head monk’s neck with aromatic oils. I fed him water from a bamboo cup when he was fasting, applied the strong-smelling eastern remedies to his limbs to help the blood circulate, and took him for walks in his rickshaw while he swatted at himself with his fly wand. These were only some of my many, daily tasks, and I performed them happily, with only the thought of nirvana.
I also had my secret name for the head monk. The pet psychic was reluctant to tell me this until I plied her with another twenty dollars. I called him Vagina Mouth, apparently, in the language of whatever Tibetan people speak. He had been silent for as long as the other monks had known him, for over thirty years, and perhaps Vagina Mouth was my attempt at some sort of clever wordplay.
Only during my next visit with the pet psychic did another possibility arise for the nickname. In this session, I learned of my secret “oral explorations” with the monk. That’s how the psychic phrased it, anyway: “oral explorations.” All the while, she had Paul under hypnosis. He lay still on the couch as if dead.
One afternoon during prayer time, the head monk broke his vow of silence to whisper, “Peat moss”—a most strange thing to say. Even when hearing it now, it sounds strange, and I understand what it basically means. But being as our community of monks lived on top of a mountain, we knew nothing then of peat moss or even of these places called bogs in the first place. We had a hundred words for prayer and snow and chanting and enlightenment, but not one practical word to explain this strange noun. At least we suspected it to be a noun, although we couldn’t, of course, be sure.
The head monk went into another period of extended silence. How long he would remain with his lips closed, it was difficult to tell. But his revelation troubled us. We could not find the definition of peat moss in our library of scrolls that predated history. We consulted the I Ching and came up empty there as well. We painted mandalas in an effort to help rebalance our community after the arrival of this potentially threatening word. We fasted for weeks and fondled our prayer beads incessantly, but nothing helped. One monk went crazy and began eating his feces. Another monk was caught sleeping with the goats. Something had to be done.
The other monks came up with a plan. What this plan was, the psychic could not tell. It is possible that the plan itself had never been put into action. Whatever the case, what came in very clear for the psychic was how a monk on a meditative walk one spring afternoon, discovered the head monk and I rocking the rickshaw in a cave along the mountain path leading to the monastery.
Our sin was reported to a tribunal of monks who, after a long period of discussion and prayer, reached a decision. If Paul broke his vow of silence to tell the community what he had meant by peat moss, both of our lives would be spared. Paul silently accepted his guilty plea with one sad shake of his head. Both of us were later bound together as I screamed at him to talk to them, to try to reason, to open his goddamned mouth. But it was too late. They put us into his rickshaw, set the rickshaw on fire, and pushed us off a mountain slope.
Give or take a few minor details, this basically brings us to the strange happenings of this afternoon. After waking him from his bad dreams, I said, “Do you want to go for a walk, Paul?” He barked that he did and, once outside, began taking us in a direction that I was not used to going.
Rather than reining him in with a stern word as I might have done on any other afternoon, I allowed Paul the belief that he was leading the way. He came to a house that I had never been to before. He parked himself on the sidewalk in front of the house and would not budge for as hard as I pulled on his leash.
“What is it, Paul? You want me to go up to the door? Is that it?”
Paul wagged his tail.
“Fine,” I said and walked up the pathway to knock on the door. I waited a few moments and looked back at Paul as if to say, There, are you happy?
I turned to go when the psychic herself answered the door, wearing a GAP sweatshirt, her hair all staticky and mashed down on one side, as if I’d woken her from a deep nap. “What are you doing here?” she said.
I looked back at Paul. He barked. I turned back to the psychic.
Again, she asked me, “What are you doing here? And how did you find my address?”
But I could not say, and so I said nothing at all.