Writing Desk

Category: Prose

Why Dogs Always Sniff Each Other

Once there was a grand convention, held in a sparkling ballroom with vaulted ceilings and gilded walls, and all the dogs in the world were invited to attend. Dalmatians, retrievers, collies, and St. Bernards; terriers, hounds, shepherds, and poodles: dogs of every pedigree came prancing or bounding or meandering in (as their temperament decreed).

Now, this being a convention of some distinction, certain formalities were observed. A team of Great Danes stood by the entryway and helped the guests to remove their coats. (No one wears a coat into a ballroom, after all.) Soon, the coat closet was brim-full of furs: curly and straight, golden and white, coarse and sleek. Never before had you seen such a variety of colors and textures and shapes!

After the dogs had doffed their coats, they entered the ballroom to find their bowls and plates. Dogs, as you know, are hungry creatures who love to eat. Therefore no one at the convention had troubled to plan boring preludes like slideshows or speeches. Everyone had agreed that the best thing was just to start with lunch.

My, how those dogs could eat! Mutton pies and ribeye steaks; biscuits spread with marrow; uncooked trout and roasted salmon; peanut butter and blocks of cheese. It was a sumptuous, and very messy, feast.

But in-between mouthfuls (and gulps of water from the hydrant), a sharp alarm went screaming through the building. “FIRE! FIRE!” a German Shepherd howled, and suddenly there was a stampede of dogs rushing out of the room.

Barks and yips and yaps and whimpers filled the hall and bounced off the vaulted ceilings. The smoke appeared in clouds that were gray and thick. One little terrier in the back could be heard crying that her tail was singed. Everyone was making straight for the outside door.

Oh, but first the coats! The closet by the entryway was so dense with so many hundreds of furs, that it would have been impossible to sort out whose was whose. Every dog rushed in, grabbed whatever coat was in reach, slipped it on, and rushed out, into the cool, clear blue day.

The fire department had been called, and the Dalmatians stayed behind to put out the flames. The rest of the dogs, though, could not flee the convention fast enough. They ran off in all directions, into alleys and apartment buildings, cafés and parks. There was no rhyme or reason to their scattered retreat.

Thank goodness, all the dogs escaped the fire unharmed (except for the poor little terrier, who had to have her tail mended by a nurse). But, in all the chaos, no one managed to claim his rightful coat. That is why, even to this day, you see dogs sniffing every other dog they meet. They are looking for their coats which were mixed up at the convention so very long ago.


Strawberry Hill

Who lives at Strawberry Hill? I have been passing by the road that leads there every morning about 10 o’clock. It sounds like such a charming place: something from a dream or a child’s play. As I walk, I get half a mind to take the fork in the road, to gather my skirts and climb the mysterious path to the house on the hill. But for some strange reason, I never stop: my boots keep shunting me forward, unhesitating along the straight little path they know so well. Is there fear in my feet, courage in my heart? It is a hard business, sometimes, to get the body on board with the imagination. Flights of fancy are hard on the legs, which, after all, are earthy creatures, and feel very much safer on the ground than in the air.

Still, I wonder who is the tenant of Strawberry Hill. What a disappointment if he should be a crabby old fellow, dull of mind with no imagination to tell of. How could one live in such a place without being seduced by its charms? No, the only acceptable thing is something romantic: a windswept fellow, beautiful of face, tossed with passion for the girl he saw once but never forgot. Or a small boy with tap shoes, who goes out in the night and dances all around the hillside under the light of the moon. Or perhaps a freckled old lady and her dog, both overfed on the strawberry pies she was famous for making in her youthful days.

Or it may be that a writer lives there, up on the top of Strawberry Hill. There is probably nothing remarkable about his appearance: an ordinary frame, a squarish face, a pair of spectacles for his blurry eyes. But he must be lit by some invisible flame: a burning world of questions and phantoms and dreams that keeps him up the night pecking at his typewriter like a lunatic hen. Yes, he must be a man of imagination; or he would never have chosen a home like Strawberry Hill.

I think I should like to meet him, rapping at his door one morning about 10 o’clock. Perhaps he shall invite me in for toast and tea, and I shall nod my head, murmuring thanks, and cross the threshold of that mysterious place.

When you were young, in the days before you forgot how to dream

When you were young, in the days before you forgot how to dream, the stars were your guardians and the moon was your friend. Each night, once you were safely tucked into your warm bed, thousands of white and frosted stars would gather to dance upon your windowpane. They called out your name in a lilting voice as pale and shimmering as the moon-glow. But you slept soundly, and never woke; and while you slept, the stars knit you a blanket from lily petals and a nightcap from lily stems, their cold and nimble hands (did you know that stars have hands?) fluttering about without a sound. Then, their work done, they laid the blanket over your bed and set the nightcap atop your head, and you were cloaked in a glory of white.


Who can describe what the stars did then? It is too strange, too marvelous to tell how their voices came together in one, great, quivering nova of sound—more beautiful than David’s harp or the pauper’s lute—and sang you lullabies about distant lands and the moon. Oh! in these night-songs the stars brought you to the sands of Arabia and the mountains of Tibet; dressed you in silks and made you to dine with kings. They saw the longing for adventure that was in your heart—the courage, too—and christened you a voyager on their travels to the sublime. You went, I think, with a willing spirit, even as you slept.


Then, in those days, dawn would show her rosy face and interrupt the darkness of your room. The stars, like shy night-visitors, withdrew from your bedside and disappeared, in quiet flickers, out the window whence they came. Soon you began to stir, yawning and stretching your arms above your head. In the moment before your senses returned, before you opened your eyes, you thought dreamily that the room smelled a little of lilies; you heard a peculiar song hanging, just barely, in the air. You wanted to keep these discoveries, to stay with them and find out what they meant, but the voice of your mother broke though the door, calling you to get ready for school. You ate your breakfast and dressed, beginning to think of other things; and you would have forgotten it all, but that, as you were brushing your hair before the mirror, a thin green stem tumbled down and landed on your chest. Your reflection glittered in the mirror, your face as pale as the moon. 


This is the time when all the clocks go striking in their syncronicity. Happy marriage! Happy wedding day! What a beautiful life the two people who are in love will be beginning together. It won’t be all lilies and nosegays, but it will be an inseparable bond, an intertwining and entangling of thoughts and hearts and bodies that sends out the message of communion in a very powerful way.

Emily Marie

Emily Marie was a quiet girl, unassuming and full of love for forgotten things. She was a good student who made good marks in her French and Philology courses and she worked at the university library shelving books. From the money she made at the library, she parceled out a small amount each week—just enough to buy herself a book from the shop downtown. Her bookshelf thus grew one book larger every seven days, and she was getting crowded out of her bed because the books were beginning to spill from their confines. It is therefore not surprising that Emily Marie began to dream of pirates when Treasure Island landed on her baseboard and of white rabbits when Alice in Wonderland fell astride her pillowcase.

Morning Struggle

The boy woke up feeling exhausted. What a chore to greet the morning! he thought, and turned over to groan and sigh and contemplate the dreariness ahead. He did not like to think too long of his work, for he found the office dreadful and dull—it gave him a headache. Nor did he do well to meditate on his friends, for he had very few and the ones he did have talked with a lisp and were always preoccupied with their own affairs. The only thing that got the boy to roll from bed was the prospect of breakfast: a biscuit and honey with a hot cup of tea. Without the thought of breakfast to cheer him, he might have pulled the blankets across his head and slumbered right through the noon.

Exercise in writing

Jacob walked—sauntered—into the sitting room, his head caught in a float of strange intangibles. He was a beautiful man—you could see it in the set of his chin—but no one could know him beyond an inch or two. His eyes, which were an uncanny shade of blue, were eternally fixed on a point just beyond your reach; and his sitting, his standing, his puffing on a cigarette—all were part of some great and anxious mystery. It was blossoming into an obsession, you felt—this desire to comprehend a man who was utterly beyond all understanding. 


Cordelia sat down at the corner table and took out her writing things. She entered in her journal: Categories of People. Beautiful people who say beautiful things. Beautiful people who say ugly things. Ugly people who say beautiful things. Ugly people who say ugly things. She paused a moment, the cap of her pen tight in-between her lips. Then she added: Categories rather amorphous. A person who says beautiful things becomes beautiful from the inside-out, according to the laws of nature. Therefore it is hard to tell who is beautiful and who, per se, is not. Apply labels with caution. 

Francois Dubois Was Three Feet Tall

Francois Dubois was three feet tall with golden hair. He lived in the deep forest, where the pines grew together so densely that it was hard to tell day from night. By and bye, he was an orderly and self-sufficient fellow who was early to bed and early to rise. At the crack of dawn he would tumble from bed and boil a pot of milk, which he would take for breakfast along with a slice of bread. After breakfast he took a stroll to invigorate his mind, directing his feet around the perimeter of the house and weaving among the tall trees. While we walked, he liked to entertain lofty ideas, like what it meant to walk by faith and whether war could ever lead to peace. Upon returning to his house, by the southern wall, he crouched to the earth and tended his garden. He delicately pruned and clipped and watered and patted the soil where his vegetables (mostly nightshades, like eggplant and tomato and bell peppers) grew.

Finding the Way

A swallow sat atop a gate and the winds blew in every direction. A woman with curls lost her balance and tipped the brown paper bag she was carrying, and a pile of bread rolls tumbled out. In all her hurry, she did not see the face of the young man who crossed the street and stooped to help. Flustered, she only murmured her thank-yous and walked away. That she might have just looked upon the face of the man she would someday marry, if only she’d not rushed off—never crossed her mind. Chirp! The winds continued to blow.