Callan Wink: “Dog Run Moon”

11/08/2011 § Leave a comment

Originally published in The New Yorker, September 26, 2011.

With a brief disclaimer to explain Sid’s stark condition — he’s a nude sleeper — the story begins in the middle of action, with Sid “running barefoot and bare-assed across the sharp sandstone rimrock far above the lights of town…. The dog was padding along tirelessly, sometimes at Sid’s side, sometimes ranging out and quartering back sharply.” He’s being chased by headlights, has been woken in the middle of the night, and there’s something comic and desperate about his escape. Those chasing him go by the monikers “Montana Bob” and “Charlie Chaplin,” and the third-person, which takes no sides, allows each simple fact to exist at face value: “Sid hadn’t stolen the dog. He’d liberated it. He firmly believed this, and this belief was the fundamental basis of his disagreement with Montana Bob.”

And yet, while the run through the night is very real, grounded by detailed and often poetic language — “when he turned he could see smears of his blood on the flat rock glistening black under the moon” — the story isn’t really about the pursuit, nor even the dog. It’s about finding an excuse to live wild for a moment, to run, for Sid has been suffering in the desert for a long time now. His wife has left him, his coworkers don’t speak his language, and he exists, literally, on scraps at the mill: “All day long he took cast-off pieces of aspen and pine and cut and stapled them into pallets that were eventually piled with boards to be shipped out.” When he sees the dog day after day, lonely as he is, with no owner in sight, he finally decides to bring it home with him, and that’s what Wink is interested in: the sort of man who would be driven to this sort of company, who might, in the middle of the night, become like a hunting dog himself, even though he knows not what he’s hunting. “Sid had never seen desert deer this close before. At the apex of each jump they seemed to hang, suspended, vaguely avian, a group of prehistoric near-birds not quite suited to life on land, not quite comfortable with their wings’ ability to keep them aloft.”

At this point, half-animal and on the run, his memories start to bleed into his present, so that we get images of him and his former woman: “Sometimes, when it was hot, they woke up and had to peel themselves apart, their tangled limbs stuck together like the fleshy segments of some strange misshapen fruit.” It’s terrific imagery (“a night-blooming moonflower, her white limbs like petals unfolding”), but it’s also really vague: they fall in together, and then just as quickly, she ends things, cryptically crying in the bathroom, fearful of someone or something coming to get her. Without knowing what’s happened, it’s even harder to understand what has driven him to this final act of reduction, and so as potent as the action, as crisp as the description, the only thing that comes across is the beautiful hopelessness of his situation. After he has passed out, Montana Bob retrieves his dog and Charlie Chaplin, seeing what Sid has already done to himself, leaves his own shoes behind for Sid: they were “something at once like balm and betrayal.”

Which leads to the conclusion: Sid, still naked and exposed, wondering if he should go home, or if he should just continue “on until he either evaporated or arrived, collapsing in a heap, on her porch. Begging her to wash his feet.” I recognize that as a biblical reference, so perhaps the story is about the suffering one must take upon themselves to atone for a sin, but I remain at odds with where the story takes me, though I’m more than happy to go along — like the dog, which also winds up right back where it started — for the ride.

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