He wags his tail as he waits for the train doors to open. Subway lights bring out bronze streaks amongst the unkempt dark brown of his fur. Large pupils in eyes stare at the metal, expectant.
In deference to tall two-legs all ‘round and about him, he stifles the urge building inside him to bark. You don’t make noise on these trains, he’s learnt. Don’t look at faces unless they look at you first. Doesn’t know the moral framework behind all such manners, but has picked up what they are, how they work. Not etiquette in some quaint Mrs Beeton sense, but derived from discovering that it’s best to seem normal as fast as you can. If he – if dogs – quoted Shakespeare, he might huskily recite: ‘To beguile the time, look like the time’ but dogs don’t and he doesn’t, and so instead he stays shtum and pads into the carriage within seconds of the drawing-apart whoosh of the doors. Perhaps the sound reminds him of panting. Maybe that’s how he’s worked out that this thing is tired and will be at rest here for a while.
Only him, and he isn’t telling.
First time, some doggy-mix memory reminds him, he came on board one of these trains because of a need to explore. Extension of every other action in his life, slinking down streets and bedding down in car parks and out the back of large buildings and under a bridge by a cold rush of water that both scares and excites him, in near the same way that some bitches do. Been ownerless since he was six months-old – still a pup – and so doesn’t feel the need to hunt after affection from the tall two-legged things now. Bald dogs, he thinks. Strange. Unattractive, so overall pretty useless to him. He brushes their shins only by accident, on his way to an empty bench-seat on which to lie down.
Front paws on the fabric of such a seat, he sniffs at it before climbing, checking for the recent scent of anyone he knows. Checking if any of the other hounds have come this way today, looking for her – rogue German shepherdess – whose signs all set him off like the river.
Founded less upon jealousy than longing, this practice. He revels and rolls around in the freedom of streetlife, growls from the love of it, the scuzz-joy of scrapping for food and for warm places to sleep. But, increasingly, there’s a nagging, fuzzy feeling stretched throughout his hunger-stung torso, shooting from time to time up and down lithe, muscle-taut springs of hind legs. She eases that feeling, this shepherdess bitch, and so that’s what he longs for. That calming of tension that roils in his gut.
The way this train shudders isn’t helping that now. Over past months, though, he felt he was getting used to it. To the shudder and to the three stops for breath that this train-thing takes before he can dismount, disembark in that cave that opens out onto street where she lives.
At the third of these stops, he maybe gets too excited, tail wagging again and making thud-thud-thud sound against back-of-seat. When a bald dog looks at him, he hears this noise himself, looks back with wide darkness of eyes and – not quite in contrition – lowers his head. The edge to his watcher’s gaze eases, and, first time, he notices a smaller two-legged creature beside. This small two-legs is looking at him as well. Showing his teeth, though not, he senses, by way of a threat. If it had a tail, he thinks, then that tail might be wagging too.
He can’t be sure, of course, and the thought doesn’t linger too long. Though he’s acquainted now with some parts of their habits – at least when on trains – the two-legs – small and tall – confuse him. Perhaps especially the small. They, for instance, don’t seem to have worked out quite yet the rule these spaces have about quietness. Or the one about eye-contact and staring too long.
He turns from that stare, glances down the carriage to the place he came in. The buzzing in his hind legs is growing, and smells he remembers are gathering mass. They are getting near to another resting point now, the one that he wants, and he finds he can’t wait.
Padding down off the seat, he brushes shins again on his way to the door, before assuming a wide-legged stance in front of that gateway – having learnt also from stumbling and hitting train-walls and two-legs when the jolt of the stop comes. Free of noise-making seat-back, he wags tail again, letting scent-picture of the shepherdess grow in his mind. He pants now with the excitement of this, hoping for the train to one more time begin doing the same.
When it does, he will run.
He will run because patience simply isn’t within him.
He will run because there are railings that need jumping before he reaches the night.