An Encounter with an Animal
This week, a handful of us attended Caz’s bonus, creative writing workshops. It was great to get her and Mark Haddon’s insights and advice on unleashing our lexical playful-child and editing our screaming, stumbling babies. For one exercise we had to edit a 150 word piece of writing we’d prepared in advance. We were given subject options and I chose: “an encounter with an animal”. I wrote about Fido, a small Albanian dog who I met whilst travelling and who completely stole my heart. For this SCAB, I thought I’d share a longer piece of writing on my encounter with Fido and our walk across an apocalyptic, Albanian beach…
‘Come on, boy!’ I slap my palms against my thighs but the dog hesitates. This small, mottled dog has followed me for six miles now; I’ve named him Fido—in Latin, fidelus means loyal. ‘Come on!’ I say again. Fido doesn’t move. I sigh and walk on. Another bark and Fido is at my heels, his jaunty trot replaced by a protective yet anxious tread. We round the corner of the dirt track and suddenly the trees and shrubs disappear. Ahead, is a vast desert of swirling grey sand. Beyond, rolls an even greyer sea. Fido bristles into my calf. He whimpers and I understand now. ‘Come on,’ I say, though I’m unsure whether I’m talking to the dog or myself.
The beach is bereft of people but my aloneness feels uncomfortable; this barren wilderness is littered with human decay. A toilet sits wedged into the sand beside a stack of plastic chairs, a rusted stove lurching against a tower of twisted tyres as bleached tarpaulins flap against crumbling cars. A plastic sheet snags on the metal skeleton of an abandoned chair, scratching the air with a ragged hiss. The sand howls in reply. ‘What is this place?’ I whisper. Fido turns to the trees and whimpers softly.
At the shoreline stand several ramshackle structures, broken rows of plastic sun-loungers and faded, striped parasols stretching out beyond them. The stink of rotting flesh suddenly fills my nose and I hear my shoes crunch. Hundreds of dead crabs are strewn across the sand, chests cracked open, baking in the midday sun. Fido sniffs the reeking carcasses and whines.
Out of the sand-choked haze, a woman appears. We look at each other for a moment—the encounter seems unexpected to us both—then, she points to a wooden shack and says, ‘food?’. A faded sign reads: Frank’s Fast Food.
Inside the hut two men sit silently drinking, wedged between a fryer and a freezer. I buy six sausages for Fido and the woman drops them into the fryer. ‘Why are you here?’ I can’t help but ask as a squall of wind fills my eyes with grey grit. The trio shake their heads; they don’t speak English. The sky darkens and another rush of sand viciously assaults my cheeks and eyes. The woman hands me the sausages. But Fido is gone. Squinting against the sand I spot him, a black dot, fleeing towards the trees. I run after him, blinded by the sand. Opening one eye, I see a red door rising from the ground like some sort of portal; I fear I’ve already walked through it.
Fido is waiting when I reach the path. I crouch down to stroke him and he jumps up, pushing his flea-raw body onto mine. The gesture is almost human. I carry Fido all the way home and the next morning, I wake to find him waiting for me. This time, we walk in the woods.