THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Excerpts From Dog Heroes

a treatise on the future of Latin America as seen through an immobile man and his thirty Belgian Malinois shepherds

by by Mario Bellatin Translated from Spanish by David Noriega

Close to the city airport there lives a man who, apart from being an immobile man--that is to say, a man incapable of moving--is considered one of the country's best trainers of Belgian Malinois Shepherds. He shares the house with his mother, his sister, a nurse-trainer and thirty Belgian Malinois trained to kill with a single bite to the jugular. It remains unknown why, upon entering the room where the man spends his days in seclusion, certain visitors intuit an atmosphere that bears some relation to what might be called the future of Latin America. This man often says, in his nearly incomprehensible way of speaking, that it's one thing to be immobile and another to be mentally retarded.

Nobody knows if the nurse-trainer was first a nurse and then a trainer, or vice versa, first a trainer and then a nurse. He is a slightly overweight young man who wears only disheveled track suits. On more than one night he has shared the bed with the immobile man, especially when a deep pain afflicts one of his motionless legs.

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The immobile man insists that not for his entire life has he maintained such a stillness. He declares that until only a few years ago he was able to rotate his neck from side to side.

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The immobile man is in possession of a photo album--which only certain people are allowed to see--with a collection of images of the world's finest specimens of Belgian Malinois. Having clarified that it's one thing to be immobile and quite another to be mentally retarded, the immobile man asserts that there are no retarded dogs, only stupid owners. He then begins to laugh uncontrollably.

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On the first floor of the house, the immobile man's mother and sister dedicate themselves to a strange task having something to do with the classification of empty plastic bags. Neither of the two seems to be in agreement with the admission of strangers into the house. For a long time now the immobile man has received only people involved with the breeding of Belgian Malinois Shepherds.

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During certain times of year, the immobile man decides to dispose of one or another of his dogs: "Only new blood will further the necessary genetic advances," he affirms, and once again dissolves into laughter.

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The immobile man could do without any of his dogs, save for Anubis. He would dispense with his family, the nurse-trainer or his own house sooner than his favorite animal. Were he to choose the dog over the house, it is a cruel thought to imagine him lying with Anubis by the highway connecting the airport to the city. The immobile man is certain that his favorite dog would, in the most ferocious way possible, prevent anyone from approaching his prone body.

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The immobile man spends the better part of the day asking for the dogs to be brought to his room. He has different sounds prepared to receive them. Some are almost imperceptible. It is a curious thing to witness how, in response to such insignificant noises, the animals flop down, stand up, bark, howl and leave the room. Some visitors, and sometimes the nurse-trainer himself, assert that the immobile man has managed to dominate the dogs in such a way only because he has dedicated every minute of his life to observing their behavior. On one occasion a group of intellectuals knowledgeable on the subject declared the immobile man to be the city's most prominent dog psychologist.

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On another wall there is a large map of Latin America marked with several red circles, indicating the cities where the breeding of Belgian Malinois has reached its most advanced stages. The presence of the map leads only certain visitors to muse on the future of the continent.

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On the same table as the telephone, whose receiver the immobile man keeps perpetually tied around his head, there is a large laminated poster, in color, depicting over a dozen spaceships traveling through outer space. The immobile man habitually asks his sister to abandon her work with the plastic bags and come upstairs to cut out pictures of dogs from the photo album. He intends to have her insert them into each of the spaceships on the poster. The sister tries to ignore him. She, in fact, has never been up to the second floor.

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On a fairly regular basis the immobile man will ask the nurse-trainer to dial the number for the Central Bureau of Information. He intends to find out--in real life, not in the universe of laminated outer space posters--how many Belgian Malinois can fit into a spaceship.

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There is a test to which the immobile man will regularly submit the nurse-trainer. It consists of an experience that is, to a certain extent, inconceivable. It begins when the immobile man asks the nurse-trainer to play exaggeratedly with Anubis. To goad and humor the dog until it is happy. The Belgian Malinois seems to become very pleased with the young man in the track suit, the only human being with whom the dog has maintained any real contact since his days as a pup. The nurse-trainer has been in charge of feeding, cleaning and lovingly petting Anubis from the day the dog was born.

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When Anubis seems to have reached the pinnacle of joy, the immobile man, by means of a series of gestures, orders the nurse-trainer to exit the room and leave him alone with the dog. The immobile man then begins to emit the necessary sounds for Anubis to stare at him fixedly and perk up his ears. He then produces a noise, even more intricate than the rest, that cues the nurse-trainer to return to the room. On seeing him enter Anubis lunges at him with an indescribable ferocity. The next sound to come from the immobile man's throat halts the dog in midair. At that moment the immobile man will reiterate that he and he alone continues to hold all power. The nurse trainer seems to enjoy the satisfaction that this test affords the immobile man.

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Some minutes later the immobile man will usually demand that the Central Bureau of Information be dialed again. He intends to resolve his doubts regarding the relationship between Belgian Malinois Shepherds and spaceships. On the table lies the laminated color poster of outer space with the dogs glued on top. The nurse-trainer was the one to wield the scissors and place the figures where the immobile man wished them to be placed.

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The voice that answers at the Central Bureau of Information is so fast, and the immobile man's so slow and distorted, that although communication is established the call does not come to a satisfactory end. The Central Bureau of Information considers the contact finalized before the immobile man can pronounce his second vowel.