The Fumes of Memory
December 13, 2012 § 2 Comments
“I had a dog once in Norway. His name was Brennevin—” Otto pronounced this word deep in his throat, each syllable dense as stone. “—It means brandy.” He swirled the snifter and inhaled. “He was a very, how you say, mischievous dog.”
We sat in the corner of the restaurant, with a plate of cheese, figs, and toast between us. The place was empty except for two elderly women wearing once-fashionable heavy-rimmed glasses. Otto had already been drinking by the time I showed up, and he was in a talkative mood. I wanted to lift the shroud that enveloped me, so I let him order me a brandy, a variety that he said had been produced by his French brother-in-law’s family for several centuries. He showed me how to swirl my glass and breathe in the odorous fog.
“Brennevin.” I paused, unsure of my pronunciation. “What kind of dog was he?”
Otto wrinkled his nose. “The devil kind. He tore through the house while we slept. I found broken glass on the floor, constantly. And the noise. I had to keep him chained outside. My wife, she insisted. Things improved for a while, but then one winter morning we woke up, and there was only a shattered chain on the ground.”
I thought about the responsibility of caring for something that couldn’t be controlled, despite one’s best intentions, and finding that things had gotten too far out of hand. It was a lot like love, the fumes of which had once overwhelmed me and then suddenly evaporated. It explained why, as predicted, I’d left Rachel’s Hanukah cocktail party halfway through despite the thousand kindnesses bestowed upon me, the offers to fill my drink or retrieve the dropped napkin or call me sometime (and this from a newly divorced professor of law at American University, who decided to remain silent after all).
I touched Otto’s hand. “Devil dog, huh? I wonder happened to him.”
Otto shrugged. “To tell the truth. I put him on a truck headed to the west coast. One of the royal farms took him in and put him to work, herding sheep. That’s what I heard, anyway.”
We talked about so much more that night, with Otto hinting at mysteries that had not yet been exposed. I’d tell you more, but I need to make some phone calls. Business, you know. I’ll reconnect with you, my dear readers, as soon as I can.