Hay en estas esquinas un rumor...

Onyx, 20 January 1998, 9 July 2012.

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Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.
Saint Francis of Assisi.

Onyx, the Yorkshire terrier of my mother, passed away. Five years after her. Five years alone as they were inseparable companions, and the loneliness of the little dog ever since always echoed a bit of my own. He died in Madrid, at one in the morning. He was over 14 years old, and despite breathing difficulties in his old age, as is typical of this race, he had a splendid quality of life. When I told him goodbye ten days ago, I could not imagine these were the last strokes. I saw him yesterday in a video call to Elena's parent (we are in Garching). He wasn't feeling so good, just back from the veterinary—his most dreadful nightmare (I never understood how he knew beforehand we were bringing him there)—and was under medication for a lung inflammation, but there was no sign neither for the doctor nor for us that his life was at stake.

This turns a final page of one book in my life. Dogs have always been part of the family, in mine. As a result, the pain of their loss has always been excruciating, particularly for my father, for whom it was unbearable, especially as he started to suffer from the daunting picture so well expressed by Albert Payson Terhune: soon or late, every dog's master's memory becomes a graveyard. When our last mongrel, Campus, was shot by a hunter and found later in the middle of a field, he resolutely refused to ever have a dog again. Also, he insisted never to know who was the hunter who committed this atrocity, for his reaction could be out of control.

My brother, who never obeyed very much to anything, later broke the rule and brought home a little Yorkshire pup, that he offered to my mother for her 40th birthday. It was the first time we had home a pedigree dog, not one wandering the streets at leisure, sometime disappearing for days and coming back from mysterious expeditions with pungent smells of the mountains or the woods, wet or starving. In the last years of our life in a village of Auvergne, we were living 5km away from the bakery, and we would go there by car every evening. I remember my father opening the back-door of the car, which was a type of van, whistling and going around his business for the next five minutes, while Campus would rush back from wherever he was to jump excitingly in the car. When he wouldn't show up in time, after a last call, we would go without him and he would show up by himself anytime from twenty minutes to a couple of hours later. Crossing through the woods, the distance was a mere 3km for him. It never ceased to amaze me the intelligence of a dog, to map such a complex situation: the geography, us being there, at which point he had to go by himself...

It was quite some time since Campus' tragedy, still my father was mildly upset with my brother's decision, a recurrent situation. But as every dog's owner knows, there is no better healing for a dog's loss than another dog, not that one erases a predecessor, but they all share this purity, this perfection and this innocence that is the cradle of this immaculate love they inspire and communicate. There is something holly in them. They are the closest beings to angels that I can imagine, when I try, by fantasy, to conceive how would be the expression of one that would cross my way, with the golden lights and the humming from another dimension, maybe. There is in the glance of an animal something incredibly revealing, open, truthful, deep, an accomplice look, a wink to something inexpressible. It is a bridge to something not of our world, that they seem to know better than us. Sometimes, I feel I could cry at a mere look I exchanged by accident with a dog in the street, waiting for his human companion to buy the bread or return from the bar. One can get gripped by the soul from a sidewise glance of a placid dog, laying down on the floor, in the dust, but in the naked majesty of his condition, as if willing to share, without words, a deeper meaning of which you can only catch the intent, being such a crass and arrogant creature yourself, while there is dignity and majesty in this expression without sin, without malice, with no hiding and no treachery, impersonating the perfection of His creation. Through their eyes, you can really feel God looking at you.

For those strangers to this feeling, be it ultimately anthropomorphic or some more severe mental condition, I always recommend a masterpiece of Marcel Aymé, one of our best French post-war writer: in his theatre play Clérambard, he relates the story of a ruined aristocrat reigning as a dictator on his impoverished family, in his attempt to preserve the grandeur of his past condition. He only has obsession for keeping together his castle falling in ruins, and to marry his son to a rich (albeit ugly) bride. To maintain this standard of living, he compromises everything else, with a particular ferocity against animals. Then comes a revelation inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi. Clérambard's life changes completely. While he was shooting the dog of the priest the day before to eat it, not finding cats anymore for this purpose, he now values the life of a spider beyond his own. He becomes a beggar, marries his son to the prostitute the young man was in love with and rejects all earthly possessions. Among other critics at various levels, it is a delightful description on both sides of people's feelings towards animals, from those who despise or ignore them, to those who have no bounds in their veneration for them.

In an excellent movie adaptation, Yves Robert and Vladimir Cosma symbolized the revelation of Clérambard as a walk in the forest where he awakens suddenly to the majesty of the animal kingdom. The music of Cosma is unique, to my knowledge. It is a chef d'Œuvre which brings together, on a variation of the movie's main theme, vocalization of birds in the enticing tone with which our hearts sing when they address frightened animals, and classic mourning cantatas of human choirs, all sung by people which you can imagine are angelic voices in the mind of Clérambard who, running as if flying in the light of the spiralling forest, experiences the sacred nature of those he was persecuting. This is the song below. The whole scene (and movie) deserve to be seen:

This is one of the most touching evocation I know of a divine revelation, God showing the unity, the glory and the universality of his kingdoms.

Onyx was such an inspiring little chap, with a clever look and his unmistakable character, playful and grumpy at the same time. He was a different dog than we were used to, particularly in the country side, he was so small and fragile, especially as he was so full of life, running and stumbling in molehills, rolling over a good 50cm. He was anguished by everything, startled by a caress or scared to his life by a dead leave gently kicked on the floor by the wind. He seemed to despise every dogs, and didn't like children. He had a sort of solemnity and seriousness with strangers that made him look very funny. With people he knew, he would share an heart-melting affection. He didn't like to sleep alone and would snuggle on your leg, to make sure you wouldn't leave. He was getting distressingly desperate when he got signs we were going somewhere without him. As a dog of a baker, he had his share of a tough life. My father would often poke fun at him for being destined to be the dog of a notary, sleeping on a pillow in a quiet study, but finding himself, instead, in an old and torn out canapé dredged with flour. He was, nevertheless, the centre of all our attention and my mother and him became passionately inseparable.

My father once commented jokingly, on the exaggerated display of affection between the two, that he didn't know what he could possibly do if any one of them would pass away. The other would be driven to insanity. He would never know. My father went first. My mother, heart-broken, followed him two years from then. I still hear my father uttering this ironic presage which turned out in the way he would have expected the least. I still hear him as if I was there with him, looking at my mother and her dog playing together.