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It's Nelly's World

Pancakes for Nelly

alec vanderboom

Last night, I returned to childhood. I was transported there by a thought. As Nelly pressed her weight against my leg in bed, an imagining bloomed in my head. I was suddenly her. Looking through her eyes, seeing what she saw. It caused my brain to jolt, the way it used to when I was eight and looked up at the sky and tried to conceive of infinity. It hurt. It was exhilarating. It was profoundly weird.

How does she experience living?

Quite different from me, obviously. Obviously: this was just a few hours before I woke from a dream in which someone was pushing a knife into my back. I felt it slowly pierce my liver, my pancreas. The pain. I woke as I was dying.

I suspect Nelly dreams of other things. But being inside her head, for that moment, was to have the universe open up. Actually, it opened, it widened, it deepened, simultaneously. The whole thing vibrated. I could almost taste it. Inside Nelly's head, it seems, is nirvana, where all is the experience of this moment and every sense fires at once. People take really dangerous drugs so they can feel just what Nelly feels, being her doggy self curled in slumber against a warm leg.

Of course, I would especially love to be Nelly on the Sundays I make pancakes. That's because I always make dogcakes too, always have ever since I've had dogs. I see their noses lifted, palpating the air, as the butter spreads in the pan. Who can turn from the sight of that, that anticipation of future joy? (Who says dogs don't have a concept of the future? Watch them in the kitchen.) So: buckwheat, with a touch of nutmeg. Nelly waits by the stove with breath held, eyes glinting. She will wait till I tear her small pancake into pieces, and then she does her stuff. Ask nicely. High five. Talk. Quiet. Put your head down. Roll over. On your side. Wave. Those are it, all the tricks I taught her a couple of years ago now. I hope to teach her more soon. But I just lost eight months of my life into a black hole (boy, was it black) in which I did little that would qualify as living, much less teaching my dog new tricks. She's not averse to teaching herself some new ones, though they are not what I would necessarily consider fun and valuable. She does, however. We live in different universes values-wise.

My son and I eat our pancakes with maple syrup, and Nelly does not. Later my son lies in bed, and I see he is inhabiting that eight-year-old mind that is more akin to Nelly's than to mine. "Do you ever think what it would be like to not be you?" and I know he is experiencing that delicious dislocation of perceiving beingness, the I-in-space. And I was there too.