This mongrel, scooped up off the streets, in Vasily Grossman’s imagined story of the real creature who was the first dog in space, has a Christ-like capacity for love and sympathy, including for her slightly dysfunctional space-programme master. Here he explains to her, now named Petrushka, what a unique and glorious fate awaits her. With her boundless canine wisdom, she takes it all in.
‘Once he said to Petrushka that she would be the first creature, since life had begun on earth, to glimpse the true depth of the cosmos. A wonderful fate had befallen her. She was about to penetrate cosmic space – the first envoy of free reason to be sent out into the universe.
The dog seemed to understand him.’
Later, when she is actually in space, the assistant notes her reaction to her newfound boundless solitude in the unfamiliarity of space.
‘The following morning, laboratory assistant Apresyan said to him, “She was howling. She was howling for a long time.” He added quietly: “It’s scary – a solitary dog, alone in the universe, howling.”‘
Yes, it’s scary, particularly when the dog was so savvy, so wise, and so loving.
From a splendid collection of stories by Grossman, this being one of my favourites. See also a podcast quotation describing her capacity to understand how cities and their complex technical systems worked. A street dog yes, but no ordinary dog this. Or was she? Perhaps this is simply a reminder of how clever these wonderful animals are.
Source: Vasily Grossman, ‘The Dog’, The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova, afterword Fyodor Guber (New York: New York Review Books, 2010), pp. 240 and 242
Photo credit: LUM3N at pixabay