You looked at the speaker, expecting some glint in her eye, having assumed that her question entailed a sense of humorous innuendo regarding your characteristic flatulence. The autumn light was never fulsome in this part of the world, the yellow more brown than gold. It reflected upon the mantelpiece ornament your old dad brought back from wartime Europe. As you did, too.
The crackling of dead leaves down the chimney flue impinged on your high level of absent-mindedness, but perhaps the subconscious sound encouraged another sneezing bout, as characteristic perhaps as your flatulence.
There’s something satisfying about pent-up sneezes breaking through their recurring brinks of completion. One feeding off another, until the last one never seems to be the last one until much later when you suddenly realise you’ve stopped sneezing. Breaking wind in discrete indiscreet bursts is a different pleasure, but still a pleasure, however pungent the result, if only a pleasure for you.
The low sun shafted into your living-room awakening dust blossoms to rival whatever bodily efflorescences might otherwise have been produced by your good self. The stinging in your eyes – accompanied by the last sneeze that happened to coincide with an embarrassingly noxious tail-wind – had penetrated your lethargic absent-mindedness.
You looked quizzically at her. “What dog?” you plainly ask.
“That one,” she answered, while head-nodding towards a possible configuration of motes in the sunbeam, with the paradoxical effect of threatening both to vanish altogether and to shape into a canine existence with wagging tail. But which was threatening to wag what?
Not the ghost of a dog as such, not a spectral Baskerville or long lost childhood pet that had died, amid much grief, many years before, but it was, rather, an Indian rope-trick without the Indian as well as without the rope. Or a seance without the medium as well as without the spirit. A dream consciously remembered as a forgotten dream but never a dream in the first place that you could have possibly remembered or forgotten. Something far more intangible than a ghost, in fact; it was as if it were an entity that you both saw each other seeing but each of you didn’t see it for yourselves. This tale, too, is unseeing, a tale that soon disowns its characters before dissipating into the precarious dust blossoms it had already created. A phantom pungency that, with the infinitesimal motes borne upon it, caused at least the ghost of a ghost to sneeze while coinciding with one visible wag of its invisible tail.
Autumn leaves, too.