“Unfortunately,” the vet said, “we’re going to have to put him to sleep.”
“Sleep,” Dad repeated and nodded his head. “Yes, sleep. Forever.”
“It’s true,” the vet agreed. “Your doggy will be sleeping forever. And he will have beautiful colourful dreams.”
The vet smiled at Dad. But the girl knew that the smile would soon disappear, because Dad would say something to make it disappear.
“He won’t have any dreams,” Dad said. “Because his brain will be dead. And a dead brain cannot have any dreams.”
The vet was no longer smiling.
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know that a dead brain cannot dream, because I’ve never been dead before. I think.”
“You think?” Dad asked.
He gave it some thought, then opened his mouth to say something, but the vet spoke first.
“You still need to fill out some paperwork, at that desk over there,” she pointed. “I’ll wait here with the girl. Please don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Dad threw back, as he walked to the desk.
The vet didn’t say anything. She was petting the dog, looking at the girl, and smiling.
It was a warm day, nearly evening, lovely and yet sad. Sitting around the grave of the dog was a cat and two dogs, a rude one and a polite one. The cat interrupted the silence.
“I don’t know how it is with dogs,” it said, “but we cats have nine lives. So for cats, death isn’t the end.”
“But what if the life you’re living now is your last, the ninth?” the polite dog asked.
“There is a risk of that, but it’s not too great,” the cat responded. “We don’t remember our previous lives, so we assume that our current life is somewhere in the middle. Fourth or fifth.”
“What nonsense,” quipped the rude dog as it jumped up. “There is only one life! The first and therefore the last!”
And it started running around the grave.
“One life!” snapped the cat. “It’s foolish to think that way. That’s what lots of people think. They think you live only once. And that once is not enough. And if you think you don’t have enough of something, you don’t even have what you have,” stated the cat and walked away, treading like a lion.
The rude dog, short of breath, stopped running and lay down. When it stopped panting, it asked: “Did I hear that tomcat right? Did it say that one life is not enough?”
“I think it all depends on how you live it,” the polite dog earnestly replied.
“That’s it exactly!” the rude one exclaimed. “If you live life to its fullest, one can be quite enough!”
“Listen, my young friend,” said the polite dog (which wasn’t at all older than the rude dog). “You’re wasting your life by running around in circles. There is only one way to properly live your life.”
“Wonder what that is,” the rude dog grunted. “Reveal it to me, oh venerable sage!”
“You must,” replied the polite dog, “contain your instincts.”
The rude dog did not say anything in reply. It was observing a fly.
“You think you’re free,” the polite dog continued, “but you’re not. If you hear rustling in the thicket, you run there right away. Like a machine. It’s stronger than you. You, the real you, does not exist.”
“I don’t exist!” the rude dog chuckled. “And who are you to say that?! You don’t even know what it means to exist. When I hear rustling in the thicket, I don’t even have the time to think that I want to run there, because I’m already there. Meanwhile, you hold yourself back; you’re always half a step behind the rest of the world.”
“Maybe I’m behind, or maybe I’m ahead,” the polite dog mysteriously replied. “At any rate, the world has no power over me. That’s why I’m not afraid of death.”
“Because you’re already dead!” yelled the rude dog, as it rolled in the grass near the dog’s grave, which, quite admittedly, revealed its lack of good manners.
Their conversation was interrupted at that moment, as something started rustling in the nearby thicket and the rude dog sprinted there immediately. Coming from the other side was the sound of human whistling, and that’s the direction in which the polite dog trotted off.
The magpie, which had been circling the grave for a few good minutes, finally landed and started walking around. Although both dogs, the polite one and the rude one, had already run off, it talked to them as if they were still there.
“If you only knew,” it cackled, “how funny you all look from high up. All your little earthly matters, arguments, all that running around in circles or sitting still. From high up, one can’t even hear all those conversations you think are so important. You are little dots that mean nothing, and your discussions are nothing but an irrelevant murmur.”
That’s what the magpie was grumbling about. It didn’t know even that somebody was listening in; it was a mole that was sitting in its underground tunnel.
“And why all the fuss?” thought the mole, which did not like fuss. “You’ll end up in the ground anyways, you old magpie.” Fungus and bacteria will eat you after you die. Plants will grow above you and worms will feed on you. And your children will take those worms to their nestlings. It’s all quite normal. So why all the fuss?”
But the magpie didn’t hear a thing the mole was saying, because the mole was thinking, not talking. It took to the sky, flew off and didn’t stop grumbling:
“How pitiful it all is, how small and trivial when you look at it from high up!” it yelled. And the higher it flew, the less you could hear it.
The cat left, the dogs ran off, the magpie flew away. The mole, too, crawled away through its dark tunnel. Left standing near the dog’s grave was only a little girl.
But somebody else was approaching. You could hear the rustling of leaves, snapping of twigs and sniffling. The girl didn’t need to look around to know who it was; she recognized him by the sniffling.
The boy stood next to her.
“I had a dream,” he said, “that I was an adult.”
“And how was it?” the girl asked.
“Monumenpal,” the boy replied. “Only there’s no wind. And no sounds in the background.”
They stood in silence for a moment.
“My dog died,” the girl said.
“We’re all going to die,” the boy stated. He sneezed and asked: “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A vet, I think,” she responded.
Translated from the Polish by Mark Ordon