Father of pretense, orphan of imagination
    And here Roger would have said, "Oh, sure," Janet thought; Pete had learned the phrase from Roger, thought not its implications.
     "Do you think the dog moved the truck
enough?" Kemp asked Pete.
     "I think so," Pete said.
     Janet thought so, too.
     "He needed just a few inches to reach that cat," Kemp said.
     Pete nodded; Janet confident of the outcome, went on about her business in the kitchen.
     "One day," Kemp said slowly, "the cat came and sat down on the sidewalk at the end of the alley and began to lick his paws; he rubbed his wet paws into his old earholes where his ears had been, and he rubbed his paws over his old grown-together eyehole where his other eye used to be, and he stared down the alley at the dog under the truck.  The cat was getting bored now that the dog wouldn't come out anymore.  And then the dog came out."
     "I think the truck moved enough." Pete said.
     "The dog ran up the alley faster than ever before, so that the chain behind him was dancing off the ground, and the cat never moved-- although
this time the dog could reach him.  Except," said Kemp, "the chain didn't quite reach."
     Janet groaned.
     "The dog got his mouth over the cat's head, but the chain choked the dog so badly that he couldn't close his mouth; he gagged and was jerked back, like before, and the cat, realizing that things had changed, sprang away."
     "God!" Janet cried.
     "Oh, no," Pete said.
     "Of course you couldn't fool a cat like that twice," Kemp said.  "The dog had one chance, and he blew it.  That cat would never let him get close enough again."
     "What a terrible story!" Janet called from the kitchen.
     Pete, silent, looked as if he agreed.
     "But something
else happened," Kemp said.
     Pete looked up, alert.
     Janet, exasperated, held her breath again.
     "The cat was so scared, he ran into the street-- without looking.  No matter what happens," Kemp said, "you don't run into the street without looking-- do you, Pete?"
     "No," Pete said.
     "Not even if a dog is going to bite you," Kemp said, "not
ever.  You never run into the street without looking."
     "Oh, sure, I know," Pete said.  "What happened to the cat?"
     Kemp slapped his hands together so sharply that the boy jumped.  "He was killed like that!" Kemp cried.  "Smack!  He was dead.  Nobody could fix him.  He'd have had a better chance if the dog had gotten him."
     "A car hit him?" Pete asked.
     "A truck," Kemp said.  "Ran right over his head.  His brains came out his ears."
     "Squashed him?" Pete asked.
     "Flat," said Kemp.
     Jesus, Janet thought-- it was Pete's story, after all. 
Don't run into the street without looking!
     "The end," said Kemp.
     "Good night," Pete said.
     "Good night," Kemp said to him.
     Janet heard them kiss.
     "
Why didn't the dog have a name?" Pete asked.
     "I don't know," Kemp said.  "Don't run into the street without looking."


     "That dog could never move that truck," Janet said later.  "Not an inch."
     "Right," Kemp said.
     "So how'd you move it?" she asked him.
     "I couldn't move it, either," Kemp said.  "It wouldn't budge.  So, I cut a link out of his chain-- at night when he was in the cafe.  And I matched the link at a hardware store.  The next night I added some links-- about six inches."
     "And the cat never ran into the street?" Janet asked.
     "No, that was for Pete," Kemp admitted.
     "Of course," Janet said.
     "The chain was plenty long enough," Kemp said.  "The cat didn't get away."
     "The dog killed him?" Janet asked.
     "He bit him in half," Kemp said.
     "In a city in Germany?" Janet said.
     "No, Austria," Kemp said.  "It was Vienna.  I never lived in Germany."
     "But how could the dog have been in the war?" Janet asked.  "He'd have been twenty years old by the time you got there."
     "The dog wasn't in the war," Kemp said.  "He was just a dog.  His
owner had been in the war-- the man who owned the cafe.  That's why he knew how to train the dog.  He trained him to kill anybody who walked in the cafe when it was dark outside.  When it was light outside, anybody could walk in; when it was dark, even the master couldn't get in."
     "That's nice!" Janet said.  "Suppose he forgot something and had to go back in the cafe?  Suppose there was a fire.  There seems to me to have been a number of drawbacks to that method."
     "It's a war method, apparently," Kemp said.
     "Well," Janet said, "it makes a better story than the
dog being in the war."
     "You think so?" Kemp asked her.  "That's interesting," he said, "because I just this minute made it up."
     "About the owner being in the war?" Janet said.
     "Well, more than that," Kemp admitted.
     "What part of the story did you make up?" Janet asked him.
     "All of it," Kemp said.
     They were in bed together and Janet lay quietly there.
     "Well,
almost all of it," he added.
     Kemp never tired of playing this game, though Janet certainly tired of it.  He would wait for her to ask:
which of it?  Which of it is true; which of it is made-up?  Then he would say to her that it didn't matter: she should just tell him what she didn't believe.  Then he could change that part.
     "When you're through playing around," she said, "I'd like to know that
really happened."
     "Well, really," said Kemp, "the dog was a beagle."
     "A beagle!"
     "Well, actually, a schnauzer.  He was tied up in the alley all day, but not to an Army truck."
     "To a Volkswagen?" Janet guessed.
     "To a garbage sled," Kemp said.  "The sled was used to pull the garbage cans out to the sidewalk in the winter.  But of course the schnauzer was too small and weak to pull it, at any time of the year."
     "And the cafe owner?" Janet asked.  "He was
not in the war?"
     "
She," Kemp said.  "She was a widow."
     "Her husband had been killed in the war?" Janet guessed.
     "She was a
young widow," Kemp said.  "Her husband had been killed crossing the street.  She was very attached to the dog, which her husband had given her for their first anniversary.  But her new landlady would not allow dogs in her apartment, so the widow set the dog loose in the cafe each night.
     "It was a spooky, empty space and the dog was very nervous in there; in fact, he crapped all night long.  People would stop and peer in the window and laugh at all the messes the dog made.  This laughter made the dog more nervous, so he crapped more.  In the morning, the widow came early and cleaned up the messes and spanked the dog with a newspaper and dragged him, cowering, out into the alley, where he was tied up to the garbage sled all day."
     "And there was no cat?" Janet asked.
     "Oh, there were lots of cats," Kemp said.  "They came into the alley because of the garbage cans for the cafe.  But the dog was terrified of cats, and whenever there was a cat in the alley raiding the garbage cans, the dog crawled under the garbage sled and hid there until the cat was gone."
     "My God," said Janet.  "So there was no teasing either?"
Originally appeared in Esquire, June, 1977, Vol. 87, page 108-109. Copyright: John Irving.