Henry C. Krempels
Henry C. Krempels has worked as a writer, director and actor in New York, London and Berlin. He is founder and Artistic Director of Anima Theatre Company whose work in focussed on experimental theatre and new writing. His recent credits include: Blue Departed (VAULT/The Bush), Where We Are (Arcola), The Sleeper (Tour), No Show (Arcola), Place to Be (The Rosemary Branch) and Thought to Flesh (VAULT). His prose writing and photography has appeared in The Observer, VICE Magazine, The Guardian, The New York Observer and Newsweek amongst others. Henry returns to Santa Maddalena, having been assistant to Beatrice in 2014/15.
(AFTER GEORGE SAUNDERS)
Ok. Have you started? Yes. You’re typing this? Yes and this as well. Good boy. Punto a capo.
I don’t know who came up with the numbers. Probably one of my ancestors. One of the wise old flames who, although unrelated to me by blood, begins the line stretching backwards hundreds of years. As with a lot of other familial dynasties, “le gente è curiosa” and I can tell you, some of us are rather persuadable too. We have, over time, needed to be strict and inward because otherwise, should the right kind of pear find its way into the right kind of mouth, well, who knows what this family tree might be growing.
What can I say? We have history. The people come and go; they leave with suitcases heavier than when they arrived, their heads emptier (or fuller depending on you perspective). And we stay. Coraggio. We’re the guardians of good ideas, the enemies of sloppiness. Secretly—in fact, it’s not a secret at all, I tell it to anyone who will listen—I long for the days when it was just Mumma and Pappa and some other much more temporary guests than the ones we have now. I was never around for that. Dog Five told me about them. She has read the books. She was the story bearer for the generations, passed to her by her mother and her mother by hers and so on.
But the truth is, I find it hard to get excited about anyone except the dogs that got to go on the private jet with Valentino. Why can’t we get those guys here? Surely they need something to do now.
Well, anyway, I’m Dog One. I’m not the only Dog One who has ever existed but I am Dog One now. And that’s all that matters. We use these ranking numbers only between ourselves and they get decided by us. Not the people. The only thing the people decide, one person actually, is who is Dog One. And, as mentioned above, it’s me.
Dog One, upon arrival, is carried around the house. She travels, swathed in cashmere, through the olive grove with roses wrapped around the trees, to the tall medieval stone house, then down to the tombs and past the big water bowl where the people take a bath sometimes when it’s hot. (God knows why.) I think the first thing you should to know about the Dog One position is that Dog One gets carried wherever Dog One likes. On acquiring Dog One status, one really doesn’t need to use one’s legs very often. Which is good in my case because my legs, well, they aren’t what they used to be.
I’m not old. Obviously I’m not going to tell you how old I am, because, well, manners, but also I don’t keep count. Another benefit of being Dog One is you don’t need to count very often either. Only up to One. The people, they count for you. They count the clock for you. They count the spoons of food for you. They count the little white pastilles that go in your food for you. They count the people at the table and make sure each one of them has two glasses, two forks, two knives, one spoon and two plates. They count the fruit. They count their words. They count – oh dio mio, counting is exhausting, isn’t it?
So, anyway, you’re probably wondering what Dog One is doing writing. Good, that means you’re at least conscious and have a concept of opposable thumbs. You’re probably also wondering why I write so perfectly. I do, don’t I? Wrong. Of course I don’t. English is a hobby. As is Italian. As is French. I speak Dog most of the time but most of the people at the house speak English. So I thought, why not write this in English? A chance to flex a few muscles. Dust down the old Queen’s. But, do you know the real reason why I don’t write perfectly in English? It’s because I choose not to. I could if I wanted to. But, where’s the fun in that? And as I heard the people say one time and have never forgotten since, if you speak your second language perfectly, no-one will think you’re a native. Don’t tell me I’m not passing for a native. I am.
So. People, huh? Amirite?
What you should know about people is that they all look the same from down here. They all have two legs on the floor and two legs in the air. They all (well, most) only have hair on their head. They all (well, most) like to rub their air-legs on my belly. Sometimes they’ll use their air-legs to pick me up. And sometimes they’ll use their air-legs to pick me up, take me outside and squeeze my little belly until I pee. I humour them. They seem to like it. I guess that’s another benefit of being Dog One. You don’t need to pee yourself.
People look the same, it’s true, but they all smell different. Not only do they all smell different, they all smell different to all of us dogs too. No dog can agree on what one person smells like. Sometimes we (Dogs One to Five) will gather round and discuss a particular scent that has just walked through the door. We collect at the scent, wagging and wafting and barking out nouns, adjectives, similes and occasional abstractions. A whiff of honey. Some acid on the nose. Citrus. Fennel. Noisettes. A ghost at a banquet.
Just less than one year ago, which is something that you might understand as five weeks (ok, that’s the last time I’m counting because otherwise I’ll need to lie down) there was a person who came through the door and he smelled a little different to the others. In fact, I remembered that smell from somewhere. I had the feeling that that smell had squeezed my belly once until I peed. But that smell seemed, I don’t know, fresh? Like clean cut grass. Or a child’s unworn wellington boots. And so I did a quick google and found out, yeah, he’s fresh. He could learn a thing or two (oops, I counted).
So that night, before I got taken upstairs to bed—oh, this may be the best thing about being Dog One, you get to sleep at the top of the house, in a human bed—I said to Dog Two, This one needs to learn a thing or two. Don’t you think, Two? Dog Two is a Retired Truffle Dog so he knows what it takes to learn a thing or two and he nodded, yawned and lay back down next to Dog Three (his girlfriend).
Glad you agree Dog Two, I said, sarcastically. And I went over to the food table where Fresh Smell was speaking in bad Italian (and not, may I add, in the refined way.) I think, I say later to Dog Two as I’m being carried upstairs to bed, I better be the one to teach him.
So here I am. Teaching him. I am sat in the long day-bed in his room with the large mahogany table and white plastered stone walls, where he seems to spend all day drinking coffee and walking around aimlessly, mumbling. He is sat in front of the shiny book where his fingers go up and down. It’s a laptop, he says, just now. And then, it was probably invented by the lapdog. And he smiles.
I roll my eyes.
I’m not a lapdog, I tell him, just in case that was the joke. I’m a pug. And that is lesson one.
The second lesson, I say before he can jump in with another attempt at a pun, is don’t ever eat your pasta with a knife. Let’s get that out the way. I don’t know if you ever have done that but please, for the love of gosh, do not. Never. I will pee on you trousers if I ever see you do it and I will not stop until you put the knife down. Don’t make me pee by myself Freshman.
Lesson three, I say, raising my eyebrow and cocking my head. Are you still taking my dictation?
Yes, he says politely.
Good, I say. Lesson three is: always take my dictation. And lesson three point five is please stop making me use adverbs.
Ok, let’s get down to it, I say, adverb-less-ly. Why are you here, Giovanotto?
I’m writing a play, he says and types that into the lapdog (I only say this to show him what funny sounds like).
Oh, I suppose you think you’re some kind of Pirandello, I say. Let me guess, you’ve got a few characters, but, what? They need some kind of an author?
Actually, he says, I’ve got a plot that’s in need of some characters, and then he inexplicably carries on talking. Basically, he mumbles, I had this idea. It was sort of born out of this book. Have you read Cannet-
(Henry, here. The dog has just fallen asleep. In keeping with lesson three I should, of course, continue to dictate but I do not know what language she is snoring in and I would not like to get that wrong so early into my education. I will adjourn until next session.)
Good job, I tell him next session. Well balanced. But in the interests of our audience, please refrain from talking explicitly about your play in future. Save it for the page. Better, save it for the stage. That can be lesson four.
Five!, I bark. Senti. Listen. Ecoute. Did you type the accent?
What accent?, he says.
Ugh. Eye roll emoji.
Listening (and accents) are important. I know you’re listening now but I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to believe that I was the only one you need to listen to. Listen to others. The older ones especially but also the freshmen too. They probably know much more than you and, frankly, they’re a lot wittier. But even if they don’t know more than you (they do) you can still learn. Always learn. The one who smells of Rome is very good at telling stories. Start with him. Write it all down. Take their advice, whatever you can get. What are you waiting for? Go. Go. Go.
It’s later on now. An afternoon session, after I get put outside to pee and we’re standing together. Fresh is actually the one who is holding my belly tight (a bit too tight FYI) and we’re chatting. Dog Four comes up, sniffs at us, disappears and then reappears with a stone in her mouth. I watch as Fresh gleefully lobs the stone through the courtyard and in doing so relieves his uncomfortable grip on my bladder. Just for a moment.
Before we get onto Six, I say, I want to ask you something. What’s your deal with Dog Four?
What deal? I haven’t got a deal, he says in an unconvincing Italian accent.
You know what, let’s forget this whole thing. It’s obviously not working.
Wait, he says, I’m listening. What’s my deal?
My heart does a tiny palpitation and my bottom does a leak. Maybe that blonde straw hair of his isn’t just a facade after all?
I’m in love, he tells me before I’m done twirling on the spot.
Of course you are.
The way that she leaps for the ball. The way she drops it two metres away from you and so you put your arm out feigning not being able to reach it and she picks it up, shunts her nose forward and rolls it onto your toes. I don’t know. It’s love.
Now I know where I know you from, I say. You wrote a poem about her didn’t you? Gesù. You’re in deep. Ok, lesson six is about love but in order to talk about it I need you to put the lapdog to one side and listen to me properly. No notes.
Ok, he says.
Right, love is-
Welcome back, reader. I have good news. We talked for hours. All night in fact. We went through lessons six to sixteen and he didn’t type any of it up. Of course I’m not mad (though I am sorry for you, dear reader, that you did not get to hear it but also not sorry enough to repeat myself) because I told him not to and he listened. He took my advice.
Later, some other people came and joined the conversation. I watched and barked occasionally to keep up appearances. A little grate of my toe nail on his shin here and there. Just at the moments he looked like he might be lagging. They spoke about non-fiction as a form (well, you’ve got to start somewhere) about loss, and longing and we listened to a story about a Fox and he said, That’s a smart idea, I should do that.
I was so proud I could have peed.
So I did.
Five weeks later and I’m watching him meditate from my bathroom window. He goes outside to play with Dog Four, but it’s different. He’s let her go. He’s free. Unattached. Then I realise, I can’t remember the last time his knife left the table. Accidenti! Fresh has nearly gone a whole paragraph without any adverbs. You know what, if his Italian improves, I might tell Mumma to let him back.