In my dream, I had just entered the sitting room of my house. It was still several hours before dawn, but music was quietly playing: I heard the last lines and fading chords of Schubert’s “Der Leiermann,” in the recent recording by Jonas Kaufmann, before silence fell. I was confused at first, but I soon spied my dog, Roland, sitting on the carpet in front of the large bay-window seat, staring out into the night. A soft, pure lunar light, shredded by the pine branches outside the glass into long glistening ribbons of pale silvery blue, poured gently into the room and over his mottled fur of white, brindled brown, and cobalt gray, and for a few moments it almost seemed as if he were himself little more than a pattern of shadows and moonlight. The illusion vanished, however, when he turned his head and held me for an instant in the cool gleam of his eyes, before returning his gaze to the window. “I’m sorry,” he said in that warmly resonant voice of his (so hauntingly similar to Laurence Harvey’s). “Did the singing rouse you? I thought I had the volume down low enough to disturb no one.”
“I don’t think it woke me,” I said. “I really can’t recall.”
“I suppose it’s inconsiderate of me,” he said. “It’s just that I have many things on my mind, and it’s only during these hours that I can get time to myself, just to think about things. During the day, my time is so taken up with domestic responsibilitiesplaying those games of fetch you all love so, letting you scratch my stomach, and so on. In these watches after midnight, though, I can reflect on things.”
A memory began to rise to the surface of my thoughts. “Yes,” I said, “weren’t you going . . . yes, weren’t you going to Norway with my brother?”
“Oh, I changed my plans. I really can’t leave Mama”he meant my wife“all alone with you lot. I’ll visit your brother in the summer, with your mother. That’s not what I was thinking about now.” He sighed. “Do you like that recording?”
“It is, isn’t it? I’m so used to the Winterreise being sung by a baritone, by Fischer-Dieskau especially, and that dark ghostly timbre his voice had; but here’s this marvelous tenor singing it with every bit as much pathos and power and mystery . . . It’s a piece that never seems to loosen its grip on me. Now that I’m four and my ears are more mature, and my heart wiser, it’s more entrancing than ever. I mean, how did Schubert do it, the poor perishing ape? Such ineffable tenderness, such dulcet resignation, so much . . . leave-taking. That last Lied in particular. No other composer ever produced that exquisite combination of shattering melancholy and whimsical buoyancy. What to call it? Merry sorrow? No. Tragic jauntiness? No, that’s awful.” He shook his head. “It’s unbearable but beautiful, whatever it issweet nostalgia, under the shadow of death’s wings. You just know that when he wrote those songs he could hear the angel drawing near. But that’s how it often is. We frequently know . . . more than we know . . . anticipate more . . . Like those wonderful elephants.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “you’ve lost me.”
Roland turned and then rose and trotted over to me, wagging his tail. “I’d be happy to explain. But, first, do you happen to have any of those lovely bacon treats about you? I could do with a little something just now.”
I brought three treats from the pantry, sat in the window seat, and tossed them to him one after another. He devoured them quickly (and a little noisily, to be honest), then sniffed and tentatively licked my fingertips, then rolled onto his back so that I could rub his stomach, and finally stretched, turned over, and sat up again.
“Thanks,” he said. “One gets peckish. As for the elephants . . . well, there aremany delightful stories about those magnificent creatures, about their intelligence and sensitivity, their capacity for devotion and grief, and so on. But I was thinking of the day that Lawrence Anthonyyou know, the ‘elephant whisperer’died in 2012 at his house on that huge South African game preserve that’s more than a day’s journey in size, and the herds of rogue elephants he had rescued and tended all arrived within a couple of hours to pay their respects . . . to mourn, I suppose. I think I read about that in one of your old New Atlantis issues. Amazing. They’d been away for well more than a year, and then there they were. How did they know? What summoned them across all that wilderness, so they could intone their subsonic threnodies?” He shook his head wonderingly. “How do souls reach out across the limits of time and space? There’s just no end to the mysteries of spiritual beings.” He paused, almost with a start, and looked into my eyes with an expression of faint suspicion. “You don’t have any sympathies for the degenerate views of those fellows that deny that elephants are spiritual beings, with immortal souls, do you? Like traditionalist Thomists and whatnot?”
The question alarmed me. “Oh, absolutely not,” I said emphatically.
“And . . . and . . .” His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed. “And dogs?”
“Look,” I said, trying not to take offense, “you’ve known me all your life. You must know that I believe all conscious beings possess spiritual natures and have spiritual destinies, and that beasts partake of rational spirit. I’ll admit”I shrugged“I sometimes have my doubts about certain kinds of Thomists. I mean, I’ve known a few who, if they have souls, keep them well hidden. But that’s the exception that proves the rule.”
His features relaxed. “I’m sorry. A silly question, really. Mind you, these days you have philosophers out there who deny that anyone at allcanine, anthropine, or lower on the scale of naturehas rational consciousness. We’re all just organic machines to them. And as for extraordinary acts of consciousness, like those elephants . . . well, they just deny they ever occur. And this means they have to pretend that vast regions of universally attested experience are just delusions and fabrications.”
“You knowfatidic dreams, knowledge of remote events, that sort of thing.”
“Oh,” I said uncertainly, “you mean the paranormal?”
Roland winced slightly. “I don’t care for that word. But, well . . . I mean, ordinary consciousness isn’t really reducible to purely physical causes, of course, but you know how these materialist savages, with all their abominable superstitions, can convince themselves it is. But what if there really are phenomena of mind that defy mechanistic paradigms completely? That violate locality, separability, causal contiguity . . . ? I mean, well, look: Have you ever dreamed something in precise detail before it happened, something you could not have predicted?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And known others who had the same experience?”
“Yes. My father had some very vivid dreams like that.”
Roland sighed and momentarily turned his eyes back to the moonlight beyond the window. “I miss your father. He was so kind.”
Words would not come, so I simply nodded my head.
Roland looked at me again. “Have you ever suddenly known of something happening far away, something that you also could not have predicted?”
“On three occasions, definitely,” I said. “All three were dreadful.”
“Well, there you have it,” said Roland. “I could go on, too. But the point is, haven’t most of us had those experiences? Or at least known others who haveother people we trust? Aren’t there enough examples of these moments when the walls of material nature become like transparent glasswhen a peregrine breeze momentarily lifts the veil aside and grants us a glimpse of what we shouldn’t be able to see if we were just biochemical machinesto qualify as established data? To merit investigation? Or just curiosity?”
“Oh, you know,” I said, “there’s so-called ‘paranormal’ research, but I doubt it’s very fruitful. If nothing else, these things are so episodic, and the causal logic is impossible to make sense of . . .”
Roland yawned loudly and scratched his right ear with his hind paw. “Balderdash. Anyway, I’m not talking about laboratory research, really. I just mean that scientists and philosophers who want to make sense of consciousness aren’t going to do the subject much justice if they simply rule out any evidence that doesn’t fit into a machine picture of the mind. The problem isn’t method, but metaphysics. Dogmatic materialism makes them look for only mechanical causes, and to pretend that these other events never occur. It’s all just fanaticism . . . fundamentalism. But, again, even ordinary mental events should make them surrender their prejudicesintentionality is every bit as fabulous and uncanny as telepathybut they can’t. I don’t understand it. Dogs aren’t like that. We’re not . . .” He paused and laughed quietly. “We’re not dogmatic. Sorry about that. Your father, with his taste for horrid puns, would have liked that.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
Roland closed his eyes and lifted his nose, as if drawing in the moonlight as a fragrance. Then he looked at me and smiled. “I really do miss your father.”
“So do I,” I said, as the dream faded or changed (I cannot recall which). ??