We gave him the name because the day we brought him home and left the living room for a minute — and I mean a minute — we came back in to find muddy paw prints on the ceiling and black marble doe eyes of innocent confusion on our fella’s face.
"There must be a reasonable explanation for this."
Anybody who has ever said those words, firstly, has been wrong, and secondly, clearly does not have access to a rich inner life. Speculation is far more exciting than truth. Imagine that the dog, momentarily, disobeyed gravity. Or better yet, imagine that ghosts finally learned the secrets of corporeality; now, they know how to touch things, pick things up. And imagine that their first victim was our labradoodle, who otherwise couldn’t have built up the speed necessary to hamster wheel himself to the ceiling.
The name ‘Spiderman’ felt like a nice nod to what had happened, but the truth of the matter was — no matter how you sliced, diced, or puréed it — we still didn’t know. In our manicured suburbia, we did not know.
Crime went down in our neighborhood after that day. Memories of lives that may or may not have been our own came flooding through us at breakfast time. One moment we’d be removing mango fruit from around a mango stone; the next moment we were playing fiddles and mandolins on a porch with the feeling of a hot breath somewhere near our necks.
And, listen: we know science. We know that correlation does not mean causation. We even know that all inductive reasoning is flawed. We are well informed. We have textbooks in our bookshelves, textbooks we wrote ourselves and four dusty, near-forgotten science-fair trophies between us for particularly well-made papier-mâché volcanos. We are aware, painfully aware, that any theory surrounding this dog is slated to be taken apart by the knives and scalpels of logicians and empiricists. Fine. We admit that nobody was there to witness the event. If a tree falls in a forest, yadda yadda. If a dog flies in a living room and no one’s there to see it, does it create small ripples in spacetime which, coalescing, becomes a ten-foot wave, threatening to dissolve the veil of complacency with which we perceive our world? Even the staunchest of skeptics must concede that this is a possibility.
We are calculating conditional probabilities with deterministic nonperiodic flow as our guide. (We know science.) But we don’t know where this emerging data set ends. As Edward Lorenz, Henri Poincaré, and Hugh Everett proved, the details don’t just matter, but are of consequence. Where we lacked agency, we were quick to try and reclaim it, creating backlogs upon backlogs and detailing, to the best of our memories, our every moment with Spiderman. In short: we did what academics do.
We searched for Spidey’s adoption papers beneath piles of uncorrected student papers. We realized that we had purchased so many reading glasses from CVS that — if we were so inclined — we could create a codex out of them. Thrilled at this discovery, that we could still pull off this kind of game after so many years together, we took a moment in the middle of the search to dance to Bobby Womack’s cover of “Fly Me To The Moon.” Our dancing was only interrupted when Spidey came into the room, barked once, and left again. We stopped, went to the door, the trumpet hits of the song fading into the background, and stood behind our boy to see what he was looking at — a book half-buried in the yard ringfenced by all of our Montblanc Heritage Rouge & Noir fountain pens.
Hand in hand, we went into the yard and gently pulled the book up. Spidey stood at a distance, his tail wagging. We dusted the dirt off the cover and — sans glasses — leaned in close.
What I Want, the title read. By Spiderman.
Every page of the book was empty, but for a piece of letter paper meticulously placed at the half-way mark, sticking out like a tongue. We fished it up, held it between us.
Here was something, we cried. Here was something wonderful, ready and waiting for us: we could analyze a text. Should we read it first? One of us asked. Spiderman barked. But don’t you want to know what it means? said the other. Why read when you can analyze? Don’t you want to see exactly how we’re the bringers of good fortune, though? The facilitators of almost-maybe-perhaps magic?
It did not surprise us that a dog should write so beautifully. At this point, all bets were off; the miraculous had become the norm. Even Spiderman’s penmanship was brilliant. It was cursive, and perfectly slanted. So magnificent was this script that we damn near forgot to read it. Finally, though, we did, adjusting our spectacles and taking turns.
To the venerated Dr. Longhurst-Pine, and Dr. Longhurst-Pine,
I write to you with a sense of desperation, and a deep faith in your empathy and understanding, which, I believe, will compel you to believe me when I say that I must leave your wonderful home.
You see, I have been trapped, imprisoned in the body of this simple canine. I am sure that you have suspected as such. Whether the product of deliberate sabotage, or an accident of an experiment gone wrong, I do not know. However, I have been gathering materials, reading, researching. I believe that I am ready, now, to complete my transformation. You may notice that there are two items were briefly missing from your home:
- “The Sun” from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck
- Tapioca flour
With these items, which I most unfortunately had to steal from you, I have become able to set in motion the process which will free myself, and to finish my transfiguration. I needed these things, which, of course, must seem so trivial to distinguished individuals like you, to complete the Twelve Stage Ritual of Divine and Terrible Sacrifices and also Two Additional Stages of Moonstone Worship. I cannot say much more about these practices, but I assure you that they are simply the due process for beings such as myself.
I have bought you a new deck, and more flour. There was no Tapioca flour at the Wegmans yesterday, so I got potato starch instead. You’ll find that on the counter.
I am sorry for stealing. Know that it was never my intention to hurt you. I have been ever-grateful for your kind treatment of me, and apologise that my leaving would necessarily lead to a change in your lifestyles, of which I have become a part. Know that I have enjoyed the time we spent together, and that I am sorry for hypnotizing you whenever I wanted to listen to Bluegrass or eat the flesh of a mango.
For my deception, I am terribly remorseful. For what it’s worth, I am also willing to procure you a new dog. Just think about the dog you want. Think really really hard about it. I am slowly regaining my power. Soon, I will be able to make your dream dog appear. Only if you want it, though.
We stared at the letter for a moment and passed it back and forth between us in silence. Neighbors drove by. Some waved. We waved back. The dog was nowhere in sight.
A newly empty nest did not mean that our faith in the wondrous was gone. We were sure of that.
Still, there remained a strange hollowed-out feeling between the two of us. Who were we now?
Perhaps Spiderman had been an avatar of wonderment proper, something primordial and Darwinian; with our dog, our hypnotist, our tap-dancer, our friend, we lived so completely without disbelief that we became conduits for awe, for magic.
As we walked back into our house, the letter slipped through our fingers and began to move down the lawn like a clunky paper airplane. It disappeared somewhere into the hedges. The book we found it in fluttered away too, the covers acting as big butterfly wings. Our bungalow hung quiet and beige. And, somehow, we still believed. We believed in Spiderman, even though he was gone, and even though our world had dulled since his exit.
If Spiderman’s leaving cracked the figurative eggs we were waiting to see hatch — were convinced were going to become some beautiful wonder-bird, or flock of wonder-birds — then it was up to us to collect the detritus and begin piecing everything together again, one thing at a time. The smell of freshly brewed coffee. The roiling, fragrant taste of obscenely expensive jam. Warm slippers on a cold floor. The way the smell of a mint or oregano leaf can rub off so easily onto the fingers of your hand. The small things that — at the end of the day — we could still call our own.