Bono had shut down America. He had uploaded his face into every computer, every internet fridge, his thick layer of face-skin stretched and held intact only by his trademark glasses. Bono looking at you from your microwave, listening while you talked to the doctor, winking at you from your original Gameboy. Nothing was cool anymore. I was at the dog park when I heard they were bringing back Princess Diana to try and stop it all, a horrible computer version of her to do battle with Bono in the veins of fibre optic cables, running beneath the ocean.
I go to the dog park because my Staffy, Prue, needs to run at least twice a day or she gets a crazed look in her eyes and disappears into my spare room and I’m too scared to find out what she’s done in there.
‘There’s that delicious bitch, Prue’ the other dog owners will mutter, as we arrive, pulling out their own leads in preparation to leave. It’s not that Prue is a violent dog, not like Sapphire, the tooth bristling Maltese Terrier who bites at the inside of dogs’ cheeks and makes big hounds slink to the boundaries of the fence upon seeing her. Prue has a big gap-toothed maw and a pink tongue like a bath mat. She is a brown barrel of affection. She loves to get a human to put their whole fist in her mouth. That is how much she wants to be close to you.
But she also loves other dogs – and other dogs love her. They think she is magic. They think she is delicious. When Prue runs, her stumpy legs and bread loaf body barrelling along with the other dogs, she eventually vomits in an effort to keep up. A simple dumping of her stomach’s entire contents in one efficient gag. When this happens, the other dogs go wild, because they think what Prue has in her stomach is magic dog food and they can’t resist. The other dog owners hate seeing their puppies eat a big pile of Prue’s vomit. The other owners who take their dogs to the grooming parlour on a Tuesday and get wet kisses from their puppies on a Saturday morning.
Prue came to me almost a year ago. I found her in my house one day, a tiny puppy with a pink bow around her neck, sitting in a spreading puddle of urine. A note said ‘Your life sickens me, do something useful for god’s sake, here’s a dog – Dr Sarah Mont Blanc’. Dr Mont Blanc was the counsellor that the Duty Free store I worked at hired to help treat my PTSD. I’d never been to a shrink before. I tried to remember stories about my mother. She grew up in a factory and at home would make thirty sandwiches at the start of each month in a long assembly line, teaching me to eat all the fish and chicken sandwiches first, so I could avoid food poisoning, or at least lessen it. I prepared these stories of my mother thinking I’d have to lie on a leather couch and recount them, but Dr Mont Blanc never asked for them. Instead she would take me for long drives in her car, berating me in a steady Swedish monotone.
Apart from the fact they resent my dog and her edible bile, the other people at the park are wary. They are alternately standoffish or the kind of pleasant that raises the voice an entire octave, like a queen condescending to talk to the small blind child that burns her sheets every morning. The other dog owners can tell I was in the Black Tuesday Sale Riots – I have all the tell-tale scars. Long gauges from fingernails down my face, a dent in my skull from a thrown cash register, intermittent coupon shakes, barcode blindness, Eftpos burns. Instead of making them uncomfortable, I sit under the furthest tree with an old man who never seems to leave the park. His dog, an ancient Westie, looks upon the frantic efforts of his peers with tired, disdainful eyes. The old man’s name is Jeremiah, and he is excellent company because he only grunts hello and goodbye, and says ‘there’s the shark, heh heh heh’ when he sees Prue.
One day Jeremiah was watching the prancing star of the park, a Fox Terrier by the name of Mack. Mack is cute as all hell, and you can’t help but love him. Love him, and hate him at the same time, like cyanide donuts, or the digital spectre of Princess Diana (who is our only hope). Jeremiah watched as Mack jumped into his owner’s arms in a spontaneous outburst of affection, and he turned to me and said ‘There was a fella just like that one on my last ship. Boy that kid could dance, dance and sing and make a compass point north just by wailing at it. Never seen his like on the ocean before, and not since. Of course, he didn’t last long – not for long. Not for long.’
I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying. Jeremiah was covered in scars from the time he was swallowed by a whale. This made me feel comfortable with him, more at ease with my tinnitus, which was the beeping sound of a barcode scanner, echoing sonorously in the distance of my head.
During the Black Tuesday riots, when fear of Cyber-Bono spreading into our airlines meant that Duty Free would be shut down for good, people went mad trying to buy cheap booze and perfumes and electronic goods. Thousands died in a day. I’d watched in frozen horror as a woman tried to carry seventy three bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label, and her spine slowly bent backwards under the weight, until it snapped with the sound of a hard shoe stepping on a soft biscuit. My diet is now soups and mashes – anything without a crackle. I also have a strong aversion to people with prominent spines, but I feel like it’s something I’m working through.
I was reluctant to tell Dr Mont Blanc about Jeremiah and his troubling sea-stories. I don’t really socialise with anybody anymore and the subject of her rants is often concerned with ‘how much of a fucking annoying dick you are because you don’t make jokes or talk about relevant life experiences which relate to something that someone else is talking about, oh my god’. In order to combat this, she drove me to a party one night against my wishes. It was a seventies-style key party, and she yelled to the room ‘Just ignore this guy, he’s just here to watch’ and then told her husband to ‘dream a little bigger this time, don’t go for the obvious keys, fuck you’re making me look bad’. She was annoyed but understanding when someone snapped a cracker while going for an unrealistic amount of salsa. It sent me into immediate seizures and I knocked over the fondue pot.
‘I should have realised this dump would have crackers,’ she snarled.
One day, at the park a woman with two blinding white Malamuts wished me a good morning. I ignored her spine, the flimsy bone-hose that kept her politely smiling face wobbling on top of her feet. I wished her a good morning back. After a few moments of silence, she tentatively touched my arm, which had been shattered in two places by huge bulk bottles of Ralph Lauren perfume.
‘I just wanted to say thank you for what you did on Black Tuesday, you’re a hero.’ I shook my head, not because I’m modest but because while all this was happening, while fathers knifed their own children for nougat, while mothers called lightning from the sky for more shopping trolleys, all I did was stay at my register, scanning blindly. The real heroes were on computer terminals, listening to U2 songs until their ears bled, trying to find a way to halt the inevitable flood of Bono.
‘Do you think our Unholy Princess Diana will bring back the Duty Free?’ asked the woman hopefully.
‘Yes’ I whispered, blinking back tears. Prue vomited at my feet, and the other dogs piled in, ruthless and desperate and happy.