THE PHILOSOPHY OF HORATIO:
Copyright and art by Cecily Winter Dec. 2019
“Anything is possible,” Hamlet used to say as he undertook impossible projects like herding cats along high-wires, reciting the alphabet backwards, or braiding Ophelia’s hair with thyme.
Ophelia remembered things: she remembered to knit Horatio a glass suit for keeping him dry and while he played fetch in a downpour or swam in a river.
Ophelia had never fetched the ball nor ventured beyond the garden. That was Horatio’s job.
He was a black dog with pointy ears and an exceedingly mobile tail. He only paid attention to humans when food was involved or Hamlet or Ophelia picked up a tennis ball.
They always tossed it impossibly far … into the adjoining yard or across the river.
And once, Hamlet lobbed it far over the clouds to the Dog Star.
Horatio’s ears stretched into wings under his glass helmet as he flew to fetch it back.
Hamlet and Ophelia expected Horatio to come home with the ball.
They were disappointed when he didn’t.
A black hole had swallowed the ball and then swallowed Horatio too.
Horatio hadn’t expected to be trapped in a black hole, but it was quite easy to retrieve a ball where time stood still.
Bored, he streamlined his tail into a propeller that whisked him out of the black hole and into the future.
To prevent burning up in the fire, he whizzed at top speed around the Dog Star, where all good dogs go to heavenly fetch fields. Shortly, he landed safely on a planet where he unexpectedly bounced on his glass behind.
A humanoid with a breathing apparatus was undertaking the impossible project of making barrels of trash disappear.
The ball fell out of the chin-door of Horatio’s space helmet.
He said, “Would you please throw my ball into the clouds after your next barrel? I must go home now or my people will believe a tragedy has befallen me.”
The humanoid knew that speaking dogs were impossible, but he threw the ball because Horatio asked so politely.
Horatio flew after the ball.
As he was about to snap his jaws shut around the ball, it was blown off course by a hurtling meteor.
He jived and jittered until he caught up with the ball, but his helmet had filled with interstellar wind.
When it escaped … Splash!
Horatio dropped into a water-covered planet.
He kept a tight grip on the ball as he dog-paddled to a seaweed-coated mermaid perched on a rock.
He couldn’t let go of the ball in case it drowned and therefore had to speak around it when he asked the mermaid, “Would you please do me the courtesy of tossing my ball high into the clouds?”
She hadn’t expected to understand muffled talk, but she did.
She tossed the ball high.
Horatio sank as water flooded his helmet.
He didn’t expect to be submerged, but his propeller tail flicked him up like he was jet-propelled.
About to snap his jaws around the ball, a giant claw snatched it and dropped it into a huge floating vat of interstellar trash.
Horatio dove in and cried, “Oomph.”
Ophelia’s spacesuit knitting lacked any straw padding and, not unexpectedly, Horatio learned that meteor fragments and satellite debris could be hard though not sharp enough to crack his glass suit.
To the mechanical robot with one giant claw, Horatio said, “Will you please throw my ball into the clouds? I must go home.”
The robot always expected surprises in space and said, “There are no clouds here, but I can toss your ball into orbit around the next planet we come to.”
Kindness from a robot was unexpected, and Horatio thanked it heartily.
He was hungry after his long bout of fetching and asked, “May I examine the source of that delicious smell emanating from the depths of the vat?”
The robot went out on a limb and said, “Help yourself.”
Horatio gorged. The longer trash floated through space, the tastier it became.
Cosmic-trash pick-up was dauntingly slow, and it wasn’t easy to exercise in a vat. Horatio put on a few pounds but they were useful padding around his bones and skull, which still fit quite neatly inside his glass suit.
Finally, a planet with a single moon hove into view.
The robot said, “From the rim of the vat, you must leap into the planet’s orbit.”
As heavy as he was, Horatio wasn’t sure he could leap anywhere but he could certainly fall. He grabbed his ball, which had become quite delicious with mold, and prepared for lift off.
The giant claw yanked him out of the vat.
He let the planet’s gravity suck him down.
He slid down a handy moonbeam and landed head first in his own backyard amid a pile of shattered glass.
The broken glass was not unexpected. What was unexpected was how it had so brilliantly protected Horatio during his very long and arduous journey.
Hamlet and Ophelia sat on the back doorstep. They had turned into old people with wrinkly cheeks crumpled under their fists as if they contemplated the meaning of being or not being without Horatio. Which was quite a puzzle.
Indeed, Hamlet said, “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable are the uses of this world without our canine companion.”
Horatio gave a muffled bark. He dropped the ball and barked again.
Hamlet rose to his feet. “Where have you been these long and dreary years?”
“I flew through the solar system. I had a lot of help,” he said, “but now I’m tired of fetching so I’ll bury my ball in the herb garden if that’s alright.”
“Of course,” Ophelia said. “Remember that rosemary is for remembrance when you want to play interstellar fetch again.”
Horatio dug a hole under the rosemary and buried his ball deep. Another flight through space was the last thing on his mind now his space helmet had shattered.
He shook off the last splinters of glass and the moonbeams glommed to his fur and said, Tell me, Hamlet, how vast and busy is the sky above our heads.”
Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Horatio had never considered his personal philosophy, but when Hamlet pressed him to speak, he said, “Happiness is a ball lobbed high and far with pizza at the end for snacking.”
“Pizza is not yet invented,” Hamlet said severely.
“Shall I knit you one?” Ophelia asked.
Not unexpectedly, Horatio thought he might ease up on pizza for a few days and settled for a long snooze amid the earth-bound herbs.