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Authors: Eva Hornung

Dog Boy (25 page)

BOOK: Dog Boy
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It was clear that he had lived in darkness a lot of the time. His sensory and primitive abilities were skewed beyond the range of any tests on children. His hearing and sense of smell were exceptional. Very exciting. But…
Dmitry stopped chewing his pen. What if? What if they were on the brink of some breakthrough, a chink in the theories and one that, via anomaly, showed, after all, that Vygotsky was right! The Psychology of Play, but beyond what Vygotsky and Leont’ev postulated. What a startling find—the subject at play, so unlike any deprived child.
He was compulsively constructing a non-canine zone of proximal development!
This would imply…God!—being human was elemental!
Dmitry could not contain himself. He leapt up and strode back to his office to start writing the test results up and to enter in a separate file some of his thoughts. The words ran through his head, thoughts tumbling, jostling for space. He scrawled some bold lines onto foolscap.
Age impossible to determine—teeth affected by malnutrition and individual variation—not even a wrist x-ray analysis would get a precise result on a child this young. Comparative stats unhelpful in any case. But results astonishing nonetheless: subject appeared to score highly on psychoneurological tests. The neurological tests—normal function, in some brain areas hypernormal. Brain function utterly unlike that of a stimulation-deprived child…
He wrote his observations on play, and then wrote the implication. His handwriting sprawled larger than life across the page, marking this possible breakthrough, this unexpected chink in the confusion of neuropsychology. He’d have to be careful to control his tone. He chewed his pen again and reread his last paragraph. He crossed out two
astonishing
s and one
astounded
. Let them gasp: all the more effective if he stayed calm.
The psych tests were a problem—hard to administer and arguably useless. Compromised by the subject’s deficiencies: fine motor skills, attachment to people, language. On the other hand, the adaptability the boy showed in play was at the
very least
unusual, possibly unprecedented. The circumstances that had moulded this subject were also perhaps unprecedented, at least in this era. He knew other scientists might dispute this and he was uncomfortable with how anomalous it would all look in the test scores. Some might even suggest that all they were seeing in this individual subject were the extremes of autism.
But the
play
—sensorimotor, representation and symbolic—it all ruled out autism. Absolutely ruled it out. Dmitry scribbled a note at the top of the first page of his foolscap pad:
This subject presents as a child who, at the outset of his short life, had nothing wrong with him and most likely had above average intelligence.
The subject scored lowest in socialisation. He identified other children in the centre as threatening on sight, even when seen from behind glass or at a distance. He didn’t differentiate between younger and older children; they all elicited bared teeth, a low growl and snarls. Yet, despite this hostility, the subject had become trusting and affectionate. This was also inexplicable.
In some ways the prognosis seemed good, and the opportunity for research was one in a million. A trillion.
Dmitry stared out of the window of his office, not noticing the children playing in the sunlight in the gardens. He was trying to imagine the boy’s life. Darkness. A den. Many dogs. He fingered the smooth porcelain of his favourite coffee mug. Scratches and wounds from play-fighting with puppies and other dogs. Damp and freezing cold, except up close to dog bodies. Some alpha bitch guarding him and providing for him. A lot of rough affectionate touch. A blind world, rich in sound, touch, smell. That was the key: no sensory deprivation, so crippling and so familiar in the internat child, so visible in the little loners hunched out there to one side of the world, rocking back and forth.
How had this boy learned to play with toys? Was this simply the personality growth and flexibility conferred by a sensually rich environment? Gait, sounds, hearing, smell, and habits all suggested a subject enculturated in the life of dogs. Sighted multiple times with dogs and caught in the company of two dogs, which had initially tried to defend him from the militzia. Better collect the data of public sightings from the militzia before it was lost. Would go to proof. Why had he appeared this spring? Of course—he would have been denbound for winter. Before that, perhaps too young. He
had
to be a genuine feral child—and, Dmitry couldn’t help thinking, a godsend for the centre. The Kremlin couldn’t withdraw funding with the sort of attention this would attract.
Dmitry stared at the scene on his mug, the spring flowers, the silent singing birds, the wolf cub and the faun. So, how had the boy ended up partly clothed? Could he have stolen or found clothes and dressed himself? They were miserable rags, shoddy even when new. Could survival intelligence have been sufficient to put observation of humans and physical need together in such action?
The Mayak clock behind him chimed, whirred and cuckooed, and he started. 12.30. But he didn’t move. No speech. Presenting with no apparent human nurture, but unusually able. And clothed. It didn’t make any sense. It could ruin everything.
Clothed. He had to have had a parent or caregiver.
Damn.
Romochka couldn’t stop stroking Puppy’s new hair. It had been an unpleasant surprise to find Puppy shorn, but now he found that his scalp felt lovely. A little like White Sister in summertime but even better. Springy, smooth. Golden, shiny and soap-stinky.
He had entered Puppy’s room warily. It was too bright and smelled sharp and nasty. Puppy’s smell had changed too. He could just pick up a tiny trail of it among all the new smells on Puppy’s body. Puppy had howled and yelped in an excess of delight at the sight and smell of him. Puppy bowled him over when Romochka squatted down, wriggled onto his lap and off again, and then raced around and around him in tight circles, winding his skinny arms around Romochka’s neck, then unwinding them to use them as legs again, unstoppable until Romochka caught the little body in his arms and held him tight. For all the strange smells, it was a relief to hold Puppy again. He had bent his face to Puppy’s neck while the little boy, breathless with happiness, squirmed uncontrollably. He would have begun slow-licking Puppy but he could not shake off the feeling that they were being watched. They explored the room together, looked at themselves in the mirrors, played with the toys. Romochka hunted for the little crack with eyes behind it but could find no telltale draught, no shift in the uniform smells of the room. He couldn’t work out how they were doing it, but he was sure.
Romochka relaxed a little when he saw that Puppy liked the dry man and the elk woman here. He was so free and joyous with them, they couldn’t have done anything to harm him, but still Romochka’s neck hairs prickled. He listened for the tramp of heavy boots and the ripple outside the door that might hint at militzia. He was careful to keep his boy-mask on; he held himself back from sniffing Puppy too much or licking him at all. He used his hands as a boy would and stood up self-consciously, boy-fashion.
Puppy recognised this as a game and played too, pretending to be a dog with a boy, rather than a dog with a dog. He stood up occasionally, being a boy with a boy. He licked Romochka’s hands, eyes shining, then held Romochka’s hand self-consciously in his own, like a little brother with a big brother. He raced around Romochka’s legs. He didn’t even begin games that involved gripping Romochka by the throat or barging into his side to try to push him over and get his belly exposed. Romochka was proud of him, and Puppy felt it.
 
Puppy was curled in his lap asleep, body lax and loose. Now, resting, Romochka wanted to be gone. The charade had been an effort; he felt tired and frazzled, even cross. He felt Puppy’s body with careful hands while Puppy sighed, smiled and stretched in his sleep. He felt like pinching Puppy to make him jump, but the constant feeling that
they
were watching stopped him. He looked around now and then to see whether he could catch them at it, but the room gave nothing away. Puppy was thinner, and seemed small in these new clothes. Had he fitted into Romochka’s lap before, limbs spilling out all over, but centred like this? He couldn’t be sure, but Puppy might be shrinking. He worried about taking this stripped-down hairless Puppy out into the cold.
His throat tightened and he longed for the warmth of the lair, to curl up with Puppy and slip his hands round Puppy’s belly, licking and murmur-growling in his ear. He pushed Puppy off his lap, stood up carefully, opened the door and walked out without looking back. The hair along his neck rose but nothing happened. They didn’t stop him. Not the tall man, nor the elk woman who was his mate. She came up to him, walked him part-way along the corridor, then smiled and said, ‘See you again, Romochka.’ He glowered at her and ran the length of the corridor, down the stairs and out into the pouring rain with her voice ringing on in his ears.
‘You didn’t want him to be human,’ Natalya said, pointing her shashlick at him over the dinner table. Dmitry was speechless. She was wrong, so wrong! He had just wanted Marko to be purely what he was, rather than partially this, slightly that. Everything in his whole life had been partly this, slightly that—and all the rest murky. Natalya herself was the only exception. She licked her fingers, watching him. He felt the blood rush to his face.
‘Well, maybe this explains the clothes.’ Natalya’s voice was light. She was trying to give him the positive side, as she always did. But he felt no better. This bigger boy called the younger one Puppy. Dmitry had cared for a child once whose mother had forced her to sleep outside with the two family dogs. Was this, too, going to turn into some everyday case of parental cruelty? Marko’s spectacular story was tarnished, no matter what. This kid—obviously bomzh—doubtless had a family, along with all the critical threshold survival skills by which street kids were deemed to be past rehabilitation age. He was part of the normal social wreckage: one of a possible five million street kids in Russia outside the sphere of the centre’s business.
He found himself lying in Natalya’s arms on his leather sofa. She put a whisky in his hand. She started talking and he relaxed a little. ‘Let’s feed him at the centre, Dmitry. He’ll appreciate it, and he’ll give us a lot on Marko in return.’
Yes, observing the two together might explain some things and be fruitful for research. But still there was ink in his milk and his half-formed wish was that Romochka would disappear. He sighed. He knew himself. This wish was a fantasy, not a desire. Romochka made him see things he would rather not have seen. Having seen, there was no turning back. Marko belonged with, and therefore to, someone else; and Dmitry had wanted him to himself.
Natalya patted him out of his reverie and slipped out from under him, solicitously replacing herself with two cushions. She scampered off, most likely to the shower and bed.
Dmitry put his feet up on the sofa and sipped at the whisky, thinking back over his day. Out of the blue, an established human relationship. Inescapable. He stroked the taut yellow of the sofa. There was something about good leather: silken, yet earthy. The sofa was his one expensive piece, a modern 8 Marta, cheaper because of a factory defect. Its egg-yolk expanse filled him with an obscure, shy pleasure; as if it, too, marked a mile-stone in his successful life. He sighed again. Romochka and Marko were both abnormal, and this would have to be taken into account in any research. They were going to present in the end as simple aberrants, no frontier at all. Nothing to be learned about mankind in general: merely the usual morass of individual suffering.
BOOK: Dog Boy
4.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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