31 Days of Stories 2011, Day 6: “An Ideal Companion” by Michael Christie

May 6, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

From The Beggar’s Garden

The stories in Michael Christie’s debut collection are about loneliness, and the lengths to which human beings will go to forestall or combat it. The protagonist of “An Ideal Companion,” Dan, is a Web designer living alone in Vancouver. He accepts a commission to design a website for a deli that sells organic food for dogs, and as a result of this work, decides that he should have a canine companion in his life. He chooses an Andalucian woolfhound, an almost extinct breed, that must be flown in from a breeder in Saskatchewan. Dan and the dog, which he names Buddy, begin to negotiate the realities of their new life together, and one day Dan meets Ginnie in a dog park. Ginnie is a nurse who has a Kerry blue terrier named Josephine; Buddy and Jo become fast friends and Dan finds himself falling into a friendship with Ginnie.

The problem is that Ginnie has a physical deformity: a harelip that becomes the focus of Dan’s attention. He fixates on it, self-consciously avoiding eye contact with Ginnie “lest she think he was looking at it.” When Dan’s best friend and ex-bandmate Winston invites Dan and Ginnie to his house for a barbecue, Dan worries “about having failed to prep his friend for Ginnie’s harelip.” Winston and his wife, Marta, however, seem entirely oblivious to Ginnie’s affliction – somewhat ironically, since Marta is a beautician whose own face is “G-force tight with the hue of a professionally roasted turkey.” The only explanation Dan can come up with for Marta’s apparent indifference to Ginnie’s deformity is that she must have “seen her share of disfigurement in the makeup-artist-slash-aesthetician business.”

Dan’s self-consciousness around Ginnie is juxtaposed with Buddy and Jo, who are completely at ease with each other from the start. Dan and Ginnie have an awkward sexual encounter that ends when Ginnie realizes Dan is fixated on her harelip: “She somehow knew her lip had once repulsed him. He started focusing his kisses on her lip to prove to her it wasn’t disgusting. He licked it and gave it playful nibbles, his tongue flicking over its ridge. He let out a sigh to show her how pleased and relaxed he was by all of this.” Dan’s extraordinary attempts to prove his ease around Ginnie have precisely the opposite effect, alienating her and shutting down any connection that might have developed between them. The dogs, on the other hand, feel no such hesitancy: the final scene of the story has Dan, who has been given custody of Jo while Ginnie travels to Toronto to tend to her gravely ill brother, walking in on the two dogs having enthusiastic sex with one another. “Buddy perked up and regarded Dan with a sort of smile, mostly on account of his mouth being just shaped that way, but Dan knew that there was real joy there, the little guy probably felt he was back in Spain, releasing some tension after a long day of vigilant herding.”

The ease with which Buddy and Jo interact is at once a comic debasement of Dan’s relationship with Ginnie, and an ironic comment on the way human beings complicate things unnecessarily, particularly where emotional entanglements are concerned. Dan cannot ignore Ginnie’s malady, although he wants to, he tries to – but the more he tries to ignore it, the more closely he ends up focusing on it. In his desperation to prove to her that it is a subject of no consequence, he ends up pushing Ginnie away. It is significant that at no point in the story do the two characters actually address the subject of Ginnie’s harelip in conversation. Their entire interaction is based around unspoken communication and body language, as though the subject were too explosive to even attempt to verbalize. It turns out that Winston is not as unaware of Ginnie’s condition as he at first appears: following their awkward romantic encounter, Dan has a telephone conversation with his friend during which Winston notes that Ginnie is not “Best in Breed at Westminster, if you know what I mean.”

Dan has been trying unsuccessfully to convince Winston that he is only interested in Ginnie as a friend. “You’re aware of my theories on female friends, Dan,” Winston says. “Non-existent. Oxymoronic. And I don’t want to tell you who the moron is in this situation.” Dan’s insistence that he was interested in Ginnie only as a friend is transparently false, a pallid rationalization on the part of a repentant man who realizes that he has placed too much emphasis on one small defect in a potential relationship. Whether he did so as a subconscious means of sabotaging the relationship is debatable, but it is clear that the Web designer who spends so much time in what Winston refers to as “Plato’s cave” is much more comfortable relating to a canine than to a woman with whom he might find both physical pleasure and emotional compatibility. That Dan’s ideal companion is able to find joy in sexual abandon where his master can’t is the final irony in Christie’s bittersweet almost-love story.

Comments

One Response to “31 Days of Stories 2011, Day 6: “An Ideal Companion” by Michael Christie”
  1. Rebecca says:

    Good choice–I adored *The Beggar’s Garden.* This story wasn’t even one of my favourites in the book, and it’s still damn good. Christie’s a marvel.