Since childhood, I had wandered Turin’s broad avenues. I was heavenbent, preaching pronouncements transcendent in their mumble-jumble, never to a crowd, only myself, until that day a crowd of one gathered. I would learn this man visited Turin many more times than history records. But there’s more, a secret I buried to resurrect me long after I had reached the end of birth’s canal. Now I stand before you and speak as a man these words I recorded as a dog.
My listener dropped his suitcases. I had seen him before, every year or so. He seemed to me a refugee.
When I concluded my talk, he approached me and asked my name.
“I’m Barker, the town barker, a homeless dog unworthy of even of a good kick. Have you ever seen a dog smile?”
He looked back as if the past stood a few feet behind him. He said, “When I was young, they called me ‘little priest.’ Looking at you, my nickname nicks me less. Do you know who I am?”
I scratched my chin, staring at his beard just as I did every passing bosom.
“I’ve seen you but only as a stranger, as I see everyone.”
“Call me Nietzsche, but never mention my name to anyone. Tell no one my location nor that we’ve ever met. If I suspected you or anyone else recognized me, I’d speculate myself to death. You might be a spy hired by my sister to — anyway, lucky I found you.”
“‘Luck’ is never a word applied to my presence.”
“Nevertheless, you’ve given image to an idea of mine.”
“A dog with three legs, sir?”
He stepped back and raised a hand as if to slap me. “Don’t look for pity from me, least of all by thinking yourself a lame animal at the mercy of men. Come to my room, and leave your stinking self-denigration with that damned dog.”
Lacking all obligation, I followed him. His rooming house was directly across from the Piazza Carlo Alberta. We walked the stairs and down the hallway. He had locked his door, of course, having been gone some time. Inside, no clues revealed the nature of my new friend.
He sat and directed me to a spot not far from him, gesturing that I remain standing.
“Now preach to me, just as you were doing.”
I always spoke by instinct, using whatever came to mind. I had my techniques, of sorts, and a stage. But it’s not the stage that causes fright; it’s the audience. A true audience, I could only guess, must resemble a pack of children and their vicious honesty, leashed by maturity, perhaps, but a single critical voice would cause all to unleash. How fortunate I had been! And now I had an audience and every reason to believe he needed no encouragement to bite.
He recognized my state of mind. “I’ve faced harsher audiences than you and told them exactly what they didn’t care to know. You’re merely telling me what I do want to know. Go ahead. Speak as a man, not a barking dog.”
“Water! Fire! I, Zoroaster, from Persia, never walked a foot to reach this verse. Solar birth, lunar death: What happens between? Look to me. Nothing at all, we think, but also everything, we think. Verily, we’re nothing of everything and everything of nothing. Everyman forgets this ‘every.’ Therein lies his envy.”
Sweat poured between the fingers that covered his face, his brow constricted to the point of what must have been a migraine.
“From where,” he said, “did you steal the name Zoroaster?”
“Books, sir, and the less I understand them, the better for my purposes.”
“Leave sense to me,” he said.
He showed me to his bedroom and insisted I lie down, as if I, not he, were ill. I required no rest and watched from the doorway. For six hours he wrote. He paused only to moan in a strange tone of euphoric misery.
When his face met the desk, it was I who led him to bed. Along the way, he repeated, “I’ve more to write.”
“Rest,” I said.
The next day, more of the same. I spoke my empty proverbs, negative nouns of no signification whatsoever. Then he would write, and then I would lead him to bed. This continued until the day he left.
“My friend,” he said, “I’ve packed your atoms, enough impressions for me to draw into coherence. Thus have you spoken, Zoroaster. Thank you.”
Much time passed before I would see him again. I resumed my usual practice, but I admit missed my audience. Otherwise, I awaited his return. I began to hear of his name. Now and again, a book he had authored appeared in a shop window. I would hurry inside, only to find his words meant as much to me as mine to anyone but him; I remained a three-legged dog despite his orders. Then, some time later, I saw another book of his: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Through the shop window, my reflection merged with the book.
Later that night, convergence of convergences, I watched him exit his rooming house towards the Piazza Carlo Alberta. He walked with the staggering drooling mania of a drunk. Just then, a man began flailing his horse and cursing the uselessness of his orders.
Nietzsche and I ran to the intersection of this event. I, unfit for words, much less action, stood and watched, but Nietzsche grabbed the man and shook him. Then he stroked the animal, weeping: Nietzsche, who inflicted far more pain upon himself than this horse had endured. He collapsed. I joined a few members of the crowd, and we carried Nietzsche to his room. I remember his words — “Leave your stinking self-denigration with that damned dog” — and I gained strength enough to insist all but myself leave the room at once.
Ailments descended upon him. He pulled me close and said, “All the words I’ve taken from your mouth, ingested and digested into my greatest book, written in honor to you but also dishonor — you understand, I know, I know — but the scribbles beneath, the mold from which I mined my gold, left my work prone to becoming your three-legged dog: Dogma, mother of all bitches! I’ve fed well historians, philosophers, biographers, devotees, charlatans, fascists! And they’ll wonder what a man like me would care about a horse. They’ll say I’d gone mad. But now I see that a horse makes mockery of men barking commands and by impatience driven to violence against that which proves them less than animals. A horse, or herd of sheep, rises above such men, if you can call them that. The horse had no choice in the matter. He deserves our pity for lacking our ability and yet — pity! A word foreign to me. Better one horse than a thousand half-men and their stupid power. Say not that I wrote for them! Run to that scene, cut that horse loose, and let him trod upon his underling. Then meet me back here.”
So I did. The horse reared above the crowd still gathered about it. When I returned, Nietzsche’s condition had worsened. He promised to kill the man harassing that horse, but he looked to have been murdering himself. Closer friends began to arrive, pushing me out, into the quickening stream.
Soon, he would die. That incident killed him, breaking the heart he thought he never wanted and shredding your posthumous diagnoses. You historians, philosophers, biographers, devotees, charlatans, fascists: Read these words I speak to you. A three-legged dog provides himself the missing limb from amongst the bones you buried. I return as man. Thus speaks Zarathustra.
Despite attempts by psychiatrists to kill him, Paul A. Toth’s next major work, Airplane Novel, will still prove to be THE 9/11 novel. Airplane Novel (http://www.airplanenovel.com) departs in July 2011 from Raw Dog Screaming Press. Toth also records music under the untraceable pseudonym of TothMusik.