Abyss & Apex : Third Quarter 2008: Pavlov’s Best Friend

Kristine Ong Muslim

Pavlov’s Best Friend

During his research on conditioned reflexes,
Pavlov concocted new surgical techniques
that allowed him to study digestive processes
in healthy animals over long periods of time.

I never once doubted the Master
when he cut a permanent hole
in my abdominal wall,
and I would still last for fourteen years.
He used to peer through the opening,
watched my innards and what they were
supposed to do. His fixation sometimes
worried me; the lab girls gossiped about
how he talked in his sleep, murmured about
“the gastrointestinal secretions will dissolve ––”
The Master could carve my guts as well
if he would only scratch me behind the ears.
He never did; his hands were always gloved.
I did not know that I was very filthy.

Pavlov discovered that dogs could be conditioned
to distinguish between two ringing bells that had
a similar pitch: one that brought food and one that did not.

That bell again. The ringing earlier was a trick;
it was slightly off–key. This one was the real deal.
I knew that the sound of footsteps was next.
Then the same bland food. Feeding time was routine.
I did not want to salivate, but the Master was salivating
for me to salivate, and I should not disappoint him.
I never dreamed that these people would let me go
someday, but perhaps, if I were nice enough to do
what they expected me to do, then there was a chance out
of this kennel. The other dogs were saying the same thing:
salivate at the right pitch, please the semi–balding Master.

If the sound of the bells were identical
that the dog could not tell them apart,
then it would develop a neurotic behavior.

That’s it! That’s the correct sound, right? The footsteps––
should be here by now! Wait, another ringing. Yes, that’s
the one for food. Salivate. Salivate. Salivate. The Master
wants me to salivate. No? The footsteps! Where are
the footsteps! My paws are bloody now, but I haven’t been
scratching too hard. There is dust everywhere; I wonder
what they are trying to conceal. The other dogs are bashing
the wires of their cages. Noses–– all bloody. What good is revenge
when you cannot draw blood? What good is revenge when all
gods are made of ringing bells? What are these wires for?
The patterns make me dizzy. Must salivate. Must salivate.
Must salivate. Must salivate. Must salivate. Must salivate.

Pavlov won a Nobel Prize in 1904.


Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015), and several other books of fiction and poetry. She is coeditor of three anthologies–the British Fantasy Award-winning People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! (2016), Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines (forthcoming from Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press), and Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021). Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories have appeared in Conjunctions, Dazed Digital, Tin House, and World Literature Today. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.

© 2008 Kristine Ong Muslim. All other content copyright © 2008 ByrenLee Press 


Copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted.


Art Director: Bonnie Brunish

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