It began in the way of such things. The pug looked out at the observers; Michael obligingly began to remove his jacket.
“Why are we here?” Michael asked. “Why am I taking off my jacket?”
There was no why. But the pug cocked his head, to share in the question, in the wonder. To share in the question was to show Michael that they were together in this great endeavor, that they would endure as one the coming warp and bend of the dimensions around them. That they would acquire new meaning and new identities together they could never have achieved alone. And that it was a good moment for head scritches. But it was always a good moment for head scritches.
In the fullness of time, the pug trusted, Michael would understand this, and all else.
“The world appears to be in black and white,” Michael said not long afterward.
And he had grown face fur. Perhaps it was a sign of spiritual kinship. The pug approved.
“Will it change back to normal?” Michael asked. “What do you think?”
Michael would have to surrender the falsehood inherent in the concept of normality; the sooner he did so, the better for them both. Existence is impermanence. The only constant is change. Perhaps this was more true for the two of them than it could be for any other, but it was true for all.
Yet could there be any real meaning to the words “more true”? If truth is truth, then how can it be surpassed in its own rightness?
This would have to be considered at length. The pug stuck out his tongue. It helped.
Others entered their world. They never stayed for long – not even McAvoy, so welcome here – but they added dimensionality. The pug thought this wise. How else could their existence continue to evolve on this plane? Also some of the newcomers gave head scritches.
One interloper, as he patted the pug’s head in a very satisfactory manner, suggested that Michael take acting advice from him.
The pug looked pleadingly up at Michael. Would he comprehend that this was not merely a witty caption? Would he understand that the only way to understand the images was to become one with them? To fully inhabit each individual world thereby created?
“Why doesn’t the pug have a name?” Michael asked the interloper, as though the pug were not there. Through the soulfulness of his gaze – through emoting, as some would express it – the pug tried to make Michael realize that he had no name because it was his role to represent all pugs, the very existence of pugs and their shared quality of … call it pugosity. This role he took on gladly. Yet Michael did not look down at him, and thus the chance for communication was lost.
Michael was coming to understand more about their unique existence – and he had retained the face fur of brotherhood and solidarity – and yet he still did not acknowledge the greater mysteries. His confusion was disheartening but perhaps inevitable. There was nothing to do but wait, and to walk the path with him.
“They’re making us dance.”
Michael leaped overhead, as slim and nimble as a cricket. The pug liked the occasional cricket as a snack, so this association was pleasing and yet vaguely disturbing.
“Why do we have to dance for them, too?” Michael had even kept his jacket buttoned so his tie could not fly, carefree of gravity, as they two were. “Isn’t being here enough?”
The pug felt he was prancing rather than dancing, though perhaps such distinctions were irrelevant in the still image. What mattered was finding joy. He could not do this without Michael. And though Michael jumped high, as though on an invisible, metaphorical agility training course, his spirit did not soar. And he had shaved the face fur.
All the arts of Photoshop could not keep the pug from feeling alone.
There followed a time of sadness. Of misunderstandings.
When the pug found himself reduced to a stand for Michael’s cocktails, he wished to object. This was not his role, and he had not the gift of human speech, save for the one most critical word in the English language, and this had to be saved for important occasions. He could but look sorrowfully down and allow the caption to speak for him.
“I didn’t know we were allowed to swear,” Michael said.
Allowed. Why did he see their existence as one of limitation? Why did he not realize the infinite potential inherent in their very concept?
Michael had internalized the leash. He fought the commands. And yet they could have run together, had only Michael understood this. They could have run fast as greyhounds.
Then came the darkest night of the pug’s soul.
Why did Florence Henderson stare at him? Her eyes were glassy, like the fever of distemper glimpsed in the face of a feral cat. Beneath him he could sense the watery, calculating gaze of Robert Reed, and this was equally unnerving.
Furthermore, this went wholly against the rules of their world as the pug understood it. To riff on the Brady Bunch was most commonly understood as an element of “camp.” Yet if, as Sontag wrote, the whole point of camp was to dethrone the serious – “More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relationship to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.” – then he and Michael had no place here. They were neither the frivolous nor the serious. They were repositories of the meanings projected upon them. Therefore the use of their images could not comment on the Brady Bunch in an insightful way. He profoundly hoped the Brady Bunch could not comment on them in return. Especially not Florence Henderson.
Yet amid the staring and the need to reread Against Interpretation, there was one reason to take heart. Michael searched for him, or so it seemed, though the logo was in the way. Their connection endured. This misery was one they bore together. Hope remained.
McAvoy came to them then, and this helped. McAvoy understood the importance of social media and the malleable nature of public image, and also he had Beggin' Strips, and he had grown the face fur Michael now lacked. Where Michael frowned, McAvoy smiled.
Yes, it was good to be understood. McAvoy could help Michael along the path, speaking in the mysterious ways of men. The pug panted happily, understanding that in some deep symbolic way, their course had been righted. It was worth the fart joke.
Then came the first revelation.
“Nobody would really fence without the full gear on,” Michael said. “But – I wasn’t given fencing gear so I could fence, was I?”
Was the moment of truth at hand? The pug hardly dared to hope.
“My shirt is missing because – because they like seeing me without my shirt. They like my chest and arms.”
The illumination around them was so radiant, so filled with truth and promise, that it turned the entire world the brilliant white that was the mingling of all colors of light.
“And that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Making them happy. Them … out there.”
Able to restrain himself no longer, the pug leaped in the air for joy.
Michael continued to experience important breakthroughs.
“I don’t think I’m … myself here. I mean, I’m Michael Fassbender, but not the real Michael Fassbender.”
Yes. Oh yes. The pug felt as though the sidewalk were soft clover beneath his paws.
“I am a concept of Michael Fassbender. The idea and the image of him. But everything else is mine to fill in. Mine and theirs. And yours.”
Had walkies ever been so blissful? No, the pug decided, they had not. All would be well now that Michael fully understood why they had been chosen and united.
Happy times followed.
So many happy times.
The pug and Michael were at long last as one in their purpose.
But one important truth had escaped Michael – one that the pug was anxious he should understand.
Was it wrong, though, to wish for more when they had been granted so much?
At long last, all was made clear to Michael.
“I like living in their gaze,” Michael said. “Even if I’m only a fictional construct, I’m sort of an incredible fictional construct. I can do no wrong. Never get older. Never wither. Never die. Even my most random moments gain humor and meaning.”
Indeed it was good to live in such an exalted realm. The pug wagged his tail. This day was worthy of the sporty red bandana he had donned.
Michael continued, “And we exist to make people happy. All this time, I’ve been seeking reason and purpose – but what nobler purpose is there than that? What better reason could there be?”
How proud McAvoy would be if he could but hear them now. When next he returned to them, the pug trusted McAvoy would behold the transformation and be pleased. Maybe also he would have more Beggin' Strips.
And then, wondrously, Michael uttered the ultimate wisdom, their final truth: “Would you like some head scritches? I don’t think I scritch your head enough.”
Once again, the caption spoke for the pug.
Finally Michael understood the final and best lesson. Now he knew the heights of happiness to which they could be brought. Now there would be constructed realities of bliss, and Photoshops of joy, and head scritches, oh, head scritches enough for a lifetime.