The worst moments are sometimes the greatest moments. For 20 minutes last Wednesday I stood by an expanse of cold water, in an ancient hall that had become home to a vast, lapping pool, and I tried to get my companion, a three-storey motley of house cat, pigeon, and other assorted wildlife, to dive to the bottom, battling the swift waters that I couldn’t face, and taking me along for the ride. For 20 minutes my companion would not do as I asked. You know that part in a game where you understand what you have to get to happen to solve a puzzle, but you can’t make the puzzle pieces behave? I was stuck inside that part – except, while those parts are traditionally maddening, this time it was anything but.
Genuinely: it was fascinating to watch the face, the body language, the shifting Baba Yaga chicken feet of that beast I was travelling with as it struggled to understand what I was asking of it – and then struggled to decide if it was in the mood to help anyway. This wasn’t an instance in which the game was too clumsy to bring its pieces to bear effectively. It was something else entirely, something much rarer. It was an instance in which I had to try to properly engage with another creature, as wilful, playful, and easily distracted as I am. Commands came together with body language, orders with their interpretation, and the true puzzle didn’t lie at the bottom of the pool, because it was right up on the surface all along. The true puzzle was: what is this animal thinking?
Actually, it was probably more like 30 minutes.