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Winner of Bark's Fiction Contest: Village Dogs
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To Emma, the man Lemuel B. Garrett was in his personal characteristics very like her beloved Anya Graceen. He hung back, observing, stepping forward into companionship quietly and on his terms. His pace was unique, irregular and—except for the moments in which he experienced powerful excitement—slow. He liked to be curled, covered and warm. He made direct, nonjudgmental eye contact. He was sweettempered but cautious. A very few things could in an instant set him snarling, but he backed off fast and seemed not to hold grudges. Rubbing roused him to generate a deeply rolling, guttural, subconscious hum. He snored some. And, like the dog, who generously gave dry little Pit Bull kisses and sometimes also tender, nibbled affections, he was superbly gentle with lips, tongue and teeth—and in the use of all these he was astonishingly and endearingly skilled.

And so, should Emma Roland Mystyshyn offer Lemuel B. Garrett even the short-term loan of her is-it-partly-Pit-Bull village dog Anya Graceen, Emma knew she would not—despite what his good nature might lead him to think—have at heart Lem’s best interests but her own. About this she tried to feel no guilt: from both observation and experience, Emma knew one took care of one’s own self best. But looking out well for one’s self did not necessarily obviate potential, practical or pleasurable good ends from sundry sharing, especially that of the most thoroughly intimate sort. Might not Emma’s best interests and Lem’s entwine? Emma watched Anya Graceen go loose-jointed with drunken-faced happiness as Lemuel stroked her. The dog moaned softly and then fell over in a post-petting stupor. In the unguarded moment between man and dog, Lem grinned, laughed out loud and bent still lower to rub the dog’s hot, pink belly with his open palm. Anyone who saw them would see, in that moment, man and dog were together supremely and thoroughly happy. Anya G’s doggy presence in Lemuel Garrett’s home might allow Emma ingratiating ingress to his life in a way she could hardly dare—or bear—the fullness of anticipating.

Intermittent walks, a little butt-rubbing. What they had was plenty good enough. But where, oh where, might it all lead? Dared Emma hope? Then again, why risk messing up what they already had? When it was over, when the familiar habits were mostly gone—however, wherever, they went—each might remember the way one would recall a film of someone else’s true or fictive life. Though now such things seemed gifts, some of their accumulating customs and routines would surely become annoyances each would rejoice in the loss of, though perhaps also simultaneously and differently grieve. And there would, for certain, be losses. There would most definitely be grief. There would, it was inevitable, be pain. Yes. Despite the restlessness that accompanies the breeding season, no matter what the news, the rabbit always died. But Lemuel stood, Emma said nothing and they walked together with the still-unbalanced Anya Graceen.

His pocket things settled on her table. His pants crumpled on her living room floor, from which, rising before him, she picked them up when Anya G was not nested in their folds. Though Lem set Emma’s bag near his bed, though it pleased him, comforted him, to see it there, the sight of her baggage startled them both, just as it was always a mild surprise to each to see Emma’s purse and keys near his door. He listened to her sing as she cooked, and they smelled each other in sheets and towels after they parted. Yet they had their days and weeks alone. They came and they went, entering and leaving, each accepting the unfathomable sorrows they had brought and might still bring on. What loss had they learned to live with, had perhaps come to love? Still, this once, this last time, why not allow some things, like joy, simply to be? Why not choose a shared way? If not now, when? Why not let all the rest work for, around, this contentment?

And so, when Lemuel B. Garrett turned toward her, Emma Roland Mystyshyn, like her dog Anya Graceen, positioned herself for possibility: Emma turned her face up to the rain and smiled at Lem. Lem raised an eyebrow and smiled at Emma. The dog Anya Graceen, observing the river, stood alongside. Whatever came next would be just fine.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 59: Apr/May 2010
Bim Angst teaches writing at Penn State, Schuylkill, and lives in Saint Clair, Pa., with her three dogs, all of whom she adopted from the local shelter.

Illustration by Camilla Engman

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