Stories & Lit
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Winner of Bark's Fiction Contest: Village Dogs

Though he had not actually acquired one, Lemuel B. Garrett had given deep and long thought to living with a dog. He had not given equal consideration to having a woman mucking around in his life, especially one so contextualized in full catastrophe and trailing a dog. Emma Roland Mystyshyn and the moon around her that was her sanguine Pit-Bullish bitch meteored into his orbit by accident, though he fleetingly pondered how much of their recent series of seemingly happenstance close encounters Emma herself may have, however haphazardly, arranged. Yet despite the whir of life’s chaotic, worn and sometimes partially dismantled machinery around her, Emma evoked in Lem the feeling created in most by white noise. Lem was not prepared to use the word serendipity, but there was in him sometimes a warm and not-quite-latent awareness of the potential for contentment, if not outright happiness, in their erratic trajectory. Lem smiled when he thought of Emma. They docked together briefly and irregularly, halting and jerking, and then they clanged apart, without either scheduling the next linkage. But increasingly, when he was with Emma, Lem noticed, he lingered.

“I’ve thought about getting a dog,” Lem said, petting Anya Graceen, who was positioning her butt beneath his hand. “I was thinking someday a Shiba Inu.” As he spoke, Lem looked at the velvet face and furrowed brow of Anya Graceen.

“Oh,” Emma responded to the back of Lem’s head. “A Shiba Inu.”

Emma found their differences magnetically compelling. How like Lem that he would want a dog of visibly distinguished breed, a compact independent sort, with a quick and prickly alertness he himself possessed but hid behind a closely considered and carefully managed countenance of comprehensive calm. She herself preferred and sought the sturdy not-exactly-identifiable mutt, the opportunistic and wide-ranging village dog on whom the natives might have poured their boiling water had it strayed into their unfenced yards so obviously and ardently in search of the next bit of sustenance and comfort. A village dog treated well stayed and quietly stood guard over what it recognized as its very good things, but a Shiba Inu was an escape artist, a wily screaming sprite of independent will whose need to be watchfully attended would wrap Lemuel B. Garrett into a man-dog duo tighter than the inner turn of its beautifully up-curved tail, a space in which there would be no room for Emma Mystyshyn or the motley gene pool of her thickly lovely and lazy Anya Graceen. And someday? Really, someday?

“Puppy or rescue?” Emma swallowed hard around rightnow and her lumpen heart.

“Adult,” said Lem. “Rescue. Like Miss Anya.”

It was something, so Emma breathed again.

And then Emma rifled the questions Lem might ask about Anya Graceen’s care, should she offer and he accept the gift of Anya’s shared time. What would his questions reveal? Although Emma craved knowing everything about Lem, even—perhaps especially—that of which he was not himself aware, Emma would take great care to anticipate and mitigate what, in answering, she might inadvertently reveal about herself. They were very un-alike, Emma and Lem, in ways she was convinced mattered. The man ate more and better meat in one day than she consumed in a week. Though she would not have been able clearly and succinctly to explain how, this, she felt, was a profound difference. What if he asked “Would a little bacon fat over Anya Graceen’s kibble be too rich for her digestion?” Emma could picture Anya Graceen’s rapturous wriggles as she anticipated such fat fragrant delicacy. But Emma needed practice answering. Despite ingrained habit, Emma would not allow herself to blurt that good drippings should not be wasted on a dog, because what Emma very much wanted to say to Lem was: “Dear man, you may do exactly as you please.”

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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