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Winner of Bark's Fiction Contest: Village Dogs
A woman, a man and a dog--three lives intersect


First-Place Winner in Bark's Short Story/Fiction Contest
Read our Q&A with author Bim Angst.

The urge to offer Anya Graceen to Lemuel B. Garrett came upon Emma Roland Mystyshyn as powerfully as a lightning bolt the drizzly day Lem walked both woman and dog along the old canal. In the gray cold, he explained how the river had risen the second summer in which she and he had known each other in the second degree as friends of a mutual friend. At the edge of the again-rising river, when, to point, Lem let go of the hand she had slipped into his, Emma was overtaken with a raw and gnawing emptiness.

In an hour, she would head home from the city to the mountains, turning up the heat and turning down the music in her truck, following the river back to its source in an effort to return to the simple satisfactions of being a woman living with an easy dog. But when Lem took his hand away, Emma was aware too quickly, too clearly and much too keenly that she did not want to be without him. This realization and the urge to offer him Anya Graceen arrived within her simultaneously, viscerally, and with more force than any impulse she could remember in any of her sane years.

She bit her lip. What would even one day be without the warm scent and singular sound of breathing with which Anya G filled the shared space in which they lived and Emma worked? What would become of their familiar routine, of the ease with which woman and dog shared hours? Would Emma wake if Anya Graceen did not stare at her at dawn? Would noon pass unnoticed if Anya Graceen did not set her heavy jaw in Emma’s lap to request the mid-day walk? Could Emma rest at all without the nightly stroking and cooing that settled Anya G in her nest of blankets, without the comfort to them both of Emma’s tucking Anya’s little afghan around her thick brindle-bullish frame? And if Emma slept, would she wake in the night, alarmed not to hear Anya G snore?

Although Emma sought the aching knowledge that the absence of Anya Graceen could forge her a connection with the man Lemuel B. Garrett, what if he did not want Anya? What if he mistakenly assumed Emma did not love Anya fully but wanted to be relieved of her? What if Lem failed to see Emma’s offer of the dog as her first gesture toward something that might be called love? What if he would not share with Emma in this or any other way? What if—after giving away her Anya, after Lem understood and accepted Anya Graceen to be the living symbol of the profound and sustaining connection Emma so deeply desired to forge with him—what if then Emma herself again wanted no part of life with a man, even one as thoroughly good and sweet as this man?

So Emma Roland Mystyshyn swallowed the urge to put her palms to Lemuel B. Garrett’s clean-shaven cheeks and beseech him to let her give him, if only temporarily, the most precious gift of her dog. And as she worked to put down what rose in her that might form words offering Lem dog and endearment—while this desire, so suddenly and powerfully risen, also powerfully refused to be squelched—Emma became aware that the throb in her throat was not the stone of fear, but her heart, moved finally, then caught where it might choke her.

All this passed in her mind with blinding speed in the moment Lem’s unencumbered hand pointed above the muddy, roiling river. Of his part in this, Lem remained unaware. He brought the hand down and placed it in his pocket, effectively throwing Emma first into a brief state of relief that, reeling, she had not retched, and then into murk.



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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