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By Ania Payne

A frail gray mouse runs out from underneath the fridge and I chase it outside, the dogs chasing behind both me and the mouse, and a man who lives in a neighbor’s shed across the alley sees us and opens our gate with his good arm that’s not in a cast to let himself into our backyard, the bottoms of his Batman pajamas dragging through our muddy yard because we’ve finally gotten some rain–it’s been so dry–and he smokes a cigarette with no hands and as he tells me how much he loves our dogs (especially our husky) while the cigarette bobs up and down in the corner of his mouth but never falls out, I hear his own husky howling from inside the shed that he lives in–I think your dog is crying, I say, I’ve got a Zoom call in fifteen minutes, no, you can’t come inside because we’re social distancing, yes, the dogs like you very much, c’mon dogs, gotta get to that Zoom call, yes, my husband has your phone number written down somewhere, I’m sure he’ll text, ok bye, and I drag the dogs inside and he shuts the gate but I see his eyes still peeping through the holes in our wooden fence while his own dog continues to howl from his shed, and I wonder if we’ll all emerge from the pandemic like that–in our pajamas, struggling to read social cues (we had fooled ourselves into thinking we were so stable)–and back inside the house I open my computer but I don’t really have a Zoom call, just remorse, and the dogs chase the cats upstairs, but they’d be thrilled to go back outside and get pet by the neighbor again, they’d greet him with such pure dog joy.

Ania Payne lives, writes, and teaches in Manhattan, Kansas where she lives with her husband, Great Dane, Husky, and backyard chickens.

Art by Jeff Kallet.


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