At the end of Nathalie’s leash was a soft and fluffy Wheaten Terrier named Roxy, wagging her tail as she went. Roxy was walking at a steady pace, matching her owner’s gait, staying right by her side. Or, more accurately, slightly ahead. Roxy would start just at Nat’s side, but as they got further along their route, Roxy would get just a pinch of excitement and walk in front of Nat, but not too much.

It was a crisp winter day. It had snowed last week, and while there were a few piles still left in some people’s yards, the snow had mostly melted. Today, however, the morning grass was covered in a frost of icy dew. To Nat, the yards looked like they were covered in a dusting of sugar. Nat looked down at Roxy, “Maybe I’ll make some cinnamon rolls today. But none for you girl. Hope you like the smell though.”

The pair turned around a corner in their flat neighborhood, just past a four-way intersection that connected their block to the wider neighborhood system. Soon, on their right, would be a small playground, just past a narrow patch of woods. Roxy picked up her pace, just a pinch more, and pulled her tail in tight. 

Here, on this stretch of their walk, made the extent of the weather so much easier to grasp, as long stretches of grass were left open. Nat wasn’t sure if they were just large yards, or just unsold properties, but either way, both sides of the street were wide open on either side, and just sparsely dotted with houses. Here, Nat felt alone, felt cold, felt tight. Nathalie pulled up her zipper just a bit more, up to the top of her neck, and then pulled tight on the drawstrings of her hood. 

Nat felt a tug on the leash, and she looked down. Roxy was definitely trying to pull her along now. “Calm down girl. You know you’re not allowed to pull!” Roxy hadn’t behaved like this in God knew how long. They sent her to puppy school specifically to get her out of this behavior. And yet, here she was, pulling Nat forward. And Nat had to be a responsible dog parent, so she pulled back, and tried to get Roxy to match her own pace, and yet, Nat just didn’t feel she had the energy.

She didn’t have the energy.

Especially in her legs. Her legs were getting weaker, softer. “Oh fuck. Okay, fuck.” Instead of pulling Roxy closer to Nat, she instead tried to match her pace a little closer. “Do you feel it too, girl? It’s nearby, isn’t it?” 

Nat kept pushing herself, despite the weakness in her knees, the soft putty of her thighs.

She wanted to turn around, to see it, to finally get a good glimpse at what it was, but she knew better. She knew that that might just anger it, or maybe it would make it speed up, or honestly, who knew? No, best to just keep looking forward and moving forward and going forward and walking forward, and she just had a little while longer to go, it wasn’t that big of a deal, she just needed to keep moving and if she did that she would be fine. This was going to be fine. It had to be fine. Roxy needed her to be fine. So it was going to be fine. It was fine.

She started to walk quicker, again. Trying to match Roxy’s heightened pace. Roxy pulled as if wanting to sprint, but Nat stayed with a brisk walk. “Come on girl. Going too fast might startle it. Just keep going quickly and we should be fine.”

Nat continued walking, and walking, and walking, feeling a pit form in her stomach, weighing her down, drawing her down to the earth. Carrying the weight on her steadily shaking legs, the pull of Roxy, it took every bit of effort to simply step forward, each time. But she continued.

Around another corner and she was on the final stretch. Past the house of the lady who sometimes looked after Roxy. Past the garden in the corner of her yard. And it started getting in her head. It made her dizzy, struggling to keep her body straight, but she kept going. She kept walking.

“Please stop pulling so much, Roxy.” trying to slow down her dog, but in the back of her head, where it tickled, where it itched, where it ached, she thought that maybe she was just getting weaker. Maybe she should take a break, stop and breathe a bit.

But she continued, and in the distance, at the edge, right near the first corner of her walk, was her house. Just right there, just right past the fog.

She started to sweat, so she unzipped the hoodie a little, which made her cold, so she zipped it back up. There was no right answer. There was no solution, except to get home, get inside, get away from it.

In that part of her head, the part she didn’t want to think about, just past her head, just in that gap right behind her, she could hear her own heart beat, digging into her skull. Digging, digging, digging.

She turned onto her driveway, keeping her steady but weakening pace, threw open the door, and let Roxy go.

Roxy ran up the stairs without a moment of hesitation and then turned around to see Nat lock the door. Nat backed up, slowly. A shadow formed over the foggy layered glass of the door. The handle rattled. Once. Twice. And then the shadow retreated. 

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