Ted didn’t believe in therapy. “How is talking about how you were potty trained going to help anything?”

“It isn’t like that. We talk about what’s going on in my life now.” Including you, Pam thought. Pam felt better when she left her sessions, and the attacks came less often. She was usually able to stop them without taking a pill, though she held the case in her hands to make sure. Still, the fear that it might happen held her back. She refused invitations, not wanting to have her friends see. She only shopped when she felt fully rested. Since one attack had happened in the car, she rarely drove.

“You’re gonna have to go back to living your life at some point,” Ted said.

“I know, but I’m scared. What if it happens somewhere and I can’t get home.”

“So you’re afraid of having fear?”

“You make it sound dumb, but didn’t some president say ‘The only thing to fear is fear itself’? So being scared of panic makes sense.” Also, she thought, it was harder to confront anything when she had all those missing pieces.

Ted got into bed. “Let’s not talk.” Pam followed.

The next morning, Ted complained, “You kept kicking me.”

“I’m sorry.” Pam had been dreaming of the supermarket. The long fluorescent lights stretched into arms, which grabbed her ankles and tried to drag her toward the pit. “This is who you are,” a voice inside the musak crooned.


“You should get a pet,” her therapist said. Pam loved cats, the mystery of them and the changing colors of their eyes. But they gave her asthma. She’d have to go with dog. A small one, definitely. Her tiny house’s fenced-in yard had been its biggest selling point. She’d intended to garden. Now at least it would get some use.

The very first cage Pam saw when she entered the shelter held a small white poodle mix. The tag on the cage read “Mandy.” “Can I meet her?” Pam asked the moon-faced volunteer who had taken her application.

“Sorry, she’s spoken for. Her adopters are on their way now. But we have lots of available dogs.” She led Pam to the back. Immediately, the sounds and smells hit her. Barking, whining, a mixture of urine and ammonia. Pam reached for her pill case and tried to slow her breath. “You can do this,” she told herself. “Just pick a dog and go home.”

The dogs were all large. German shepherds, labs, pit bull after pit bull. Some barked and came to the front of their cages. Most ignored her. “I’m sorry,” she told the volunteer. “I was really hoping for a smaller dog.”

“We have another branch an hour away. You can try there. Or you can come back next week. We’re always getting new dogs.” As she made her way toward the exit, Pam noticed a large white dog with brown patches shivering against the wall of his cage. “What’s wrong with that dog?”

“That’s Chester. He’s terrified here. I take him home for sleepovers whenever I can. He’s a totally different dog out of the shelter. He’s even house trained.”

“Can I take him out of the cage?”

Up close, Chester was even more pathetic. Scars marred his face and shoulder. His stocky head with a brown patch around one eye seemed too large for his bony body. “Was he a fighting dog?”

“A bait dog probably. He’s too meek to be a fighter.” Chester looked at Pam, still shaking. She couldn’t say no.

Chester whimpered when she left him in the car to buy a collar, leash, bowl, and dog food. She added some toys, and on a whim picked up a “Chew-resistant, large breed plush comfort” dog bed. She wanted him to be comfortable.

“Are you crazy?” Ted said when he came over. ”That’s the dog you picked?” Chester rolled on his back, inviting Ted to scratch his stomach. “I mean, he is kind of cute, but a dog that size is always in the way. It’s like constantly having a suitcase on the floor.”

Two days later, Pam came home from work to find a blizzard in her house. Bits of white fluff on the floor, the furniture. Some stuck to the wall. Chester lay in the middle, covered in white, sprawled out on the decimated remains of his bed. “You silly dog! Where are you going to sleep now?” That night, he snuggled next to Pam, snoring softly in her ear. When Ted stayed over, Chester was banished to a blanket in the living room. But Ted didn’t come as often anymore.




Alison Stone has published seven full-length poetry collections, Zombies at the Disco (Jacar Press, 2020), Caught in the Myth (NYQ Books, 2019), Dazzle (Jacar Press, 2017), Masterplan, a book of collaborative poems with Eric Greinke (Presa Press, 2018), Ordinary Magic, (NYQ Books, 2016), Dangerous Enough (Presa Press 2014), and They Sing at Midnight, which won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award; as well as three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Barrow Street, Poet Lore, and many other journals and anthologies. She is also a painter and the creator of The Stone Tarot. A licensed psychotherapist, she has private practices in New York City and Nyack, NY. www.stonepoetry.org, www.stonetarot.com. Alison recommends Planned Parenthood.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Saturday, June 8, 2024 - 13:37