The air grew colder. Pam noticed that other dogs were sporting sweaters or coats, some even with faux-fur trim. Did Chester need that? He didn’t seem bothered by the weather, but she didn’t want to deprive him.

The clothing section of the Pet Emporium was vast – sweaters and booties, even hats, with sports team logos or words spelling “Cute & Cozy” or “Princess.” Most of them looked tiny. Pam picked up a wool coat. The tag had a diagram of a dog, with measurements of different body parts. She hadn’t thought to measure Chester. Pam’s chest felt tight and her head ached. She felt herself falling into the familiar chasm. Her chest and throat clenched, holding back her breath. Pam went to open her bag to touch the pill case, but instead heard her therapist’s voice, “Feel your feet on the floor. Now notice your breath.” Pam was able to slow her breathing enough to pull back from the edge of the pit. “Just pick something,” she told herself. None of these looked like they would fit, until she found one sweater with a tag that said “For bully breeds” and a logo of a Chester-like dog. It was hideous – bright purple, festooned with cartoon smiley faces. Pam bought it anyway.

The sweater was magical. Instead of crossing the street, people smiled at them. Some even wished her a good morning, or, more shockingly, said, “Cute dog.” A tow-haired boy, holding his mom’s hand, yelled “Smile doggy! Smile doggy!” and tried to drag her toward Chester. “May my son say hello? she asked. “Of course. Sit, Chester.” Chester sat for a second, then got up and began licking the boy’s offered hand.

Even the surly neighbor stopped them one day. “He looks friendly.” “He looks exactly the same as before,” Pam wanted to snap, but she answered, “He is.” The woman tentatively placed two fingers on Chester’s head. Chester wiggled delightedly. Pam tried not to look smug.


Pam felt guilty on days she didn’t have enough time to give Chester a long walk. She’d tried throwing tennis balls for him in the yard, and while he chased them delightedly, Pam couldn’t throw far and got tired and sore after a few tries. Besides, picking up the slobbery ball was gross.

She bought a plastic tool with a long handle and a ball-sized cup on the end. To her surprise, it worked. She could throw balls the length of the yard with no strain. Chester barked delightedly, two sharp barks she took to mean “Again! Again!” Each time she threw it, he bounded with the same enthusiasm. After twenty minutes, he showed no signs of tiring. Pam let go of thinking about things she needed to do and focused on the rhythm of her throws, the sound of the ball thwacking on the ground, Chester’s fast, excited body as he ran. She felt the breeze and smelled the leaves above her head. When Chester returned, he rubbed the muddy ball against her pants before dropping it. Her jeans were spattered with circles. She laughed, scooped up the ball, and threw. Again and again, until Pam stopped feeling herself as the woman throwing the ball, but rather as part of the launcher, the air, the motion of the swing. She was also the dog, racing with joy and utter focus, and the ball, soaring then returning to the ground. She expanded, filling her car, the yoga studio, the supermarket – all the places where parts of her had split off now merged into the whole. “This is real,” she heard a voice, perhaps her own, whisper inside her head, although the idea of “her” and “head” seemed foreign. She stayed like this until Chester nudged her to go inside.



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