I wake in a stupor, like I do every day. The days run together, except on weekends, when Zoom is few and far between. I’m pretty sick of it all.

My room is dark and quiet, but I hear Mom stir next door, so I attempt a downdog stretch and then wait. She wakes up early in the morning but goes back to bed. I hear her toss and turn all night long but early morning is when she dreams and creeps into the bathroom and pees but doesn’t flush so I won’t wake up and so she can get a little more sleep. I hear it all but just go back and snooze.

Finally, she creeps out of bed thinking I don’t hear her yet and slips on her COVID shorts with all the pockets for the key fob and poop bags and flowers she picks surreptitiously on the river trail. I try to get them out of her pocket but she distracts me with sticks and fake balls and pretends there is a treat in her pocket. Big teaser. One of these days I’m going to eat the key fob just to teach her not to lie.

We go outside, I do my business near the light by the door, then we go inside for the morning routine. Food, now on a box platform because I guess I eat too fast, or at least she thinks so, while she makes her Keurig coffee and yogurt and banana. Change it up a little, I think, but then think again, as I eat the same thing three times a day. Although she said the other day I might just do twice a day like the rest of the world. I hope not. I need something to pep me up after a morning of walks and zoom.

Once her coffee has stopped gurgling she puts cream and sugar in it and we go outside on the patio for the next part our routine. She’s scrolling through emails on her tiny computer (she thinks I don’t know it’s work, but I do, and one of these days I’m going to eat that little computer… The big one is too big to eat but I have pawed it a few times in disgust so now it’s always out of my reach) and then reads out of a few little books, just a page in each, with a bunch of little yellow pieces of paper stuck to the pages. And she sometimes says out loud, that was just what I needed to read today. Or maybe I’m just reading her mind.

She grabs her phone and puts it in her other pocket with the green poop bags (the bags are green, usually not the poop unless I eat a lot of grass) and we head out the door for our morning walk.

This is our big (long) walk of the day, before Zoom starts and Mom gets more frenetic in her activities. Zoom calls and emptying the dishwasher and taking me out for miniwalks and saying pee? Poop? Ruby? Treat! Bad dog. Bone! Ball? Stick! These are the words I know really well. Actually the only words I understand, or at least to pretend to understand.

Ruby is my best friend. She is a black lab mix adopted by her mom Lisa, who is one of my mom’s friends in our complex, and she has treats a lot and always gives them to me when I sit. When mom felt sick Lisa took care of me — I wish mom would feel bad more because Ruby and I had more fun than ever playing in Lisa’s apartment.

When we walk outside lots of people walk around with their faces covered which is kind of scary looking to me. You can’t tell if they are smiling and nice or frowning and mean or afraid of me. But actually I can tell when someone is afraid. I can smell it. But I am a good dog.

Except when I’m not. That’s what mom tells people. Leo is a good dog. Except when he’s not. What does that mean? I’m either good or bad. Cats are generally the latter, at least the ones I’ve met. They are not my cup of tea, as mom would say. She thinks I’m afraid of them, but that’s not the issue. They just smell funny and they never want to play.

And then there are the statues. I’m afraid of them. They loom in the distance, don’t say anything, and don’t make eye contact. They often have scary faces. Like that King Neptune at Virginia Beach with the giant fork. I liked the beach and the other dogs but if I never see that scary statue again I’ll be a happy dog.

But I digress. A big word for a dog but I’ve been listening to all of those Zoom meetings and am building quite a vocabulary. I now understand Machine Learning and NLP and AI and Data Visualization and Ethics and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. My mom is in meetings as soon as we return from Morning Long Walk to the River and Back, once she takes her hair out of the pony tail holder that I then try to chew and she takes it from my mouth and says “bad dog” (duh) and then puts red stuff on her lips which I think looks weird and changes from the Life is Good tee shirt to a shirt that looks uncomfortable and too bright and then turns on the laptop computer and talks into it all day long.

I have some friends on Zoom I’ve met mostly just on the computer. They say “hey Leo!” and sometimes I even hear their dogs bark in the background, and I’ve even met a few of mom’s coworker friends in person. One was walking near our dog walk area and I heard “Hey Leo!” and knew the voice from the every-Monday-afternoon meeting. He likes me and pats my head and seems to think I’m a good dog even though I bark a lot after a day of Zoom and he laughs when mom has to mute me in the middle of a meeting. At least I am not walking in the back of the screen half naked like some people did in the early days of Zoom.

There are morning Zoom meetings and then sometimes mom just does email in front of the computer, and occasionally talks on her phone/little computer, but mostly it’s just Zoom Dayz, with an occasional break at lunch and mini walks around the complex during short breaks. We might walk around the short block in a 20 minute break, then more Zooms, then we have a longer walk, or maybe I go into my crate and mom puts on these tight black legging pants and a weird hat and disappears for 45 minutes or so. Then we go on another walk.

On good days we go to the little dog park in our complex and I run and wrestle and play with Ruby and Oakley and sometimes Kevin is there, and Winston. There’s an exotic husky like puppy named Mishke whose dad is covered by drawings and has no hair who sometimes joins us, and Dean, who is a black and gray version of me — brindle they say — but I’m already getting bigger than him. Ruby is my best friend and she’s really tough and runs fast and bites without hurting, and Oakley will be huge my mom says since his feet are giant and he’s just 12 weeks old and already heavier than me. Oakley has really sharp teeth so he sometimes makes me cry, which is embarrassing since I’m older, but I like Oakley — he doesn’t know how sharp his teeth can be.

If we walk later, I might pick up a stick or a fake ball — I think they come off the trees — and poop and mom says “good dog” and then we go inside and mom turns on the really big computer in the living room and there’s this big red sign that pops up after a few seconds of mom pressing the remote at the computer, and then a “Kebang” sound like a gong, and then a bunch of little squares and then a lot more squares but mom always goes to the first one and clicks on it and we watch the big computer for a few hours I think. I might go into mom’s room and go under the bed (I’m getting too big so not sure how long that will last) while she watches the second show and there are a lot of noises and even a few dogs but I just lay there, waiting for her to bring the crate into her room and lure me into it with a treat.

She turns the water on in the bathroom and sometimes I come and bark at her when she is in the big white bowl with bubbles, and sometimes I just stay put. And then she reads and I am in the crate with the light off, and sometimes I dream and wake myself up by running and hitting my foot on the crate. Then I go back to sleep, and mom says I snore sometimes. And then we wake up and it all happens again. Except there are these days when we go back to sleep after she lets me out and we don’t have zoom except Zoom yoga and Zoom cocktail parties, and lots of walks and bike rides and we even saw horses one day.

People wear these things on their face outside and I can’t see if they are smiling, but sometimes I can tell they are nice by their eyes. I can’t wait to see them smile.

Wendell Wood Collins has published short fiction, essays and poetry in US 1 as well as regionally and participated in writers’ workshops at Chautauqua Institution, Princeton and in NYC. She is an active in the Room at The Table writing group and lives in Pennington.

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