Of Doga and Dogma by Jennifer Anthony

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16 August 2008

Graciela hefted her bag onto one shoulder and wrapped the dog leash around her wrist several times. It was eight p.m. on a Wednesday night, and she and Socrates had just finished their new weekly Doga routine at Bideawee. Socrates was, of course, the best student in the class: well mannered, a quick learner, and eager to try to new things.

But now that she had to hail a taxi, she remembered that some cab drivers could care less if Socrates was the most well-behaved canine in the city.

“Sit,” she said. Socrates glanced up at with her a smug expression. He sat, but slowly, as if such a simple command were beneath him.

As she stood poised to whistle for one of the yellow and black bumblebees whizzing down the street, she heard someone clear his throat. She turned to find her classmates – Gregorio, a man whose compact, muscled physique matched that of his French bulldog, Jacques – and Henry, tall and lean, who seemed to have chosen his exact opposite for a companion – a low-to-the-ground, overweight basset hound named Wilbur.

Gregorio smiled as his dog tugged at the leash, eager to reconnect with his classmates. Meanwhile, the basset hound collapsed, exhausted, onto the sidewalk, eyelids drooping.

“Need a lift?” Gregorio asked. “I’m giving Henry and Wilbur a ride to the Upper East Side.”

Graciela reached down to give Jacques a few scratches above his tail, and the dog’s entire body wiggled in delight. “Oh, that’s okay,” she said. “I’m down in Loisaida, so you’d be running all over the place. I can cab it.”

“That’s actually perfect,” Gregorio countered. “I live in Little Italy so I can drop you off on the way.

Graciela hesitated. She had been trying her best to put the kibosh on the attraction to her classmate that had been growing over the past couple of weeks. First, the saxophone dreams, and now, this. Things were beginning to get a little out of hand.

But she was tired, and the thought of not having to pay the hefty cab fare was tempting. “That’d be really nice,” she said, and turned quickly away from Gregorio’s smile of Chiclet-perfect teeth.

“You live in the same neighborhood as my friend Allison,” she said. “Maybe you could talk her into Doga. I haven’t had much luck.”

“What kind of dog does she have?” Henry asked, coaxing Wilbur into an upright position with a biscuit from his pocket. The humans and hounds started walking toward the parking lot.

“A teacup Yorkie,” Graciela said. She nodded at the basset hound, who regarded her with bloodshot eyes. “I think her dog might run circles around yours.”

The two men laughed.

“Any dog could run circles around Wilbur,” Henry said. Pointing to Socrates, he said, “Your dog really does a mean sun salutation.”

“I think Socrates is doing better in the class than me,” Graciela said, with a shrug.

“I don’t know about that,” Gregorio countered. “No offense to you and Wilbur, Henry, but I think that you and Socrates are the best in the class.”

Graciela felt herself blushing.

When they reached Gregorio’s parked car, Graciela froze. “Maybe I’ll cab it,” she said, nodding her head at the Mercedes.

“Don’t be silly,” Gregorio said. “What’s a little more dog hair?”

Henry insisted that she sit up front, while he took the back seat with the three dogs. “I’m a dog groomer,” he said. “This is nothing.”

Graciela was eager to deflect the conversation away from herself and the sizzling heat she felt inside just from looking at Gregorio beside her. “Do you have a business card, Henry? My friend’s been looking for a new groomer since hers moved to the Hamptons.”Graciela got Henry to talk about the tricks of his trade to avoid any more conversation with Gregorio. But after they dropped Henry and Wilbur off, she could no longer avoid him.

“So,” Gregorio said, as they watched the two amble down the sidewalk. “I’ve been trying to talk to you in the past few classes, but you and Socrates are so intense and focused, that I felt weird breaking your concentration.”

Graciela knew she should have taken a cab. “Yeah, we’re really into it,” she said. “It’s good exercise, and it helps both of us relax.”

Gregorio pulled back out into the street, smooth and slow, ignoring a cab that honked at him and swerved around into the other lane. “Well, I have to admit that it’s hard for me to concentrate with you in the class.”

Graciela laughed and waved her hand at him. “You’re funny.”

He smiled but didn’t laugh. “I’m not really kidding. But I see you have an engagement ring on, so I’m not going to press it. I’m new in town, so I tried out the Doga class to meet people. It’s just my luck to fall for someone who’s taken. Anyway, I’d settle for just being your friend. I mean that.”

Taken

Graciela had never thought of herself as taken. Said aloud, it sounded very permanent, very restrictive. She cast sideways glances at Gregorio’s closely shaved black hair, his long, aquiline nose, the way the smile still rested on his lips.

She thought of how she and her friends had teased Kyoko about chasing waterfalls versus sticking to what she knew. Wasn’t she doing the very same thing?

And unlike Kyoko, she had an engagement ring around her finger.


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