Lucy Schiller


Why the harness is called the Gentle Leader I don't understand, because my dog is the one to lead me, not gently, away from the house and into the woods. Woods they call them here, not forest. Not the harness, not me—neither of us is the gentle leader. We all need one of those, a gentle leader, and I say it often, I say it throughout the day, and then question: do we? I don't believe in much. But outside of belief, I am beginning to enjoy my new gentle leader, the way he plops his chubby body down on me in the early morning to tell me it's time to wake. Sometimes on our walks when he's not pulling, and I have time, for a second, to think, I remember how I used to stare at trees, fantasize about moss. All that. I'm far from who I once was, I don't know why, but I led myself away. Once, I seemed to feel things most acutely by bringing them from the outside in. Once, I went out into the park I could see from my apartment and I stole all these soft branches and I thumbtacked them to my ceiling so it became a kind of upside-down forest. Woods. You (I) couldn't walk through the kitchen without twigs falling in your (my) oatmeal. Why I would do this I don't know, gentle leader. Another time I pitched a tent in my room and somehow fit my mattress inside it. I slept in the tent inside the room for months. Was I insane, gentle leader? Or just more energetic? Few ideas come to me these days. The generous interpretation is that what's outside has become inside, I have switched, the sustenance no longer needs gathered. Yesterday, gentle leader, after you plopped down on me, I grasped my phone and found Angelina Jolie's net worth and how she spends it and wondered will she ever run out?? and I put the phone down and went downstairs and took you out. I have gathered enough that I've stopped gathering, and then I forget that I ever gathered at all, and now I have to remind myself: I have to dredge ideas out of myself, put them down on index cards, and I keep the index cards in a recipe box, so that I can flip through them when I'm struggling and imagine I'm just cooking something up, something is just simmering. Simmering, then, I put myself in the outside, I put us on along the old towpath canal, which borders the tiny regional airport. Not even regional: it's just the town's airport. Whoever uses it, mysterious to me, though surely I've crossed paths with them in the hardware store, flies beautiful, rickety, powder-blue gliders. Before moving here I had never seen a plane up close, besides, you know, from the inside. This is a different sensation, watching them from up close from the outside, watching them veer down out of the sky, tilting on invisible buffets of wind you can feel blowing through your hair, too. And in this way we are all part of it. Gentle leader, you took us past the airport today and within thirty minutes we heard a terrible sound all around us: all these geese violently honking en masse, and all these birds sounding that I couldn't identify, and every squirrel doing its warning trill. It was so loud and so insistent that it was clearly some kind of reaction. I said to you something is coming. We turned around and we walked back, along the airport fence. And then suddenly I saw it. A powder-blue glider was coming straight out of the sky. And I stood there, with you, gentle leader, and the plane narrowed in on us, descending rapidly. And I thought it is now a part of me, gentle leader, I will turn this into a story, gentle leader, unless we don't survive this, because now I could see the pilot, gentle leader, he was leading his plane as best as he could towards the runway, but he had seen us, and we stared at each other and we both knew—I swear—that neither of us should move off of our particular track. He should keep descending and I should keep standing there, because to move outside of the situation would mean death to us all. I had to trust him and he had to trust me, we were a part of the same internal and external situation, though we were trying not to be, mostly in our minds, which were thinking oh God. And so I stood there with you, gentle leader, just this week you have been starting to become cuddly, you have just started to put your back against mine in the morning, and I have just started to feel like something is growing back after being too shorn, and you looked rabbity and scared in this moment. The gentle leader on your lovely long snout looked thin, and you looked tiny and skinny despite your outsized personality, and I knew I looked tiny from the plane's cockpit, and probably insane in my raspberry long underwear, and I just stared at the gentle leader, and the plane flew so close over us I smelled the sudden stench of fuel, and I crouched involuntarily. I didn't want it. And afterwards, gentle leader, you pulled hard home.






There is just so much canine paraphernalia in the world, and I've noted with amusement how the sometimes bizarre product names (Kong Wobbler) have wormed their way into my regular vocabulary now that I have a restless and demanding dog, Helgi, who I love a lot and placate however possible. I used to work at a naming company in San Francisco—it was my first job out of college, and I was basically a receptionist. I was thinking about those days, which seem utterly bizarre to me now, while taking Helgi out for a walk. The company, if I remember correctly, came up with the name "Pooch Punch" for a short-lived "supplemental drink for dogs and puppies."