Small Dogs

Sarah Leavitt


Emily’s mother had unusually large eyes that bulged slightly and often turned red, and she stared at people in restaurants and stores. Sometimes Emily’s mother commented on these people’s conversations, or laughed at their jokes, as if she were part of their group. When they turned and gave Emily’s mother a look to remind her that she was not part of the group, Emily’s throat would tighten and she would have to pinch her arm hard to keep from hitting her mother.

One day when Emily went grocery shopping with her mother and her younger sister, she felt more relaxed than usual. All three were dressed in store-bought clothes, her mother’s hair was neither messy nor tied with a flowing scarf and her sister’s nose was not running. No one seemed to notice them. As they neared the exit of the mall, her mother said, Oh, we almost forgot.

Snacks! said Emily’s sister, and they started toward the pet store.

Where are you going? Emily asked.

Her mother turned around. Remember those dog biscuits that someone left at the house? Well, we tried them and they taste really good. I looked at the ingredients, and they have no sugar or artificial colouring.

By the time they left the pet store, Emily’s arms were covered in red pinch marks. Her mother and sister had tasted each type of biscuit in the bulk section, thinking that when they said, Do you think Rover would like this one, it made them look normal.


Keith’s father had an imaginary dog for security reasons. He kept a chain and a bowl and dog toys arranged conspicuously by the front steps, and whenever he went outside he talked loudly about his vicious Rottweiler so that possible thieves could hear. Keith was not sure that a vicious Rottweiler would have a brand-new looking rubber chew-toy in the shape of a pink and blue fish. One night he chewed on the fish to try to make it look used, but his teeth could not pierce the rubber.


Eight small dogs lived on Catherine’s street when she was young.

We would just let them out the front door, night or day, she remembered. We lived on a busy street. I don’t remember any of them getting hurt, but I wonder why we weren’t worried. Their names all ended in y, she continued: Peppy, Pammy, Misty, Charmy, Buffy, Mitzy and Lady.

That’s only seven, said Catherine’s boyfriend.

Well, there was one more, said Catherine, but actually his name didn’t end in y.


Anne walked into her kitchen and set down her briefcase. On her way home she had seen two men kissing. Instead of the poor and desperate people she usually watched from the window of the bus and then instantly forgot, she had seen two men kissing each other on the lips in broad daylight.

Anne phoned her sister to tell her what she had seen. Hello, she said, I saw two men kissing today.

Her sister replied, You would not believe how fat I’ve gotten since the wedding and my back really hurts so I can’t exercise. We painted the bedroom but I didn’t cover the furniture first and I ruined his favourite chair. The wedding pictures came out really good. I held my arms away from my body, it makes them look skinnier. You should have done that too. But don’t worry, I got the lady to crop them. Mom and Dad are coming over for dinner and I don’t know what to make. They hate my cooking so I don’t know why they come.

Anne looked out the window at the rain. The men had had a dog with them, a tiny poodle straining against its leash as if it had somewhere important to go. That poodle was so bright white it glowed.

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Sarah Leavitt

Sarah Leavitt is the author of the graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My mother, and Me, which was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2010 and is currently in development as a feature-length animation. Leavitt teaches comics classes at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Visit her at


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