This is our back alley.
This is a walk we walk everyday.
It's a long block.
Five minutes from bottom to top.
Six if you walk slowly.
Seven if you walk as if intent on studying every scent.
Eight-and-a-half years if you're sniffing for stories.

We take other walks besides this one, but lets say we don't.
Let's say our dog walks us up and down this alleyway three times a day.
That's eight-and-a-half years of up and eight-and-a-half years of down.
Nine thousand three hundred laps of toenails clicking on cracked concrete.
Trail zigzagging, long tail wagging, long tongue lolling, dog tags clacking.
Ears open, eyes darting, nose to the ground.

Our dog is medium, that's what they alley kids say.
He's a medium dog with an orange ball.
Maybe you've met him. He knows people that we don't.
Once we overheard a man at a dinner party talking about The Dog with the Orange Ball.
We said: That's our dog!
He said: That's Crazy!
He's never even seen our dog, but his daughter knows the sound of our dog's dog tags.
He lifts her up so she can watch The Dog with the Orange Ball running up the alley.
We've since glimpsed her pixie head peeking over their high fence.

We throw the orange ball and our dog brings it back to us.
We throw the orange ball and our dog brings it back.
We throw the orange ball and he chases and sometimes we miss.
Eight-and-a-half years and it's hard to say how many orange balls we've sent
sailing over cinder block fences into thigh-high tomatoes or sunk into knee-deep snow.
Sorry if we've ever snuck into your yard in an attempt to retrieve the ball de jour.
Dogs know nothing of private property.

Nine thousand three hundred plastic bags protruding from our pockets
we've braved eight-and-a-half blizzard seasons, the wind in our ears.
We've waded through the slush and shit of eight-and a half springs.
We've scavenged our way through heaps of moving day garbage,
cut our feet on broken glass and sneezed at renovation rubble.
Ours is not the nicest alley in the neighbourhood,
but it's not the worst one either.
We snap off spring sprigs of low-slung lilacs and
pluck blackberries through diamond-back fences.
We pilfer other dogs' balls from other dogs' yards
running wild past wildflowers, weeds and fallen leaves
so free we set the whole alley barking.

Nine thousand three hundred laps of this alleyway
works out to around a hundred and thirty thousand minutes.
If we walk slowly.

We walk as if intent on studying every scent.
We try to see things from the dog's eye view.
We read between these long lines of peeling-paint fences.
Chasing stories changing from minute to minute.
We never want the alleyway to end.

J. R. Carpenter, September 30 & October 1, 2006

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