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Nathan Oates


I woke early to my baby’s cries and looked, holding her and shifting from one foot to the other, humming some nonsense under my breath, out the nursery window and saw the red, rusted car with one wheel up on the curb – so out of place here in the suburbs where almost no cars are older than two or three years.

A dog was in the back seat, pushing the black tip of its nose up to the crack in the window, nostrils fluttering – each movement distinct in the very early morning blueness – then the tongue flicked out against the glass. The nose disappeared from the slot and began to trace milky trails, back and forth, like the fog of breath in the cold, but lingering, a more permanent breath. My first thought was that the dog must’ve been left in the car by mistake and I was worried about it, held my baby girl a little tighter against my chest (she’d fallen back asleep already, so if I hadn’t seen the dog in the car down there I’d have already set her in the crib and slunk back to bed for another hour, or maybe even two, of sleep – not likely, for, as my wife put it, it was my turn now to do a little work), but then I saw a movement up front, the vague pinkness of a human face behind the dirty glass. A hand reached back to pet the dog and then the dog thrust its face up along the driver’s side window, smearing it too with a milky trail, tongue flicking over the man’s chin, and I heard, lifting through the cracked windows of his car and across the street in the blue light, over my manicured lawn and up to the window of my baby’s room and through the screen to my ears, a laugh, the stuttered attempt at words, caught and made meaningless with delight.

Hearing that laugh I was so happy for that man with his dog in his car in the early morning that I bent my head close to my girl’s head, as though to tell her to look, look at that down there, isn’t that wonderful? But I didn’t say anything.

A few hours later, the police arrived and the man in the car was arrested for breaking and entering and I stood along with the rest of the neighbors out in the street, arms crossed over my chest, shaking my head at the scatter of broken glass on the yard, the large, hanging shards still in the frame. We all pitied our neighbor who’d so tragically lost her husband just a year ago and now had to put up with this, her unmoored brother-in-law. There, in the street, I felt as though what I’d seen at the window in that blue, hazy-clear morning light was just something from a dream and that it had nothing to do with the person I’d become in this life, with my angry wife who snarled at our neighbors, as though they were to blame for this disturbance, bouncing our baby on her shoulder, our little girl who opened her bright mouth wide and cawed, groping her tiny fingers at the leaves far out of reach overhead.

Nathan Oates has published fiction and essays in the Antioch Review, The Missouri Review, Fugue and elsewhere. His stories have twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and his collection of stories was a finalist for the 2007 Iowa Short Fiction Award. He earned his MA from the Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he lives with his wife and their two dogs.

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