“Wake up!” shouted Elenore.

She hoisted Massimo from the green polyester rug into her arms and stroked the top of his head. Despite his fatigue, the scruffy gray ball of fur was helplessly compliant as she plopped him near the disheveled shoe rack and buckled the strappy harness across his chest, then velcroed the useless checkered blanket around his back. They were almost ready to prance out the front door for a morning stroll when Elenore grabbed four bright-red deflated balloons.

“It’s getting cold out, so we don’t want your paws to freeze!” she exclaimed, letting Massimo sniff the balloons.

“What is she planning to do?” Massimo wondered. “Does she want me to eat them, or does she want to put them over my nose?”

To Massimo, they smelled rubbery and felt synthetic, unnatural. Elenore grabbed his leg gently, then shoved his foot into the red balloon. Massimo stood for a second trying to gnaw off the stretchy rubber, but Elenore was too fast and forced all four onto his limbs before he could contest. She pushed open the heavy door, letting the dingy smell of dirty twenty-somethings swim into their apartment as they stepped into the dim hallway. From the first step, Massimo could tell something was wrong. His toes felt constricted, and he couldn’t feel the prickly texture of the dirt-stained doormat. He took another step. The smooth vinyl hallways vanished, and all he could feel were the tacky balloons. From the front door to the elevator Massimo lost all ability to walk. Elenore tried dragging him to the elevator, but then she turned around and burst out into laughter. He gave her a helpless glance wishing for nothing more but to burn those sacks off his feet, but she didn’t seem to understand. The door slid open, and Elenore picked him up as the large metal box made eight beeps before they landed on the first floor.

Although their walks were often short, Massimo could tell that this morning was going to be long and painful. He waddled through the double doors and stumbled onto the rough concrete, but he felt none of the joy of being outside; all the beautiful textures of the city were dampened by a synthetic barrier. Massimo waddled over to his favorite square of dirt. It was landlocked by a sea of grey with a small leafy substance poking through the center; it looked like wilted kale. He sifted through little fragments of plastic on the ground but couldn’t feel the dry mulch, his favorite place to mark his territory, through the tight latex balloons. Disappointed, Massimo sullenly pranced away from his throne, head hanging low. Elenore, being a somewhat attentive companion, noticed this and was concerned for her friend. She followed Massimo as he aimlessly searched for new territory. As they neared the edge of the block, a flock of post-yoga class Equinox mothers, with headbands that matched their butt-defining leggings, sashayed towards Massimo and Elenore with their ergonomic strollers. Elenore, with her scrappy ripped jeans and coffee-stained tote bag, looked up and quickly turned away in hopes that her old college roommate, Sasha, wouldn’t recognize her. When she and Sasha used to live together, they would often see grungy homeless guys sitting with their pit bulls near St. Mark’s, and Sasha would scowl at them asking Elenore how anyone could have an animal like that without becoming an animal themselves. Before she could turn around, Sasha burst into a loud shriek and pointed at Massimo laughing at his spastic limp, then looked up at Elenore.

“Oh hey, girl! You must be doing well, but I’m not sure about your dog . . . ” she said.

Embarrassed, Elenore tried to be polite and carry out small talk without letting Sasha’s comments get to her. As they continued chatting Massimo smelled something familiar and looked up at the stroller. Elenore and Massimo heard a whimper coming from the stroller and realized that it wasn’t a baby in Sasha’s carriage but a perfectly fluffed white Pomeranian. Sasha snapped at the little snowflake of a dog, accidentally dropping her light pink water bottle into a puddle of brown near a rusted grate. Thoroughly disgusted, Sasha grabbed her bottle with a napkin, and they said their farewells. As Sasha continued down the block, Elenore and Massimo shared a glanced and laughed at the thought of a pristine dog shielded by a stroller from the wonders of the city. Maybe Massimo’s shoes weren’t so limiting after all. Even in the cold of winter, Massimo still experienced the city with all its unkempt glory. As they made their way home, Elenore giggled as Massimo waddled across the asphalt crosswalk like an unapologetic pigeon, just happy to be where he was.

Sam Lee’s poem “To Ezra, My Violin” won third prize in the Seventh Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Sam is a freshman BFA Design major. Sam is from Columbus, Ohio and has a dog named Mochi who is her personal muse. When Sam isn’t doing design work, she is working on her small clothing brand (@oofofficialoof), eating snacks with friends, or contemplating what to cook for dinner.