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I went for a run by the river this morning.

The wind was up; miniature whitecaps crashed against the embankment. The river flows down to the locks which keep the harbor’s tides at bay; when I reach the locks I turn for home, running the return two miles over the capitol hill.

There were rowers out, not a common sight for January. I was watching the smooth skim of the shells over the water, captivated by the coxswain perched at the stern, the oarsmen moving like a single connected creature. My feet fell in with the pull-glide of the boats like a heartbeat–pull tha-thump tha-thump, glide, tha-thump tha-thump tha-thump tha-thump, pull tha-thump tha-thump, glide, tha-thump tha-thump tha-thump tha-thump–until I’d lost myself in the rhythm.

I almost didn’t notice the tree. I haven’t come this way in months. When I first started working in this city I would come here every day with my four-legged clientele. I would let the dogs do their business here under this tree and watch the boats.

If I were a shell on the river, I would have the coarseness of human nature for my coxswain. I was returning an Irish Wolfhound named Soairse to her owner’s garden level condo, when I walked in on the patriarch standing in the living room, drinking orange juice from the carton.

“Good morning,” I said, unhooking the big dog from her lead. I dropped the leash into its designated basket by the door, and turned to go. It was spring; the prospect of sunshine and a few more hours of walking by the river was a welcome one.

“Wait,” he leered, giving me a once over, eyes lingering on the way the faded denim of my favorite jeans hugged my ass. “Do you offer anything besides dog walking… services?”

I recoiled.

He moved to set the juice carton down and missed; the carton thudded to the floor, leaking juice onto the rug. He staggered slightly when he tried to retrieve it. It was then I saw the vodka bottle behind him on the sideboard.

“Would you pay for more?” I asked coolly.

I saw in his eyes that he would. Not from me, not now. But he would.

I was no directionless vessel. My first taste of pleasure was by my own hand under my cabbage rose-printed duvet, a hundred pages into a stolen romance novel–an awkward affair, slim girlish hips pressed into the mattress, anxious pressure between my legs. I’ve been honing my skills ever since.

I quit dog-walking for good six months later.

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