Tootsie and I need to get home. We need to cross the street, the sidewalk, the parking lot; to open our building door, to get inside. Why different countries have different guidelines during a global pandemic, I do not know. Here in Switzerland, humans stand three feet apart because, for now, the Consiglio Federale says three feet apart is enough.
Nothing is enough. This night, the distance—the run to my building door—is too much. I long to walk my tube of fur without fear. Out the front door and back to the front door without fear. To greet Tootsie’s friend Hakim, a long-haired dachshund, with cuddles the way we used to do. To pet Tootsie’s friend Samantha, a long-haired Chihuahua, and let her kiss my face the way we used to do. To walk to Piazza Lago and visit with our friend Pollux, so he can shove his tiny pinscher snout up Tootsie’s senior butt, which helps her poop.
Tonight, the distance to my front door is long. There are two people at the front door entrance, no distance, pushing the door open hard to exit. I do not know them. I have never seen them before. I run and hide behind the enormous hedge, holding Tootsie against my heart. Her black-and-tan fur is not as soft as it used to be, and all the fuzz on her ears has worn off, as if life has taken its toll. I pant, and Tootsie pants. We wait for the woman and the man to burst forth from our building.
From behind the hedge, I watch as the woman starts a folk dance in the parking lot. She wears a mask. She looks for me. Up and down her body bends, round and round she goes. She stomps. Her feet are wide, stompy-stompy, and she sings, loudly, “Dov’è andata? Ma abita qui?” Where did she go? Does she live here?
The woman coughs and coughs, bending and straightening as part of her dance. She pretends to hock a goober, the sound a monster roar, but she doesn’t remove her mask. I jump out from behind the hedge, the sweet-green blossoms tickling my nose, my sweet-senior dachshund in my arms, and I hear myself, disembodied, screaming: “Are you trying to cough on me? You fucking asshole.”
I yell in English, because my husband told me to get mad in English; it carries more authority than Italian. I shake uncontrollably. The last time I was this angry at a stranger was twenty-five years ago in New York City, in Lincoln Center, when a man told me I shouldn’t let my Norwegian Elkhound get wet. “Do you know my dog like I know my dog? Brycie is a country dog! She’s from Montana! She knows the rain!”
This woman stops her stompy-stompy donut dance. She shuts up. But her man is here; yes, he is her man. “Ma vaffanculo,” he yells.
I scream: “La distanza sociale.” There are balconies around the parking lot. Balconies where my neighbors sunbathe, drink wine, grill paprika-coated chicken breasts, look at the moon, and put out sparkling Christmas lights during the season. I hear a crash from inside Palazzo A, but no one arrives to check on me, to ask, “Tutto a posto?” Everyone knows that I am the only native English speaker in these two buildings.
My Tootsie pushes her long nose against my heart. I am not wearing a mask. The man moves away, and the woman follows; they both keep walking. But he suddenly turns back and shouts, “Testa di cazzo.” I yell the same back at him, louder, across the parking lot, the physical distance between us greater than spit can fly, thank Goddess.
When we are home, inside, my shoes off, my outside clothes off, my hands washed and washed for twenty seconds and more, Tootsie and I cuddle together on the red-wool carpet, shaking like two elderly ladies, worried at the state of our hearts.
Renée E. D’Aoust’s first book is Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press). She teaches online at Casper College and North Idaho College, and she lives in Switzerland. Please visit reneedaoust.com and follow @idahobuzzy.