Filthy Animals

Any minute I will wake up alone in bed. I’ll open my eyes and feel my lungs filling with water. I’ll write down the dream I had about the girl and the time we had sex in the river, and I’ll feel shame at being alone. I’ll bark and point and howl and wither away to dust.

Fiction by Dominic Laing, Fall 2013


If we lie low, it can’t catch us. At seven in the morning, it sees the top of her toes. Fifteen minutes later it’s at her calves. By half past seven it’s settled into the small of her back. 

I’ve been watching the sun inch its way up her body for thirty minutes before she finally opens her eyes. A peck on the cheek.

“You sleep okay?”

I nod. “You?”

Her hand drapes over my stomach. “I had a bad dream.”

I peck her back. “You feel like doing much today?”

She shakes her head. Then. “Oh!” An exclamation. She sits up and looks down at me. “I could make breakfast.”

I smile and suppress laughter.

“Don’t laugh at me. I’ll burn your toast.”

“I’m not laughing at you.”

“Then what?”

I point. She glances down and sees the sun presiding over her breasts, its bright sight striped straight across her chest. Her eyes turn up and stare down morning light.



 “She brightens me.”

I was talking with friends, and it was about her, and it was one of those times where I meant to say something else, but the words mixed together and what I said was “she brightens me.”

So that’s what I always tell people.

We hike. Follow the river. She takes off her shoes at the water’s edge.

“Feel like taking a swim?”

“With you, maybe.”

“Deal.” And then she strips to nothing. And then she leaps into the water.

Now it’s the sun, hitting the water, filtered into rays of light, shimmering across her body.

I open my palm and I feel the same sun she feels. My bare feet enter the water, and it’s the same water rushing over her body.

I kiss her and pull her close. I raise her from the dirt and feel the mud streaked against her bare back. I feel my knees start to sink in the shoreline. I feel light on my shoulders.

Now it’s her breath. Now it’s her hand caressing my cheek and sliding down my neck, down my chest. She grips me and pulls me inside.

Good clean love with our two dirty bodies.

“She brightens me.”


On the drive back from the river, she props her dirty feet up against the windshield and warms her soles. She taps her big toes against the glass.

“Having fun?”

“I think so; the sun feels great.”

I smile. “You’re getting the window dirty.” She sighs and pulls her feet to the ground.

A few blocks up the road, I signal to make a right turn. My eyes shift to the passenger side mirror.

And there she is; her two footprints, the detailed lines receding away as they draw down toward her heel. I see the arch of her feet and all her little piggies.

Right mirroring left. Like a butterfly ready-winged; like a flake of snow, suspended.


We’re at a table, waiting for coffee. Cars speed into and out of view. Conversations around us dip close and then retreat. There is no current in which to rest.

My hand trembles. I can’t hold on to anything here.

I peel her hand open and try tracing the lines of her palm. “Hmm. Interesting.”


“Yeah. Says you wound up with the wrong fella.”

“No kidding?”

“Mmm. Shoulda hooked up with that Brazilian soccer player.”

“You don’t say.”

“Or that lawyer. He was a catch.”

“Wow. And you can read all of that in my hand?”

Silence. I feel the meat of her palm. It is not a tea leaf or a tarot card. I cannot look up its make and model. It is not gold sifted from the river. It is not a compass.

My fingers pull back from her palm, and I press my head to her shoulder. I imagine my body crumbling like ice caps. I imagine my body melting and running down her knuckles. Out of my melting come words. “...I did a good job this week; told lots of people where to put their money.” I feel shackles in my breath. Heave. Exhale.

She watches my shoulders. She counts my gray hairs. “Did they listen?”

I nod. “Everyone got more money. Everyone’s happy.”

“So now they’ve got more money and they’re happy. Good for them.”

I nod again. “It’s because I’m good at what I do...I know what to do with stuff. Do you know what to do with stuff? I do. Make sure it gets plenty of sun. Keep out of reach of children. When stuff collects too much dust, move it.”

“And is that who you are? Someone who tells people which shelf to put their stuff on?”

My hands feel small. My shoulders pull tight and sink. “...I’m a hunting dog. I bark, and I point, and I howl.” My open palm hovers above her forearm. I pull my fingers in, then stretch them out again. “They feed me and give me a place to sleep, and I’m grateful for their affection.” I trace my shadow on her skin. “I am an animal on the end of their leash.” I pull my hand back and hold it to my thigh.

Without realizing, I’ve pushed my chair back from hers. “I don’t know what to do with you. I don’t know how to hold onto you or care for you.” I close my eyes and press my palms against my eyelids. I hear my breath. I feel my heart.

“I don’t know what comes next with you.”

Any minute I will wake up alone in bed. I’ll open my eyes and feel my lungs filling with water. I’ll write down the dream I had about the girl and the time we had sex in the river, and I’ll feel shame at being alone. I’ll bark and point and howl and wither away to dust.

Heave. Exhale.

But it’s now, at my darkest, when I feel her fingers trace shapes on my back. Slow and sure. “What are you doing?”

“I’m drawing you a tree.”

The lines ripple out and skip across my skin. I squirm. “Stop.”

“Why?” She continues drawing. The lines grow roots and hook into my lungs.

“I don’t want you drawing on me.”

“Liar.” Her fingers find every knot and fist. Steady are her lines; chalk upon stone.

My mind flows backward through flickering sun; to her feet on the windshield, to the light on the surface of the water, to her hand across my stomach.

My eyes turn glassy and bloom tears.

“Hey. See this? This is the scar from when I fell coming out of the shower. This is the third time I’ve worn this dress without washing it. I’ve been wanting to fart for about ten minutes, but I’m afraid it’ll smell.

“You don’t know how to hold onto me? Says the man who’s just as good in a riverbed as he is a mattress. Bullshit. You know how to hold me.

“Rejoice, babe, and don’t mistake me for stuff. I’m not yours to covet, keep, or guard. I’m not Damsel, and I’m not Distressed. I’m not the weight you must bear. I’m not a queen, and you’re not a hunting dog.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

She grabs me and pinches my face tight in her grip. “I think it’s great that you’re not an asshole, but I can’t love you if you hate yourself.” Her lines swirl and surround my heart, now caught in her fisher’s net.

Then she breaks and gazes down at her hand. She smiles, then kisses the top of her palm. “Mwah,” she says. “Pretty Beast.” She kisses the top of my palm. “Mwah,” she says. “Pretty Beauty.” She kisses the top of her palm again. “Mwah,” she says. “Pretty Pauper.” She kisses the top of my palm again. “Mwah,” she says. “Pretty Prince.”

“I’m not the Pretty Prince.”

“Of course you are.”

“Says who?”


“Yeah, well...”

“Well, what?”

“...I don’t believe you.”

“...Fine. Don’t believe me. Hey. Look. I’ll be okay without you, sweetie. Right? I’ll love someone else.

But I don’t want to love someone. I want to love you. I want you next to me, alongside me; not picking up after me, not walking behind me.”

My neck thaws and allows for the slightest of nods.

She continues drawing. “Don’t think so highly of yourself that you would deserve or not deserve anything. Neither of us were given such ground on which to stand.”

She retraces her lines. Slow and sure. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” She plants kisses at the roots of my tree. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the poor in spirit...”

“...for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” She smiles. My hands fall to my side. “What do

you want me to do, then?”

“Hold onto me, and think of me.”

“Because you want me to?”

“...Because I think of you.”


The waiter drops off our coffee and snacks. She slides her hands around the cup, and she stares at the still surface. A grin appears.


“I think I’ve still got dirt on my legs.”

“From the river?”


“...You filthy animal.”

She grins and holds her hand over the cup, letting the steam wrap around her fingers.

Then she rubs her thighs together, and dried Earth falls out from under her skirt. I sit in silence as her high priest legs perform His holy work and create an altar of dirt between bare feet.

“...Your filthy animal.”

Her eyes meet mine. My eyes meet hers. Our eyes meet each other’s.

Then she reels me in and smashes her face against mine, and her lips are jammed into my ear, and they’re soft and wet and I squirm, but her arms grow long and pull me tighter and tighter, and now I’m filling in all her curves and empty spaces, and now it’s her hot breath against my hair, and now it’s her arms knotted round my body, and now I’m melting, melting...melting...

“...Your filthy animal.”


...And warm light spread across the tree on my back.

Dominic Laing lives and works in Philadelphia as a member of Neighborhood Film Company. He's a writer, drummer and uncle to three beautiful nieces. 


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