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Edward first met Laelia at a climate change protest, arranged to meet her again at a March Against The Wall, brought her back to his apartment after a PETA  rally. On a weekend away, he was bathing in a trickle of river when above him Laelia crashed her hang-glider into the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. He nursed her back to walking again, only to have her walk out on him, stuffing her Osprey with half the food in the fridge.      
          ‘Hasta la vista,’ she said.

When his mother showed up with Didgeridoo and some fresh tofu from the Chinese market a week later, he was still in bed, crying.

‘Didge is a ridgeback,’ his mother said.

            ‘I have no room in my life for a dog,’ Edward said, shaking his head.

            ‘Your apartment has two bedrooms. Didge would have her own room.’

            ‘That room is for guests.’

            ‘What guests? A dog will help you meet people. People gravitate to people with dogs.’

‘Maybe small cute dogs. Not huge, unruly… what kind of dog is she?’

Edward’s mother had debated whether to acknowledge that Didge was a colonial breed, a Rhodesian ridgeback born out of racism. She changed the topic by opening the fridge, took out some green veg.

‘Want a tofu smoothie?’ asked his mother.

‘Shouldn’t you be getting back to court,’ Edward said. His mother was a lawyer and, dressed in her black power suit, she never lost.

‘She was Gene’s,’ his mother said.  Gene was his mother’s best friend, a lawyer too, but also an extreme marathoner. Only 52, Gene had had a stroke a month ago; they’d found him comatose on the floor in his workout gear, AC/DC blaring, Didgeridoo licking his face.

‘I know how much Gene meant to you, but I just can’t take his dog.’

‘Give it a week,’ his mother said. ‘If she hasn’t won you over by then, we’ll find her another home.’

Laelia was adopted by Japanese Buddhists who had raised her in French Canada. Her parents’ own grandparents had fled from the threat of American internment during the Second World War. When Laelia discovered that her biological grandparents had been Mexican, she convinced her adoptive parents to move back to California, where she remained long after they returned to Quebec.

Edward was Southern Californian, back to the Gold Rush, and aware of his white-male privilege in ways which ate away at him, making him all the more dutiful in his care for Laelia and the discrimination she suffered every day: as a woman, as a Japanese-Mexican, as a Buddhist. If at first, Laelia had confessed her undying love for him, he soon realised that even an ethnic minority who was adopted could be an asshole whose beauty was skin-deep. At 28, she was 9 years younger than him and as beautiful as an Aztec Goddess – black hair, dark skin. Making him all the more acutely aware of his own looks – pale and weedy. With her next to him he’d felt even worse about himself, touching up his roots every week, wearing concealer around his sagging eyes. She laughed at his painted face, laughed at his paintings to his face, scorned the books he read (romances, and not of the Melvillean sea-faring kind), and insulted his cooking. Long before she left him, he’d thought to kick her out, but for her broken pelvis, and his own broken spirit.

Upon reflection now in his therapist’s office, he admitted to himself that he might have been suffering from Stockholm syndrome, only there was no proxy, he was holding himself captive.

‘It could’ve been a form of Munchausen’s,’ his therapist said while studying Didgeridoo, who sat attentively by Edward’s feet, ‘which is a form of masochism.’

‘Whatever it was, I’m over her.’

‘Are you seeing anyone?’

Edward had had a couple of affairs since Laelia. Robert was a vegan, who used to joke about not being a vegan when it came to sucking dick. He’d stick his tongue in Edward’s ear before sliding down his body to work his ball sack. Edward rarely came, and when he faked it their last time together, Robert said Edward didn’t know his cock from his elbow.

And there was Angel, pre-op trans, with chest and facial hair to complement her enormous bush. She was scheduled for top-surgery, and Edward couldn’t help but wish she wouldn’t sacrifice her perfect boobs. 34DD and with perky nipples that were sprouting long dark hairs that inevitably ended up in Edward’s mouth.

‘Not really. Just fooling around,’ he said to his therapist.

‘Want to talk about it?’

‘Not really.’

His therapist sighed. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing’s wrong.’

‘Well, you’re not here today, in this room with me. You’ve barely said a word, and while I could sit here saying nothing, frankly, I’m bored, and could use the time to go paddle-boarding.’

‘Did you say water-boarding?’

‘Is that what you think this is.’

‘I’m in love with Didgeridoo,’ Edward said. Didge’s ears perked up.

            ‘That’s natural enough,’ his therapist said, ‘The comfort you’re feeling now with Didge is countering the PTSD you’ve been experiencing since Laelia.’

            ‘Didge and I are moving to Nevada, where we won’t be judged.’

‘Judged for what?’

‘Our love.’

‘You can love Didge right here in California.’

‘You want me to say it.’

‘I do,’ his therapist said. ‘I want you to say something.’       

Their first night in his apartment together, Didge had slept at the foot of Edward’s bedroom door, not even a whine. Over the next week, Didge inched her way closer. Still, she never jumped up onto the couch, not while he was watching TV; never lifted a paw to his lap while he reclined in the Danish recliner reading a book; never begged for food as he sat eating take-away dim sum by himself at the kitchen-cum-dining table. Instead, she’d patiently watch him, holding his gaze long after he turned away. When one night he couldn’t sleep, she walked to the side of his bed and licked the back of his hanging hand, as if she could feel the pain of his lonesomeness.

In time, he began waking early to take Didgeridoo on sunrise walks. They’d eat bagels with cream cheese and lox at the Jewish deli. On weekends, they’d run the Guadalupe Mountains, through the Carlsbad Caverns’ dirt trails. He began to feel as if he were bathed in a light of love. People love people who are loved. For the first time in his life, he could feel others studying the glow that emanated from him as he biked to work, or when he walked Didgeridoo along the ocean’s promenade at night.

             Back at home, Edward and Didge would cuddle on the couch, before taking it to his bed. Sometimes he’d spoon her, sometimes she’d spoon him. When he rubbed her belly, she’d arch her back, turn her head away and raise her haunches. He’d drop his hand to her vulva, which was swollen and wet and he’d rub and finger it. There were times when he would mount her, and she would lie there patiently, front paws behind her head, while he rocked and fucked, until he came and collapsed on top of her. Didgeridoo was less a dog than anyone he’d ever been with. How many times had he licked Laelia’s butthole like she liked, or given her head while she was banged up from the hang-gliding accident, confined to watching porn on her laptop? He, for one, wasn’t watching porn anymore. He was in bed with Didgeridoo – in front of, beside, and under – her paws wrapped around his back, her nails clipped but still scratching, tangled in his hair. He was more in love than he’d ever been in his life.

‘You don’t think you’ll be judged in Nevada?’ his therapist said.

‘Our love is legal in Nevada’

‘In the court, but not on the streets of Reno,’ his therapist said.

‘We won’t live in Reno,’ Edward said.

‘How do you know Didge is in love with you?’

‘How can you say that? If you saw her with me, you’d know.’

‘Do you, though? Animal consciousness is more a mystery than human consciousness. How can she consent? I’m not judging you, but this is the main reason you can’t marry your dog or cat or any animal, not in Nevada, or any other US state.’

Edward ran out of his therapist’s office, Didge’s leash flapping in hand.

‘I have something to tell you,’ his mother said, as Edward sobbed down the phone.  He’d run out of his therapist’s office and onto the beach, where the wind whistled in his ears.

 ‘Gene and Didge were lovers for years. When he had his stroke, I knew the one thing he wouldn’t want was for Didge to end up alone. You were alone, Didge was alone. We might not believe in God anymore, but our society still believes that God granted humans dominion, on sea, air and land. The law protects animals from what it considers human abuse. But that abuse stems from our belief in Speciesism, the only discriminatory ism that’s not only allowed, it’s promoted. If you and Didge want to be together in our world, you’ll have to hide your love. It’s a cruel truth, Edward, but it’s the truth our world teaches us. Gene belonged to an organization which runs cruises – there are very few laws at sea – you and Didge should look to live at sea. On land, the law, like most of us, is Speciesist.’

With Didge by his side, Edward ran over the damp sand. Part of him had known all along he wasn’t Didge’s first human lover. She was so much more tender than any human he’d ever been with. He tried to imagine him and Didge at sea – a cocktail in his hand, Didge roaming the ship with other like-minded dogs – but he knew they’d just be drifting, reduced to living like jellyfish in the middle of nowhere.

The moon was shining down and multiplying its reflection due to his tears. The beach was miles long and each time Edward stopped and sobbed it got longer. He was still working as a para-legal in the same firm his mother had gotten him a job in 14 years ago, after he’d graduated in Ethno-anthropology from UCLA. He’d never gone to law school, but had taken the Bar six times, refusing to take it again after his most recent (and most pathetic) failure. What did it matter, he didn’t need to be a lawyer to know that no court would ever let him marry Didge.

            Didgeridoo ran wild and free over the beach, every so often returning to dart around Edward’s legs. When he collapsed in a heap, Didge bound up beside him, to kick up the sand before nestling her muzzle into Edward’s crotch. He held her by the neck and rubbed the dark brown ridge of hair than ran down her auburn back. There was so much intolerance and ignorance in the world. If Laelia hadn’t been such a total bitch, there was the possibility that they could have changed the world together.

            Laelia touched him on the shoulder. A woman taller than her stood by her side.

            ‘I thought that was you,’ she said to Edward.

            Concealer was running down his cheek and snot out his nose.

            ‘I’m crying,’ he said, ‘You shouldn’t see me like this.’

            ‘Who’s this beautiful pup?’ Laelia said.

            ‘Didgeridoo,’ Edward said. ‘She’s 6… 42 in human years.’

            Laelia petted Didge on the head, ruffled her ears.

‘Kaleigh and I are living together,’ Laelia said.

Kaleigh stepped forward. ‘Laelia told me how you nursed her back to health after the hang-gliding accident. Thank you for that.’

            Edward began to cry again.

            ‘I’m sorry, I’m not crying because of you.’

Didgeridoo nuzzled his shoulder, but Edward pushed her away.

            ‘Give us a second,’ Laelia said to Kayleigh.

            Kaleigh made a clown’s sad face, before turning to skip to the shoreside.

            Laelia bent down and took Edward’s head in her hands: ‘Edward, Edward, Edward,’ she said, ‘I’m a complete self-addict. I’m the worst sort of human silo, the kind unable to connect to other humans. I know I’m more of the problem as much as I want to be the solution. There’s no way I can’t not be. It wasn’t my place to offer you redemption in this love-less world.  But this beautiful dog here…’

Laelia stroked Digeridoo’s ridge.

‘She’ll treat you right. Most people are meant for other people. Some are meant to be with dogs. It’s the way of the heart, mind and soul. We can only follow it.’

Edward lifted his eyes. To know someone, to really know them was the greatest gift you could give.  Did she really know about him and Didge? Was she telling him everything was going to be alright? That others would recognize their love in an equally humane way?

Laelia stood up and extended a hand.

‘I want you to be happy, Edward,’ Laelia said, ‘You were always too good for me. You are meant to be with someone who loves you. And this girl here clearly loves you.’

Didge licked his neck. Edward smoothed back her ears, while she licked his face. He felt like a balloon rising into the air. Free and flying over the ocean, able to see the bigger picture from so high above. He took Laelia’s hand and let her pull him up. He tucked his face into her neck and they hugged warmly.

‘Thank you,’ he said, welling up with tears again. ‘Thank you so much.’

Didgeridoo ran around them in wild circles.

The wind rose up. Sand and sea sprayed into the air.

Dog-fucker,’ Laelia whispered into Edward’s ear.

He jumped back.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Dog-fucker,’ Laelia smirked.

            Edward backed away, then backed away some more. Laelia kept coming for him, ‘Kaleigh,’ she yelled. ‘Come back, you won’t believe this!’

What Laelia said next, he couldn’t hear for the screaming in his own ear. A scream of the sky and the wind and the ocean. A scream he matched with his own loud and long scream. A wobbling note of noise that became a word, a word that returned to noise:

Speciesist!’ he yelled, pointing in Laelia’s direction.

            It wasn’t his language.  He didn’t even really know what it meant. But almost as soon as the word sprung from his mouth, Didge leapt at Laelia.  The three syllables initiating the command that Gene and his posse of animal lovers had taught all their dogs and cats, all of their hamsters and llamas, goldfish and budgies, all their spiders and snakes over the years.

To reclaim a world which had been theirs before humans.

To reclaim a place in this world where humans and animals had bonds which went deeper than mere mating.

Edward tried to speak again, to say something, anything, but all he could do was howl– a language so foreign to him, like a distant land, a system of thought from another world.

To protect their human lovers from harm with wildness and relentless abandon.

Didge wrestled with Laelia’s throat, ripped open her chest, took upon her doggy-self all of Edward’s fears and desires, all of this world’s mixed-will to comfort and denounce.

Then she rolled around in the muck of Laelia’s blood and guts while the rest of the beach looked on, the head-thrashing throes of a new world-order in the making.

© 2020 Anthony Caleshu

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