A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog18 min read

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Original appeared in the anthology Lust for Life: Tales of Sex and Love, eds. Claude Lalumiere and Elise Moser (Vehicule Press, 2006)

Have you seen a little dog anywhere about?
A raggy dog, a shaggy dog,
Who’s always looking out
For some fresh mischief which he thinks
he really ought to do…

“My Dog” by Emily Lewis

There you are.  Right on time.  Yes, climb up here where we can see eye to eye.  Look, see the nice plant, up on the night table?  Come on.  Yeah, that’s better.  I’m going to get off the bed and move around, but I’ll do it really slowly, okay?  Okay.

You know, I don’t really mind when it’s this hot.  The orchids like it.  Particularly when I make the ceiling sprinklers come on.  It’s pretty easy to do.  I light a candle–one of the sootless types–climb up on a chair, and heat a sprinkler up good and hot.  Like this.  Whoops, here comes the rain.  Oh, you like it too, huh?  Isn’t that nice?

Wow, that’s loud.  No, don’t go!  Come back, please.  The noise won’t hurt you.  I won’t hurt you.

Thank you.

I’ve gotten used to the sound of fire alarms honking.  When the downpour starts, the orchids and I just sit in the apartment and enjoy it; the warmth, the artificial rain trickling down the backs of our necks.  The orchids like it, so long as I let them dry out quickly afterwards; it’s a bit like their natural homes would be.  So when I move, I try to find buildings where there are basement apartments with sprinklers.

It’s best to do the candle trick in the summer, like now.  After the fire department has gone and the sprinklers have stopped, it’s easy to dry off in summer’s heat.  In winter, it takes longer, and it’s cold.  Some day I’ll have my own rooms, empty save for orchids and my bed, and I’ll be able to make it rain indoors as often as I like, and I won’t have to move to a new apartment after I’ve done it any more.  My rooms will be in a big house, where I’ll live with someone who doesn’t think I’m weird for sleeping in the greenhouse with the orchids.

My name is Tammy.  Griggs.  You can probably see that I’m fat.  But maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you.  Me, I think it’s pretty cool.  Lots of surface for my tattoos.  This one, here on my thigh?  It’s a Dendrobium findlayanum.  I like its pale purple colour.  I have a real one, in that hanging pot up there.  It looks pretty good right now.  In the cooler months, it starts dropping its leaves.  Not really a great orchid to have in people’s offices, because when the leaves fall off, they think it’s because you aren’t taking care of it, and sometimes they refuse to pay you.  That’s what I do to earn a living; I’m the one who makes those expensive living plant arrangements you see in office buildings.  I go in every week and care for them.  I have a bunch of clients.  I’ve created mini jungles all over this city, with orchids in them.

This tat here on my belly is the Catasetum integerrimum.  Some people think it’s ugly.  Looks like clumps of little green men in shrouds.  Tiny green deaths, coming for you.  They’re cool, though.  So dignified.  To me they look like monks, some kind of green order of them, going to sing matins in the morning.  After their singing, maybe they work in the gardens, tending the flowers and the tomatoes.

On my bicep is the Blue Drago.  They call it blue, but really, it’s pale purple too.  This tat underneath it is a picture of my last boyfriend.  Sam.  He drew it, and he put it on me.  He did all these tattoos on me, in fact.  Sam was really talented.  He smelled good, like guy come and cigarettes.  And he would read to me.  Newspaper articles, goofy stuff on the backs of cereal boxes, anything.  His voice was raspy.  Made me feel all melty inside.  He draws all the time.  He’s going

to be a comic artist.  He designs his own tats, indie stuff, not the company toons.  I wanted him to tattoo me all over.  But he’d only done a few when he started saying that the patterns I wanted freaked him out.  He said that at night he could smell them on my skin, smell the orchids of ink flowering.  Got to where he wouldn’t go anywhere near the real plants.  He wanted me to stop working with them, to get a different kind of job.  You ever had to choose between two things you love?  Sam’s dating some guy named Walid now. I hang out with them sometimes.  Walid says if he ever gets a tat, it’ll be a simple one, like a heart or something, with Sam’s name on it, right on his butt.  A dead tattoo.  When Walid talks about it, Sam just gazes at him, struck dumb with love.  I really miss Sam.

I think the orchids, the real ones, like me fat too, like Sam did.  Sometimes at night, when I’ve turned off the light and I’m naked in bed–those are rubber sheets, they’re waterproof–and I can see only the faint glow of the paler orchids, I swear that they all incline their blooms towards me, towards my round shoulders, breasts and belly, which also glow a little in the dark.  We make echoes, they and I.   I like to smell them; the sweet ones, even the weird ones.  Did you know that there’s an orchid that smells like carrion?  I stick my nose right in it and inhale.  It smells so bad, it’s good.  Like a dog sniffing another dog’s butt.

Hear that?  It’s the fire trucks coming.  Time to get ready.  You going to follow me?  Yes, like that.  Cool.  I’m just going to grab the bigger plants first.  Put all my babies into the bathtub where they’ll be safe.  I have to move quickly.  The firemen will burst in here soon, and they aren’t too careful about pots of flowers.  I learned that the hard way; lost a beautiful Paph once, a spicerianum.  The great lump of a fireman stepped right into the pot.  He asked me out, that guy did, after he and his buddies had made sure nothing was on fire.  His name was Aleksandr, Sasha for short.  I don’t get that, but that’s what he said.  He and I went out a couple of times.  I even went home with him once.  Sasha was nice.  He liked it when I sucked on his bottom lip.  But I couldn’t get used to the feel of his cotton sheets, and I couldn’t keep seeing him anyway; he’d have begun to get suspicious that the fire trucks kept being called to wherever I lived.  I need a handsome gentleman butch or a sweet misfit guy who doesn’t care how often I move house.  Someone with a delicate touch, for staking the smaller orchids and well, for other stuff.  I think the next person I pick up will be like a street punk or something who doesn’t even have a home, so they won’t barely notice that I have a new flop every few months.

Yeah, it’s really wet in here now, isn’t it?  I’m just going to grab that Lycaste behind you, then put the growlight on all the plants so they’ll dry out.  Don’t want them to get crown rot.  Okay, let’s go.  Oh, I nearly forgot my new baby!  Yeah, it’s a pain to carry.  The vine’s probably about seven feet long now.  You can’t tell at first cause I have it all curled up.  Its flowers aren’t quite open yet.  I need to take it with us, and a few other little things.

This way.  Follow the plant.

I have a routine.  Once the plants are safe, I go out into the hallway.  No one ever notices.  Most of the tenants are usually down in the street already, standing in their nightclothes, clutching their cats and their computers.  I’m soaking wet, but if anyone asks, I just tell them that the sprinklers came on, that I don’t know why.  People expect a chick to be dumb about things like that.  I’m careful, though.  Almost no electricals in my apartment.  Electricity and water don’t play nicely together.  I use candles a lot.  The grow-lights for the orchids are in the bathroom, and there are no sprinklers in there.

This apartment building has a secret.  It’s this door here, between the garbage chute and the elevator.  The lock’s loose.  Going through this door takes me right up a set of stairs to the roof.  The firemen probably won’t even look up there.  If they did, I’d say that I got scared and confused, just picked a door that had no smoke behind it.  Yeah, you have to come up.  It’s where the plant’s going, see?

I’m going to miss this place, with its quiet asphalt roof.  This is the second time since I’ve been here that I’ve sprinklered the plants, so it’s time to move on.  I don’t like being such a nuisance to the neighbours.  One time, in another building, I flooded someone’s apartment beside mine.  Ruined his record collection.  Made me feel really bad.

Up here it stays warm all night, and slightly sticky.  I think it’s the heat of the day’s sun that does it, makes the asphalt just a little bit tacky.  Sometimes I lie out here naked, staring up at the stars.  When I roll over, there are little rocks stuck to my back, glued there by warmed asphalt.  I flex my shoulders and shake my whole body to make them fall off.  I like the tickling sensation they make as they come loose.

It’s pretty up here tonight.  You can see so many stars.

The other night, I put two blue orchid petals right on my pillow, with a petal from one of them under my tongue for good measure.  It tasted like baby powder, or babies.  That’s a joke.  Because I’ve got this spiky green hair and the ring through my lip, some people can’t tell when I’m joking.  They think that people who make holes in their bodies must be angry all the time.

I’d found the orchid petals just lying on the ground out back of my building, by the dumpster.  Didn’t know who would tear orchids up that way.  Lots of people keep them in their apartments, or grow them competitively.  The climate here is all wrong for tropical orchids, yet I bet there are almost as many growing in this city as you’d find in any jungle.

Anyway, that night, I laid my left ear–the left side of our bodies is magic, you know–on the fleshy, cool blue of the orchid petals, closed my eyes, and waited for sleep.  I sucked on the petal in my mouth.  They were a weird, intense kind of blue, like you get in those flower shops where they dye their orchids.  They cut the stems and put the flowers in blue ink, or food colouring.  The plant sucks it up, and pretty soon, the petals go blue.  You can even see veins of blue in the leaves.  This orchid had that fake kind of colour.

Not sure why I did that with the petals.  You know how it is when you see a dog that someone has tied up outside in the cold, and it’s shivering and lifting its paws to keep them from freezing, and all you really want is to saw that chain free and hug that cold dog and give it something warm to eat?  Well, actually, you may not know what that’s like.  You’d probably rather bite a dog than cuddle it.  But I’d seen those torn orchid bits lying there, and I just wanted to hold them close to me.

So there I was, with two inky orchid petals crushed between my ear and my pillow, and one under my tongue.  It looked like a vanilla orchid.

I think I nodded off.  I must have, because after awhile, I saw a rat the length of my forearm crawling in the open window.

I didn’t want to move.  I could see the rat’s pointy teeth glinting; the front ones, the ones that grow and grow, so that rats must always have something on which to gnaw, or those teeth grow through their lips, seal their mouths shut, and they starve to death.  Its teeth gleamed yellow-white, like some of my orchids, like my belly where the skin isn’t inked.

Anyway, I was dreaming, right?  So I didn’t bother to move.  No, stay away from the flower.  I know it’s almost daylight, but it’s not quite ready yet.  It blooms in early morning, and I think this is the morning it will open completely.  I guess you can tell, and that’s why you came.

Anyway, in my dream, I watched while the rat climbed around my orchid pots, investigating.  Some of the plants it peered at, then ignored.  It only seemed interested in the ones with flowers on them.  Those it sniffed at.  Maybe rats don’t have too good eyesight, huh?  Maybe they go more by a sense of smell?  Not sure how it could tell how anything smelled, cause its own smell was pretty foul.  Like rotting garbage, climbing around my room.  Could smell it in my sleep.

Finally, the rat seemed to find what it wanted.  It nosed at my Vanilla planifolia.  I was proud of that vine; it was big and healthy, and some of its flowers had just opened a few hours before.  The rat climbed up onto the vine, made its way to one of the flowers, and stuck its head inside the flower.  Then it climbed back down again and made its way to my window.  It stood in the window for a second, shuffling back and forth as though it didn’t really want to do something.  Then it leapt out the open window and was gone.  And this is how I knew for certain that I was dreaming; when the rat jumped, I saw that it had wings.  Gossamer wings, kind of like a dragonfly’s, with traceries of veins running through.  Only more flexible.

That woke me right up.  I sat up in bed, feeling really weird, and all I could think was, with four legs and two wings, doesn’t that make six limbs?  And wouldn’t that be an insect, not a rat?  There was another thing, too.  I couldn’t be sure, because it had happened so quickly, but I thought the rat wings had had a faint blueishness to them.

I got myself a glass of water and went back to bed.  Next morning, the flower of my lovely Vanilla, the one the rat had rubbed itself on, was beginning to brown.  That was odd, but not too strange; Vanilla flowers close within a few hours and fall off if they’re not pollinated.  But it now had a faint scent about it of dumpster garbage in the summer heat.  Never smelt anything like it on a planifolia.  Some people would say that’s gross.  To me, it smelt like a living thing, calling out.  Scent is a message.

Look, you can see the firemen milling around outside now.  That’s the super; the woman with the bright yellow bathrobe.  Even in the dark at this distance, you can see that it’s yellow.  Matter of fact, everything she wears is yellow–everything.  I’ve seen her doing her laundry, and yep, even her undies are yellow.  Weird, huh?

She’s just let the firemen in.  They’ll go and break into my apartment, but they won’t find anything.

I think the bud’s beginning to open.  No, you can’t rub yourself on it yet.  Oh, poor little guy; you’re really only about half rat any more, aren’t you?  You’ve got orchid tendrils growing up into your brain cells.  Does it frighten you, I wonder?  Do you have the part of your brain left that can get frightened?  I don’t think you wanted to jump off that ledge that night, but I think the orchid made you do it.  Phew, you stink!  I know it’s pheromones though, not real garbage.

Even though I’d been dreaming, I closed my window from that night on.  Then a little while ago, I stopped to hang with Micheline.  She hooks on my street corner on weekend nights; teaching grad school doesn’t earn her enough to make ends meet.  Sometimes, when business is slow for her, she’ll buy me a coffee at the corner coffee shop, or I’ll buy her one, depending on which one of us got paid most recently.  She told me the oddest thing; how the street kids are starting to tell stories that they’ve been seeing angels in the city.  It’s getting to be the end of days, the kids say, and the angels are here to take all the street kids away to heaven.  The angels are small and fuzzy, and they have sharp teeth and see-through wings.

You know, I don’t know how I’ll ever find someone like Sam again.  You’d think I’d have plenty of chances.  I go out into the world every day, I meet people, I’m friendly, I’m cute–if you like your girls big and round and freaky, and many do.  I get dates all the time.  Smart people, interesting people.  But it’s so hard to find people I click with.  They just, I dunno, they just don’t smell right.

The great thing about orchids is that they have a million ways of getting pollinated.  They trick all kinds of small creatures into collecting their pollen and passing it off to other orchids; wasps, ants, even bats.  Bee orchids produce flowers that look like sexy lady bees, and when a male bee lands on the flower, ready for action, he gets covered in pollen.  A Porroglossum will actually snap shut for a few seconds on an insect that stumbles amongst its blossoms and hold the insect still; just long enough for pollen to rub off on its body.  Some of the Bulbophyllum smell like carrion so they can attract flies.

Us, all us orchid nuts who bring tropical orchids into places where they don’t grow naturally, and who cultivate them and interbreed them; we’re creating hothouse breeds that thrive in apartments, in greenhouses, in office buildings, in flower shops; all behind doors.  They need to find each other to pollinate.  They need pollinators.  And what small animals get everywhere in a city?

Yes, you, my ugly, furry friend.  You only want me for my orchid.  Actually, you want me for your orchid, the one that’s learned how to travel to where the other orchids are.  Most bizarre adaptation I’ve ever seen.  It must have gotten seeds into your fur.  Some of those seeds must have germinated, put roots down into your bloodstream.  I thought it was wings I saw when you jumped from my window, but it was really the outer petals of the flower, flaring out from your chest in the wind from your jump.  It’s a stunning blue, for all that it stinks.  True blue orchids are rare.  Lots of people have tried making blue hybrids.  I went and looked it up.  One promising possibility right now is to make a transgenic plant by incorporating enzymes found in the livers of animals.  Those enzymes can react with substances called indoles to create a bright blue colour.  D’you know one of the places you can find indoles?  They are the growth regulators in orchids.  We even put indoles in the packing mixture we use to transport orchid plants in, to keep them healthy.  Your plant passenger there has tendrils in your liver, my friend.  When you eat, it gets fed.  I can see that you’ve got a new bloom on your chest there.

Maybe the plant didn’t get the knack of it the first time.  Maybe when the first bright blue blossom opened, you tore it out, petal by petal, before it could mature into its garbage smell.  But eventually, one of the plants put roots down into your spine, travelled up to your brain, found the right synapses to tickle, and you lost the urge to destroy it.  Lost the will to go about your own business.  Now you can only fetch and carry for a plant, go about the business of orchid pollination.  Do you know that “orchid” means “testicle?”

Cool.  My flower’s opened all the way.  Yes, I know you can tell; look how agitated you’re getting, or at least, the orchid part of your brain is.  Don’t worry.  I’ll let you at it soon.

There’s a story that some people from India tell.  If you want to bond a person to you forever, you have to prepare rice for them.  While it’s boiling, you have to squat with your naked genitals over the pot.  The steam from the cooking rice will heat you up, and you’ll sweat salty crotch sweat pheromones into the pot to flavour it.  Make someone eat a meal with that sweat rice, and they’re yours for ever.  Orchids and dogs would understand that trick.  Scent is a message.

Here.  Come on.  Come to the flower.  No, I’m not going to let it go.  You have to come to me.  Gotcha!  Don’t bite me, you little devil!  There.  A snootful of chloroform ought to do it.

Jeez, I hope you don’t die.  I think I got the dosage right; you can find anything on the Web.  I just don’t want this to hurt you, or you to hurt me because you’re scared.  Look, I even brought cotton batting to keep you warm in while I do this.  Sam taught me how to do a little bit of tattooing.  Just inside your ear should do it.  Not much fur there, so it’s likely that somebody will see it.

Oo, that ear’s disgusting.  Good thing I brought some alcohol swabs with me.  Thank heaven for the gloves, too.

There we go.  There’s not even a lot of blood.  Your ear membranes are too thin to have many blood vessels.

You poor thing.  First a chunk of your brain gets kidnapped by a flower with a massive reproductive urge, and now a human being is having her way with you.  And you smell like wet garbage in the sun.  But for you, that’s probably a plus.  Probably gets you all kinds of rat dates.  I just want a chance.  Want to send out my own messages, on as many channels as I can.  I mean, who knows where you go in your travels?  You might end up in some kind of horticultural lab, and a cute scientist might find you and see your tattoo.

Huh.  You’re a she rat.  Sorry, sister.

I place personal ads, I dress nicely, I chat people up.  Nothing.  Plants, they just send their messages out on the wind, or via pollen stuck to an insect, or if they’re this puppy, they travel a-ratback to wherever their mates are likely to be.  Human beings only have a few options.  And even pheromones only work so-so with us.  Never can tell if the message will get through.  So I’m doing everything I can to increase my chances.

There you go, sweetie–the date, my name, my email address, and the name of the new sub-species of orchid that’s flowering there on your tummy; V. planifolia var. griggsanum, after me, who discovered it first.

Please don’t go into shock.  I think you should be warm enough wrapped up in the cotton.  I’ll keep dribbling some water on your tongue, keep you hydrated until you wake up.  Lemme just have a quick look at this bloom on your chest… God, that’s creepy.

The firemen are gone now.  Pretty soon I’ll go in and start packing.  I’ve already put down first and last month’s rent on a little place in the market; one of those trendy new lofts they’ve been putting there recently.  It’s got the right kind of sprinkler system in all the units.  It’s probably already got vermin, too, being in the market, but that’s okay.  The more of you I can find and tattoo, the better.  Rats don’t live very long, and I bet you that orchid-infested rats live even shorter lives than that.

Oh, hey.  You’re awake.  Good girl.  No, no, it’s okay.  I won’t hurt you.  The pot’s here, with the flower in it, and I’ll just step away from it, okay?  All the way over here, see?  And I won’t even move.  Yes, you go ahead.  Go and pollinate that baby.  Though if it can be pollinated, it’s no baby.

I didn’t squat over a boiling pot of food; I made my room steamy hot, and squatted over an orchid plant; that one right there that you’re currently rubbing your body against.  Watched my sweat drip into the moss in which it’s planted.  My calf muscles were burning from the effort by the time I straightened up.  That plant’s been growing in medium impregnated with my pheromones.  It’s exchanging scent messages with your flower right now.

You’re done?  You’re leaving?  That’s okay.  Just climb down carefully this time.  We’re way high up.  Atta girl, carry my message; go fetch!

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