Fiction — Dog Person

A story about toxic masculinity and misplaced anger, body modification gone wrong and redemption, of a kind.

2800 words / 14 minutes

Andrew John Carter is an abusive sex pest, proclaims Andrew’s phone, in big friendly letters. He’s a shoddy, arrogant little shit, it says. He scrolls. Andrew Carter is a pathetic MRA incel, says the next message. He thumbs the screen down to refresh the feed, which buzzes with a fresh barrage of messages, and reads them, and wants desperately to stop but can’t because as long as he’s scrolling he doesn’t have to think about what happens next.

It’s four in the morning. The glow from his phone creates a tiny oasis of blue light in the dark of his bedroom. He’s all alone, with only his phone for company, and the internet hates him. His traitor phone woke him up two hours ago by vibrating on his bedside table, and he rolled over and read the first message, and has been scrolling ever since. Apparently all it takes to be branded a misogynist these days is to have one date go wrong — totally not his fault — and then some over-sensitive bitch me-toos you and your entire life is fucked into a bucket before morning. There’s another, longer, buzz, heralding an email from work. Apparently someone called Lisa from HR is awake — or more likely has been woken up — and is pissed off, and would like a chat first thing in the morning.

It’s always women, fucking things up. Life would be so much easier without women. Or just with the right woman. He replays the evening in his head, and can’t really think of anything he’d done wrong. He’d listened, and nodded and mmm’d in all the right places, and paid for dinner, which you’d think would have earned him something in return, at least, but no, apparently he’s manipulative and entitled and sexually aggressive. He just needs to meet someone smart, and funny, and beautiful, and with just the right balance of open-mindedness and cynicism. And fit, obviously. Everyone he meets is either too smart or too stupid, or not funny, or not fit. All he wants in a girlfriend is the golden ratio of properties that he himself has, which proves it’s possible. He just needs to find a female version of him.

Something in the thought resonates, a note that stands out from the anger. A possibility. A way out, even. He could be a woman. He should be a woman. Why not? People do it all the time, and he’d be a much better woman than any actual woman. He’s already smart and funny, and he doesn’t fucking drone on about feelings or cry all the time. Plus it would be a sweetly ironic loophole to get out of whatever trouble he’s in; the me-too crowd can’t be pissed off at a woman for going on a date and showing some initiative.

And being a man is shit anyway, when he thinks about it. What’s the point of it all? Football is mandatory, but utterly boring. Wading through pools of piss to get to a urinal is depressing. Girls don’t look at you unless you spend half your life in the gym and the other half earning ridiculous amounts of money, and an impossible third half listening to them go on about stuff. Socialising as a man is basically ritual brutalisation where he and his mates take turns to tear into each other’s personality and appearance and any perceived shortcomings are mercilessly exploited. Work. Responsibility. Expectations. People banging on about “white male privilege”. Andrew has worked damn hard to get where he is in life, and certainly doesn’t feel privileged right now, on the sharp end of an internet hate spiral. Judgement. Pressure. Bottling up all these fucking emotions, the numb emptiness that he can feel clogging his arteries with impotent, toxic rage and he just feels so angry, and so alone, all the time. Being a woman must be a piece of piss in comparison, hanging out in pyjamas, laughing at men and going shopping.

He swipes to clear the hate-messages clogging up his phone and googles the big clinic in town that does the genetic stuff, the one that says BE WHOEVER YOU WANT in big letters. He’s disappointed to find that they only do deep resequencing with a doctor’s approval, but it takes less than five minutes on the dark web to find a smaller, less glamorous place that has fewer scruples and a space in the calendar in the late morning of tomorrow. One time a friend of a friend got too drunk on his stag do, passed out, and woke up with a nice big pair of tits courtesy of a whip-round and a trip to somewhere like this. Andrew smiles at the memory and falls back into bed, thinking about what it’ll be like to have tits. The phone, ignored, slips off the bed and buzzes to itself, muffled by the carpet.

In the morning he wakes effortlessly, feeling like a weight has lifted. One touch clears the mountain of soon-to-be-irrelevant notifications on his phone. He emails work to say that he can’t come in because he’s having a personal crisis and looks at himself in the mirror as a man, one last time, running his hands over morning stubble, acne-pocked skin and short ginger hair. Women, he says, pronouncing each letter distinctly. Fucking bitches. Here comes the competition. He orders a taxi.

The clinic is inconspicuous, if not exactly hidden, and there are already two people waiting in the tiny reception. A man with a fucked-up-looking eye sits two seats away, looking at a pamphlet with eyes on the front. The woman next to Andrew has a sausage dog in a travel carrier. She mistakes Andrew’s glance for interest and strikes up a conversation, despite Andrew’s headphones. The dog is a replacement for one that died, but isn’t quite right, so it’s going to be made more like the previous dog, which apparently is a bigger job than you’d think, and frowned upon by the medical establishment, which is why she’s here instead of going to a real vet. The new dog smells, and the woman is old and boring. Andrew tunes out. She shows Andrew a photo of the dead dog, which he glances at for a second, making a vague effort to be polite while simultaneously making it very clear he doesn’t give a shit. He’s not really a dog person.

A tired-looking receptionist moves around the room as best she can, taking details. She stops between Andrew and the dog woman and asks for Miss Carforth, then looks confused when Andrew answers her. She has the decency to blush. Andrew glares at her retreating back as she walks away, and has to suppress a smile when the squinty-eye man stands up as she passes on his blind side and bumps into her, knocking her over in a shower of papers which they both scrabble to pick up.

Andrew is called in next, leaving dog woman alone in her spreading cloud of dog smell. Down a short corridor, the private room is one of three. It’s small and quiet and smells of antiseptic, and has a contoured bed surrounded by white surgical machinery with clean lines and rounded edges. The doctor who comes in is scruffy and impatient. He rattles through a list of questions, checking his watch after each one, and scrawls something at the bottom of the clipboard. Big change, he says, with a faintly raised eyebrow, over the top of his board; expensive. Andrew just nods politely and takes his wallet out of his pocket.

The doctor cautions him that the anaesthetic will take time to wear off, and she may be confused when she wakes, but all will be well and not to worry; the procedure’s done by computer so nothing can go wrong. He’ll be back with a mirror for the big unveiling later on. Andrew takes his clothes off and lies on the bed, and the white arms of the machine slide out of the walls and glide towards him, sprouting appendages that split into finer and finer arms and fingers, and as the needles slide into his arm she realises this is the last time he’ll have this face. She almost asks to look, one last time, then coldness spreads up his arm into her body and the tiny room drops away.

Some time later, she wakes. Everything is different. The world coalesces around her, one sense at time. The room looks brighter. Smell floods back in an overwhelming rush. Cleaning fluids and the astringent aftershave of the fidgety doctor pluck at her nose. The clock on the wall says four hours have passed. Pins and needles prick through the numbness in her arms and legs. Her throat feels unfamiliar and she tries to cough, but only manages a dry croak. The articulated arms pack themselves away and retreat into the walls, and the light above the door goes green. After a minute the fidgeting doctor comes in, trailing an almost visible cloud of aftershave, head bowed over his clipboard. He smiles up at her, then confusion clouds his face and he looks down at his clipboard, then leaves, closing the door behind him.

Andrew — no, not Andrew; Andrea? Drea? — plenty of time for that later, anyway — can feels her female brain multitasking efficiently through the list of novel sensations, assembling a picture of her new self. The tingling becomes more intense as the numbness fades away, and through the static she can almost see the outline of her new body when the doctor comes back again, with a nurse this time, but still no mirror. They open the door and look at her, without smiling, then close the door. There’s a muffled conversation from behind the door, then the doctor comes back, and attaches something to Andrew’s head, and a screen on the wall blinks to life. The doctor looks more fidgety now then he did before. He smells bad. He says that there’s been some kind of small mix-up, and Andrew tries to ask what but her throat is too dry and all that comes out is the same strange barking cough, and the doctor tells her that unfortunately she’s been turned into a dog.

The screen on the walls prints, in large letters, WHAT THE FUCK. A dog, the doctor says. There seems to have been some kind of administrative mix-up with the papers, which should never happen, and the papers got scanned and then the surgical computers performed the operation and sadly the overly restrictive constraints on the machines had been disabled because of the kind of work the clinic routinely performs, absolutely not our fault, and so instead of simply changing your sex, you’ve been turned into a dog. WHAT THE FUCK, the screen prints again. TURN ME BACK.

Andrew tries to stand up and the pins and needles return with a vengeance, biting all over her body hard enough to make her vision grey at the edges, but she manages to turn her head enough to see that, sure enough, where he used to have a hand, a perfectly normal default person’s white male man human’s hand, there’s a brown dog paw. She tries to raise her hand to her face and the stumpy dog fingers with their neat black claws rise off the bed, twitching.

TURN ME BACK RIGHT FUCKING NOW, says the screen. We definitely would love to do that, says the doctor, bobbing his head, and definitely would do it right now, but unfortunately cross-species transfers don’t really work the other way because of all the rewiring that happens with the brain. WHAT REWIRING, says the screen. The doctor starts to talk about next steps, and all the while the anaesthetic is wearing off quicker, because maybe it’s not designed for dogs? and she wriggles out of the restraints, still numb, and shouts at him WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE. The loudness of her bark surprises her as much as the doctor, and she freezes as the sound echoes around the small room, long enough for the doctor to get an arm halfway around her long body. They wrestle awkwardly, and the screen says GET THE FUCK OFF ME. FUCK OFF. HELP. SOMEONE HELP, until she bites him on the hand, hard, and he shouts and throws her across the room, but not before tearing off whatever it was that he’d put on the side of her head. I’LL SUE THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF YOU she says, but this time the screen doesn’t say anything.

They chase each other around the room, knocking over chairs and the bed and the expensive-looking arms that come out of the wall. After a minute Andrew loses track of who’s chasing who and just runs with abandon, shouting and barking and running under and over things, but it only lasts until the nurse comes back with dog-woman’s travel carrier under her arm, and together they corner Andrew and scoop her up. They carry the cage, with Andrew barking and snapping and snarling, through the corridors, into the back, and down into the car park under the building, where they put him in the boot.

They drive for a long time. Andrew shouts until she’s hoarse, then does his best to piss out of the cage into the car just to annoy them but it’s hard to aim and she only succeeds in wetting the newspaper bedding, and then falls asleep out of sheer exhaustion, then wakes up and starts barking again. They leave her in the car with the windows wound halfway down at a service station, and come back to give her a ham sandwich, and some water poured into a plastic takeaway container. When they stop again later on the doctor comes round to the back and opens the boot. He sets the cage on the ground and squats down to talk to Andrew through the bars. Through the gap in his legs, Andrew sees grass, trees, hills.

The doctor sighs. This is less than ideal, he says. But sometimes mistakes are made, lessons are learnt, and it’s what where we go from here that’s important. You should stay here, he tells Andrew. It’s a long way home. He wags a finger. Don’t think about coming back, now. I know who you are. No-one would notice one less dog on the streets. He tries to unlock the cage, but Andrew barks and snaps at his fingers, so he retreats to the car and the nurse fashions a hook and a loop so they can unlock the cage at a distance, through the open window of the car. The doctor leans out of the window with the string in his hand, and is struck by a thought, and says with a half laugh, after all that, I didn’t actually check if you’re a boy or a girl. Sorry. Then he pulls the string and the locking pin slips from the door and they drive away while Andrew runs behind them and tries to bite the wheels, then slows to a trot, panting, then stops and watches as the car disappears into the distance.

Andrew turns in circles a few times, and walks a few steps this way and that, utterly, totally lost. Lost, he realises, in more ways than one. She swears revenge on the fidgety doctor and the nurse, and snaps at the grass as he plans his grand return to civilisation. He’ll sue them, and get changed back and be rich, and everyone will have forgotten about the bad date and feel sorry for him. He fumes, and barks at the hills, and the warm sun slowly saps the energy from his rage, and he sits down in the grass, and stares at the trees moving in the wind, and follows her nose to a stream to drink when he’s thirsty. There are lots of things to eat in the long grass, and the range of tastes and smells is bewildering. When it gets dark, he sleeps.

At some point in the night she wakes to find himself lying in a shifting puddle of moonlight, filtered by the waving foliage above. The night-time air has a damp, delicious perfume. He has no idea what time it is. No-one knows where he is — or even what he is, now, person, dog, man, woman. There’s no job to go to, no peers with which to vie. No phone. No emails. No-one is making him watch football. No-one is shouting at her. And in the silver light of the moon he finds himself running, and jumping, and rolling in the grass, and snapping at insects, and barking at the moon, and for the first time in a long time she feels like himself.

I hope you enjoyed this story. If so, why not drop me a tip to encourage more incredibly slow writing with a strange lack of speech marks?


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