by Lincoln Michel
Some of the colors of the dog shit were ochre, taupe, beaver, and burnt umber.
I was standing in the dog park with my girlfriend, Olivia Mantooth, and her dog, Claudius Mantooth. Claudius was normally white, but the brown dust of the park had already turned him tan. Olivia Mantooth’s face was bright red, or I guess I should say scarlet.
“These filthy animals.” Olivia looked at me with her lip curled all the way up to the nose. “Can you believe it? Disgusting.”
Olivia wasn’t talking about the dogs. She was talking about the owners. “Nobody gives a crap about anything but themselves. That’s the problem right there!”
Olivia walked around the park picking up pieces of trash. Some of the pieces of trash were coffee cups, bottle caps, broken glass, and one limp and translucent condom.
“Hey, let’s go home,” I said, meaning back to her apartment. The flushness of Olivia’s cheeks was making me awkwardly aroused. “I bet Claudius is tired.”
“Could you imagine what I could do with this dog park?” she said, waving a silver snack wrapper in my face. “I could put in a new fence, plant green grass, add a watering trough for all the dogs. If only I had the authority, I could turn this place into fricking Shangri-La!”
A large black dog ran by, kicking dirt into my face. I wiped the grit out of my lips. “Let’s go home, roll around ourselves.”
Olivia just shook her head. She was in one of those moods where she didn’t get in the mood.
Some of the breeds in the park were bulldog, basset hound, shiba inu, chow chow, and wire fox terrier.
“Can you believe that?” Olivia pointed at a mutt who was pooping an inch away from her foot. “Tell me if you can believe that! Am I going crazy?”
The dog looked up at her with an inscrutable expression, then sprinted off to join the rest of the pack.
“They’re not even going to pick that up.” She moved her pointer finger to aim in the direction of a couple on the bench across the park. She shouted, “Hey, did your dog just poop?”
The woman pulled off her earphones. She was wearing a chartreuse blouse and had long nails painted tickle me pink. “Which dog?”
“That little brown dog,” Olivia said. “You need to clean up after your dog. There are such things as rules. This is a society.”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Which brown dog, bitch?”
Olivia turned her hands into tight little tennis balls. “Clean up after your dog. Have some self-respect.”
The woman waved her open hands, pink fingernails extending like the spikes of some deep-sea monster. “Oh, no,” the woman with the pink fingernails said. “Hell to the no.”
Olivia and the woman were a few inches away from each other, shouting and growling.
“This park is disgusting. People like you make it disgusting.”
“I asked which brown dog, bitch. They’re all brown.”
The two women looked like they were about to bite each other’s throats out.
“Tawny,” I said.
The woman with the pink fingernails and Olivia both whipped their necks around.
“Tawny,” I said a little louder. “The dog that pooped was tawny. It was the tawny dog.”
“I don’t have a tiny dog,” the woman said, wiping her lips with the back of her hand.
“Not tiny. Tawny. Like yawn with t.” Then I added, “And also a y at the end.”
“What the fuck is tawny?”
“It’s like a brown,” I explained. “A light brown.”
“Don’t call my dog tawny, asshole.”
Olivia stepped in front of me, shielding me with her body. “Don’t call Franklin an asshole. Franklin is a sensitive and accurate man. And tawny is a sensitive and accurate word!”
The woman stepped to the side, and looked at me from head to toe, stopping and shaking her head halfway at the midway point.
“He looks like a tawny piece of shit to me,” she said.
Some of the dogs were starting to notice the excitement. They crowded around us, wagging their tails. Some of the owners were walking over too. The sun was bright and hot, and the dust was floating all around us.
“Step back,” Olivia said.
“Let’s all just calm down,” someone said. “It’s a nice day at the park.”
The tawny dog trotted up, a chocolate brown stick in its mouth. It dropped the stick at my feet, looked up with its tongue out.
“Hey, here’s the tawny dog.” I stuck out my hand and started tousling the dog. “See? The tawny dog. Right here!”
I smiled and looked at Olivia and the other woman, trying to get their attention.
I kept jiggling the dog’s face and saying, “See?”
I guess I was too busy trying to get Olivia and the woman to notice the tawny dog that I didn’t notice that it was growling. Didn’t notice that it was baring its bright white teeth.
We had to take a taxi to the hospital. They charged me extra for bleeding on the seats.
Later, the bite on my hand started to blossom with a variety of colors as the infection spread. Some of the colors around the wound were rose madder, eggplant, smoky topaz, and lemon chiffon.
Lincoln Michel is the author of the story collection Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press 2015) and the forthcoming novel The Body Scout (Orbit 2021). His short stories appear in The Paris Review, Granta, NOON, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and elsewhere. His essays and criticism appear in journals such as The New York Times, GQ, BOMB, and The Guardian. You can find him online at @thelincoln and lincolnmichel.com.