Sunday Stories: “The International Encyclopedia of Dogs”


The International Encyclopedia of Dogs
by Tom Offland

Recently I’ve been waking up and believing I am living in the Ante-Nicene period. And early Christians are riding these monstrous animals in red, thundering dust clouds across the continents. I would say that it is something I am concerned about.

Stirling is my lover and my employer and my best friend. We’ve worked on encyclopedias before. When I reach my hands through her hair and brush her cold nose against my lips I feel as though I am falling. Marriage is an agreement to indulge in the profound. I’m not married to Stirling but if I was I would ache to tell her something profound.

I can lie there for hours and get nervous about large animals. I feel the weight of every large, living thing that has ever been stacked up against me. It can be unbearable but I think it helps to talk it out.

Stirling has hair the colour of amaranthus blossom and eyes like amber indicators blinking on a wet road. We have business meetings in our kitchenette. The two of us in socks and dressing gowns and soaking hair and the eggs applauding in the pan.

The first book we ever made together was a guide to common urban lichens. It was Stirling’s idea. Stirling has all the best ideas. That summer, I spent a lot of time in the rain photographing lichens. Lichens are beautiful but difficult to empathise with. Stirling has a way of looking at me that makes me feel lost.

The Late Pleistocene Era is a major source of anxiety for me. It was a time when humans were regularly eaten by large animals and glaciers were rising out of the ground like teeth. I walked with Stirling for a mile over pale parmelia and we moved as though we were floating. This book hopes to cover all the common urban lichens known to the northern hemisphere. It is intended as a guide.

My favourite part of Stirling’s body is her mouth. My favourite part of Stirling’s mind is the part of her mind dedicated to her mouth. I have learnt to live in this dirty city without wonder. When I am out pacing in the evenings under the lobaria and the caloplaca I can sense the enormity and indignity and impossibility of life. Stirling has toe nails like red bottle caps and she is always right.

I drift in and out of these fantasies of panic. The worst are focused on the Ante-Nicene period. And early Christians are drinking saltwater and eating snakes and climbing into people’s windows. This book is dedicated to common urban lichens. And to Stirling. I think things are getting better. We have strategy meetings in the shower or the bath. Stirling says the hot water helps to draw her ideas to the surface.

It’s not extinction that terrifies me but inheritance. After the Silurian extinction bony fish took over the oceans. It makes me sick to think they didn’t know what they were doing. For the last three months we have been working on a new book. It was Stirling’s idea. It is called the international encyclopedia of dogs. I’ve been breaking into people’s houses at night and taking pictures of their dogs.

Lately, I’ve been trying to think of life as a breathing exercise. As a mechanical process tending towards calm. Stirling has these little bumps under the skin behind her neck and it is where her love for me is held. We roll our fingers over them together in the mornings and ask god to make them bigger. Dogs are easy to understand but difficult to photograph. This book is dedicated to the English otter hound which was bred to rescue the English fishing industry from the undeterrable English otter. This book is also dedicated to Stirling.

I would say my biggest worry is being eaten by a large animal. Stirling has skin the texture of sow thistle seeds and lips like two orange segments drifting in shallow water. I can’t know everything about it. We’ve been to see dog acrobatics in the basement of Euston Station. We’ve attended wolfhound wrestling and chow-chow races and we’ve wept though Labrador choirs singing in the Royal Albert Hall. Stirling has a right to me how the fossil record has a right to bones. If I stand up too quickly I get packs of dandie dinmont terriers howling in my ears.

During the Late Pleistocene Era our ancestors first evolved to smile. The Late Pleistocene Era is also known as the Smiling Era. At that time smiling was an expression of deep anxiety and dread. This book hopes to introduce the reader to every internationally recognised breed of dog. It is available in braille. I would lead Stirling through a congregation of dogs and anatolian shepherd dogs and canadian eskimo dogs and stumpy tail cattle dogs would part around us in a wriggling tide.

It’s not like there is a history of happiness. I’ve got Stirling now and she’s like a cloud of powder paint moving over naked bodies. I’ve got Stirling now and I can look her up as though she were organised in layers. I would like some sort of colour testimony of everything. It would be like a safari park where all the animals have been replaced with dogs.

As it happens we are waiting on Stirling’s new idea. Stirling has every new idea. I feel entitled to a life of careful ecstasy. I have ancestors with reckless, skinless bodies and ancestors with flowering appendices and ancestors who lived blind in the microscopic dark and conjured their own estimations of the world. Stirling’s new idea will be bound in softwood. It will be printed on glossy paper. We are like two expectant parents, hoping for an encyclopedia.

Stirling has teeth as white as wild white currant berries and a talent for talking business. Honestly it is impossible to describe anything using words. I should state my love for Stirling in terms of potassium ions and the direction of magnetic north. Statistically, I am more likely to be killed by a motor vehicle than a large animal. Motor vehicles are our modern day large animals.

When Stirling’s new idea arrives we will clutch it in our arms and run screaming into the ocean. We will sit it on our knees and marvel at its tender independence. I have no way of knowing what is best. The most vivid memories I have are from the Ante-Nicene period and I am a young man and Stirling is there, in the sunlight, on the grey dunes, speaking to something buried under the sand.


Tom Offland lives in London, his work has appeared in Litro, Corium Magazine, Keep This Bag Away From Children and others. He keeps a blog at

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