Sara Watkins

Love is Gross

He’s been naked for two days. I cannot stop wearing jeans. I’ve been up since 6AM, and now it’s 5AM, and I haven’t even unbuttoned them. Kellen the cat enters and curls up close to his daddy, his rump backed into hairy chest, his snoot rubbing wiry beard. Kellen always smells like poop, and now his daddy smells like poop, so we look at each other with our mouths sinking toward our chins.

“You smell that, right?” the daddy asks. “Did Kellen shit on me?”

“He got his shit on you. It’s different. We need to take him to get his jellybeans squeezed again.”

Last time we took him to get his jellybeans squeezed, Kellen cried. They called in two orderlies to express his anal glands; plopped this 12.7-pound quivering mess of a cat on his side like jello and ripped open his legs, gripped their fingers tight around the tiny glandules below his ass and pressed and pressed and pressed. Daddy waited in the car because he couldn’t stand to see Kellen hurt; I waited with Kellen because I couldn’t stand to see him hurt alone. The vet said, “I’ve never seen anal glands this impacted,” and Kellen said, “MeOWWW,” and I said, “You know what, it’s fine; I think I should just take him home,” and then the vet said, “MeOWWW” because Kellen got her good. Scratches all up and down her arms. The scent glands projectile vomited shit and fart and everything else you can imagine about 7 feet across the room, right into the eyes of the vet tech. A 2-for-1. I was so proud of that boy. We took him home and fed him salmon.

We spent hundreds of dollars on special food; ran diagnostic tests; they stuck a needle in through his side and pulled out a fresh syringe of pee just to tell us that they had to do it again; they had to take blood; they had to intubate him. Just give us your credit card eight more times, and we’ll tell you what’s wrong. For an additional three easy payments of $399.99, we might even tell you how to treat it. MeOWWW.

“On second thought, let’s not get his jellybeans squeezed,” I said. Instead, let’s do the thing where we buy the Extra Sensitive Paw and Bum wipes then chase the cat around the house trying to wipe his ass; instead let’s take showers before the sun comes up to wash the stink off of us; instead let’s complain about how the cat is a poopy boy who should live his best life pain-free in whatever way makes him happy. 

“Go wash that shit off your chest so I can lay on you, babe,” I said to the daddy.

In the morning, he hennas my hair in the kitchen. We cut up scented trash bags as makeshift tarps, and he piles pungent mud onto my head.

“It looks like poop,” the daddy says.

I am Poophead for the next three hours while it sets. We trade positions so I can shave his head. Every light in the house is on, illuminating the cracks in the dirty kitchen floor, the splatters of henna, the crumbs from brunch. I run the razor from his neck to his shoulders, seizing the opportunity to tame his hairy back.

“You’re shaving my back,” the daddy notes. “We are WAY too married.”

“I am shaving your back,” I confirm. “I’m the one who has to look at it.” While I’m there, I pop a particularly juicy pimple. Razor forgotten on the counter, I am now neck deep in squeezing sebaceous fluid from the skin, squeezing the jellybeans.

Later, I am in bed, still in jeans. My body has given out again; I’m out of commission and it’s getting worse. I crawl to the bathroom, sweating. The daddy tries to help, but I push him off me because if I can’t do this myself then I’m no good to anyone. I take over the only bathroom in the house, illness expunging itself from both ends. I’m holding the trash can so I can throw up while I shit. My hair is falling out. Flushing the shame, my penance is karma— the plumbing has given out. Everything is overflowing. I am in a ball on the floor. The daddy enters with every towel in the house, scooping and scrubbing, clearing and cleaning. He hands me a bag so I can continue hurling my guts. MeOWWW.

I am sobbing my sorries. He rubs my back gently, unbuttons my jeans, and slides them from my body. I close my eyes and let him work, my body limp and clammy. He leaves with the dirty laundry, and I don’t know how much time passes. Kellen boops me with his snoot. His brother has entered, too, trilling his concerns.

“I brought you comfy pants,” he says. I cannot move, so he lays them on me like a blanket, “for when you’re ready.” 

More time passes before he comes in once more to carry me back to bed. I am still pantless, he is naked. He takes care to tuck me in dramatically, whispering something about burritos as he pushes the comforter under my hips, my knees, in-between my toes. Then, he grabs a thin blanket and walks to the window. I watch him stand on the blue fabric chair, tucking the blanket into the blinds to blot out the sunlight so that I can hide in from the world from in darkness. His butt is big and round, and his balls ooze out from between the backs of his thighs. Even sick, I let out a low whistle. I cannot whistle, so it mostly sounds like an eerie wind passing between us, but he picks up what I’m putting down and smacks his own ass before crawling into bed beside me. The cats are not far behind, and they settle in by our feet.

“I probably won’t come out for days,” I tell him, still wearing the finest eau de toilette water.

“You never have to come out at all.” 

And no one meOWWWs at all.

“Love is Gross” appears in the Summer 2022 issue of MASKS Literary Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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About the Author

Sara Watkins (she/her) is an editor, author, UCTD-haver, and the founder of Spoonie Press, which is devoted to publishing work by chronically ill, disabled, and neurodivergent creators. She collects tiny fat dragons in her [not so] ample free time. Contact Sara at or @saranadebooks on Twitter and Instagram.