Against the Grain by Lindz McLeod

The mammoth crouches behind her desk, which is not as neat as she’d like it to be, and shuffles through papers until she finds a brochure. Pushing it across the table with her trunk, she taps the cover lightly. Muted grey, with a tasteful cream font. “You’ll find all our models in here, ma’am.”

The woman pulls out a crumpled tissue and dabs at her eyes. “Models?”

“Caskets,” the mammoth corrects.

“Is there much of a difference?” the son asks.

The mammoth flips open the brochure. “Most people go for this one,” she jabs at a polished mahogany number, “or this.” She gestures at a smooth oak-paneled casket.

The woman and her son stare with identical expressions; furrowed brows, a distinct triangle of sadness popping up between them. Full, pouting lips, caging unspoken words. “What do you think, Ma?” the son asks.

“This one,” the woman says, pointing at a model on the left-hand page. Redwood, with a cream burl finish. It looks like the kind of thing Dracula would cross state lines in.

“That’s an excellent choice, ma’am,” the mammoth says.

The woman’s eyes fill with tears again. Humans cry at predictable times: often after making choices, or upon realizing a choice has been made for them. The mammoth understands that feeling only too well.

An email from Maritzia dings into her inbox. “Please excuse me for a moment,” the mammoth says, sidling around the desk. Down in the mortuary, her employee stands gazing down at a sabre-toothed tiger, gashed badly across his snout and chest. The tiger’s broad chest is caved at an odd angle, making it look like a caldera.

“I figured you’d make an exception,” Maritzia says, before the mammoth can comment. “They said no one else would take him.”

The mammoth sighs. “Mr Wilson won’t like this.”

“Mr Wilson doesn’t need to know.”

The mammoth inches closer, her ponderous steps rattling the shelves which hold all the surgical and aesthetic tools of their trade. There’s a drop of something beaded and bright just under the tiger’s eye. A tear, but not his. Somebody loved him enough to weep over his death. “Okay,” the mammoth concedes, pulling the cover over the tiger’s face. “We’ll do it.”

That evening after Maritzia leaves, the mammoth dials Dr Hopkins. He answers in good spirits and she listens politely to his monologues on the latest scientific discourse. If she closes her eyes, she can still feel the tepid, caffeine-sour shudder of his breath on her face. She pictures the gust moving through his mouth, driving past the buildings of his teeth, escaping out into the wide world. He’d been responsible for reconstructing her from the collective efforts of dozens of museums worldwide, though he’d confided one night that in the end he’d needed little more than a tooth and a thighbone.

“What’s new with you?” she asks, during a lull.

“I’m actually working on a great project,” he tells her. “Ground sloths. You know, all these holes in the earth in Mexico—they weren’t burrows, they were tunnels. Dug by giant claws. Really amazing. We think there’s a place for them in the construction industry.”

“Wow. That’s great.” Her trunk squeezes the receiver until the plastic squeaks in protest.

“I don’t want you to think…” he trails off. The silence is yellow—not golden, but shades of flax. Dried and ancient and hardly worth pawing through.

“I know.”

“I’m really proud of you.”


“I’m sorry we didn’t make more—” He hesitates. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” the mammoth says. “I’m okay.”

After she hangs up, she rests the bulk of her body against the wall and stares at the wall opposite the window, where the amber squares of streetlights sputter like a low-budget silhouette show.

Down in the mortuary, she uncovers the sabre-toothed tiger. The harsh light overhead picks out each of the flaws in his fur, each gash telling the story of the attack, the defense, the fall. The mammoth picks up a pre-threaded needle and hesitates. Wounds can be sewn. Scrapes can be covered. Lies can be told.

But one day, this might be her.

She drops the needle. Fills a basin with warm water and washes each of his paws clean. Combs his fur neatly, the way she imagined he’d have done in life. Not church-neat, but street-sweet. Against the grain, not with it. The thought makes her want to cry. She props his mouth open and brushes his teeth gently, before polishing the two large canines that overhang his lip by a considerable margin. Born weaponized, the politicians had said. Too dangerous to live. Her tusks had been under the same kind of scrutiny, to begin with. She wonders if Dr Hopkins, blissfully tinkering with giant ground sloths in his laboratory, has ever spent a day outside with one of his creations. Has he ever had coffee with a pronged deer, antlers too big to walk down a regular city road without scratching cars? Has he ever had dinner with a short-faced bear, sharing a plate of amuse-bouche over a couple of sea buckthorn cocktails?

She touches the tiger’s eyelids with her trunk, so sensitive it can feel the tiny ridges of his veins like empty streets. She washes his nose, his tufted ears, and then pours the water out. Fills up the basin for herself. Washes her own furry sides with quick, short strokes. Cleansing the present from the past, rinsing the future from her fur. Stamping the suds under her feet until every shining bubble of potential has been popped.


Lindz McLeod is a queer, working-class, Scottish writer who dabbles in the surreal. Her short prose has been published by Apex, Catapult, Pseudopod, and many more. Her longer work includes the short story collection TURDUCKEN (Spaceboy, 2023), as well as her books BEAST (Hear Us Scream, 2023), SUNBATHERS (Hedone Books, 2024), THE UNLIKELY PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET (Harlequin, 2025), and the collaborative anthology AN HONOUR AND A PRIVILEGE (Stanchion, 2025). Her work has been taught in schools, universities, and turned into avant-garde opera. She is a full member of the SFWA, the club president of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club, and is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing. Lindz is represented by Laura Zats at Headwater Literary Management.