Withnail & Us

Illustration by Mathew Borrett

“You’re not supposed to have that in here,” was Mariah’s first reaction.

“You’re no fun,” was her roommate Dylynn’s.

Mariah watched the raccoon between the slats of the laundry basket that Dylynn had upended over the animal. The raccoon looked drunk. It wove on its little feet, snuffling through the mucus pooling at the edges of its nose. It regarded Mariah with the wounded dignity of a freshman seeking out her first bottomless mimosa. Dylynn had placed the sum total of both their and Mariah’s textbooks on top of the basket, and dumped the laundry on the couch. Mariah guessed that the books were meant to keep the basket from moving, if the raccoon got ambitious. She wondered if she could pass Art History without Umberto Eco’s On Beauty. It was awfully heavy, and was currently doing foundational work in more ways than one.

“You should get a cat carrier.”

“I should get paid, is what.”

Mariah shrugged. “Fair.”

She edged around the laundry basket/raccoon habitat, and took a seat on the arm of the couch. Beside her, Dylynn continued making field notes in a journal with a raccoon sticker on it. Mariah leaned over and peered at the notes. “DISTEMPER,” Dylynn had written in red pen, above the words “CHIP?” and “WITHNAIL?”.

“I have a vaccine in the CRISPR drawer,” Dylynn said, without lifting their eyes.

Dylynn was an urban biology major at the University of Toronto. Mariah was studying arts platforming and fundraising at OCADU. Although their majors and institutions were wildly different, the Toronto Student Community Complex’s mandate was to foster interdisciplinary ideas among students who would otherwise spend their best creative cycles stuck in cars and transit, commuting between home and school. The tower’s matchmaking system put Mariah and Dylynn together based on their respective sleep patterns and the answers they’d provided to a forty-item questionnaire. It was a little weird, but it was better than breathing in black mould in a century-plus basement rental, or taking the two-hour bus ride each way to Guelph where Mariah’s parents lived.

“There’s a new variety of canine distemper out there, and it’s really vicious, way closer to the feline strain,” Dylynn was saying. “Even dogs who have been vaccinated are dying from it. Or dying from the dehydration that comes with it. That’s...

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About Madeline Ashby