Lily and the Octopus(10)
Written By: Steven Rowley
“Fine. You want to sleep down there? Then you will suffocate. You will cease being able to breathe. And the last thought you will have in this life is that I was right and you were wrong and you will go to your grave regretting having a brain the size of a walnut.”
I lifted the covers and stared down at her and I could just make her out staring at me. By then I had all but given up trying to outstubborn a dachshund, an exercise in futility if there ever was one. All I knew was that I was tired and I needed sleep. I would dig her corpse out of the bed in the morning.
Of course when morning came she was fine. She trotted up to the covers’ edge to greet the daylight, stretching her front legs in some complex yoga pose and yawning the sleep away.
Tonight it is me who wants to burrow to the foot of the bed, to find the safest spot under the covers, where I can feel small and protected and warm. A spot away from the nightmare of the octopus, away from the reach of his quivering arms, away from what I know is coming next.
On Sundays we eat pizza, the one ritual Lily and I have that stems directly from my childhood. When I was a kid, Sunday night was always pizza night. My sister, Meredith, and I would take turns making pizzas with my dad and it was the one night we were allowed to drink soda. It was something we looked forward to even though the weekend was drawing to a close. My mother enjoyed it because it was the one break she got from overseeing our endless feedings, something we never fully appreciated. (It was not in her nature to put her feet up, however, and she spent the time doing other thankless tasks like ironing our bed sheets or using the odder vacuum attachments to clean under the fridge.) My sister and I enjoyed it as something we could do with our dad. Making the pizzas was half the delight, and we had to claim Sundays on the calendar in the kitchen to stake out whose turn it was to help assemble the pies. The event was scored by the game-ending plays of football or the familiar ticking that starts 60 Minutes. (I’m Mike Wallace. I’m Morley Safer. I’m Harry Reasoner. And I’m Ed Bradley. Those stories, plus Andy Rooney . . .)
Lily and I continue the tradition, although we usually order pizza to be delivered so Lily can bark at the deliveryman like a crazed townsperson accusing Goody Proctor of being a witch. I think she looks forward to it, too, even though it’s the end of the weekend, the end of the concentrated time we spend together before the craziness of a new week begins.
I’m asking Lily if that’s what she wants to do, order pizza, when the octopus tightens its foul grip and the first seizure begins. I can tell something is wrong almost immediately, as Lily gets a confused look on her face and starts to back away. And then without further warning she stumbles and falls on her side, just tips over, unable to catch herself, and her legs go rigid and she seems to stop breathing.
Her legs jerk and her body shakes and she stares somewhere far off in the distance and I drop the pizza menu and run to her side.
“Lily!” I shout again; if she hears me, she can’t respond. I kneel and stroke her neck and try to support her head so that it doesn’t slam against the linoleum. After a few beats of this, her legs start to run, stiffly, without bending, and she foams a bit at the mouth. The whole thing only lasts about thirty or forty seconds, but it feels like an eternity, and when it subsides I am hot with sweat.
“Shh, shh, shh,” I manage, worried that she will try to come out of it too quickly. I pet her gently, in the way I do when she’s restless at night and I want to lull her to sleep. Eventually she is able to focus on me, and I do my best to smile so that she won’t be overly alarmed, but I oversell it, looking more than a little bit creepy.
“You look weird,” she says.
I help her to her feet, but I don’t let go in case she falls again. She tries to take a few steps and I feel like an anxious father teaching his child to ride a bicycle without training wheels, holding on to the seat as they wobble awkwardly into balance. Lily takes three steps into a wall and falls into a seated crouch.
“Take it easy, will you?”
She shakes her head and her ears flop. “That was . . . different.”
“Yeah. It was.” Don’t do it again, I want to add, but I know she’s not the one who did it.
It was the octopus.
It’s a toss-up to say who’s more shaken by the whole experience, her or me. I fluff the paw-print blanket that lines her bed, get her settled, scratch her neck the way that she likes it scratched, and beg her to try to sleep.
“What about pizza?” She seems exhausted, like a boxer who just went twelve rounds instead of getting knocked out in the first.
“You take a nap and I’ll order the pizza and when you wake up you’ll smell it and it will be here.”
She yawns and her jaw squeaks like a rusty hinge and the only protest she makes is to remind me that she likes sausage. As if I could ever forget.
“I know. You’re a sausage dog.”
She falls asleep quickly and soundly. Her chest and soft belly rise and fall with each subdued breath. I sit next to her on the floor, my legs tucked close and my arms wrapped around them, and I make some of the eye rain she likes, but not too much. I don’t know where the rage first takes root—my heart, my gut, my brain, my soul—but it has been metastasizing over the four days since the octopus first came calling. I look it directly in the eye.