Lily and the Octopus(11)
Written By: Steven Rowley
“You.” I surprise myself with how guttural it sounds.
There is no reply.
“YOU!” This time I intentionally snarl.
The octopus stirs. Its arms swoosh around Lily’s sleeping head like they did late last night and sluggishly it opens an eye. Horrified, I feel myself digging into the linoleum so as not to retreat. Holy fuck. What is this thing? It blinks at me drowsily as I advance, slowly, as close as I dare, neither of us making any sudden moves.
It speaks. “If you’re talking to her, she’s asleep.”
I jump back. Did I expect an answer? I don’t know. I’m alarmed and disconcerted and yet not at all surprised that he can articulate. He? He is a he, I think, with that voice. I think I knew this was coming. That one chapter was ending with another about to begin, that a foe this formidable would make himself heard.
“I’m talking to you.” Since this is the first time I’m openly addressing the octopus, I should have given more thought to what I want to say. But this is all gut, all emotion; whatever is going to come out is going to come.
“What can I do for you?” His tone is bored, verging on annoyed.
“Fuck you, that’s what you can do.” I stare at him to wait for a reaction.
The octopus feigns offense. “There’s no need to be vulgar.”
I stare the octopus down. “Leave.”
The octopus looks for a moment like he’s considering my directive. His gaze swoops up to the ceiling, hangs there for a beat, then falls back down to me. “No.”
I stand, drawing myself up to my full height of six feet two inches, and outstretch my arms, making myself as large and as intimidating as possible. You’re supposed to do this with bears, I think, and other frightening things. As a final sign of my physical dominance, I puff out my chest. “Leave. Go. Now.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“However you came, leave.” There is an icy coldness to the exchange that chills the room ten degrees.
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” he says. I hate his smug posturing. I’m sorry. I’m afraid. As if he wants to leave but can’t, and the reason he can’t is beyond his control.
“I won’t let you win.”
“Win what, exactly?”
“You shall not pass!” If I could strangle him, if I could get my arms around his eight and wrench him from her skull, I would. I would eviscerate him and tear his flesh, rip his pieces into tinier pieces and lay his guts bare. But I don’t dare, not knowing how he’s attached.
“Are we playing a game?” I hate that I’m not getting a rise out of him. His placid tone is making me more irate.
“What do you want from me?” I yell.
I turn and I punch the cabinet where I keep the baking pans. Inside they rattle and clang. “What do you want from her?”
Pause. “I’m not sure I’ve decided.”
“I will do everything in my power to stop you.”
“It would disappoint me if you did anything less.”
The only words I have left are Cate Blanchett’s, and I say them with all the gusto of Elizabeth the First standing tall in the face of the advancing Spanish armada. “I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare try me!”
The octopus lethargically blinks again.
“Do you hear me, octopus?” I gnash and growl and spit. My face is hot and my fists are clenched. “I have a hurricane in me!”
“Do you?” The octopus is unconvinced, enraging me to full boil.
“I’m serious, you prick. We’re going to the vet in the morning and I will do whatever it takes to stop you. I will max out every credit card at my disposal. I will beg, borrow, and steal. I will order every test, every pill, every measure, every treatment.”
The octopus blinks, but doesn’t retreat. Skeptically: “Will you?”
I would pull the walls of this house down on top of him if he weren’t attached to the fragile skull of my deepest love. In my whole life I’ve never been more angry.
Mostly because he is right.
Five Years Earlier
Come to San Francisco.” It’s my sister, Meredith.
“When?” I ask.
“Day after tomorrow.”
I look across the chaotic airport terminal at Jeffrey, who is trying to trade our two tickets for seats on an earlier flight out of JFK. I’m sitting thirty yards away on the grimy airport floor, our phones plugged into the only available charging station. We have been on the East Coast for eight days; Christmas with his family, and then several days in the city, just the two of us, to wander and explore and eat. But now the snow that was so beautiful just days ago is falling harder and harder and people are trying to rebook their flights to get out ahead of the advancing storm. “I don’t know. We might be stuck.”
“Then get unstuck!” Meredith is uncharacteristically emphatic.
“What are you doing in San Francisco?” An announcement blares over the airport speakers, but I can’t make sense of it.
“Where are you? I can barely hear you,” Meredith says.
“New York. Trying to get a flight home. Why San Francisco?”