Lily and the Octopus(5)

Written By: Steven Rowley



“Are you going to tell me what’s the matter?”

I hold up my finger for him to wait as I carefully massage the pill fragments between my tongue and lower jaw until they dissolve.

“Lily has an octopus.” The words taste chalky and raw, and they’re out of my mouth before I can stop them, which means I really do need to talk about this.

Trent looks confused. “What?”

“An octopus. On her head. Above her eye.” Spelling it out does nothing to alleviate his confusion. He’s giving me a look. So I sum it up and say, “Kind of like yours.”

Trent is the only other person I know who has had an octopus other than, like, on a salad. His came in 1997. We were roommates then, here in Los Angeles. I found him one night on the couch rubbing his calf and looking bewildered. “My leg is numb,” he said.

I don’t know if it’s my imagination, or my anticipation of the Valium’s effect, but I exhale and ease into a Diazepam vision of Trent and me at twenty-six, our old, dilapidated apartment as real to me as when we lived there.

Turns out the left side of his body had been growing numb for months, and a doctor-ordered MRI revealed an octopus still in its infancy. Within weeks he was in surgery, and although it was traumatic at the time, his recovery was quick and we soon put it behind us. Later I wondered why it took him so long to say something. We routinely spent hours analyzing every last one of life’s events and details: That time we broke up a lesbian fistfight. The proper thread count for sheets, and what made Egyptian cotton so great. How many celebrities could we realistically get to come to one of our parties. Why we always burned oatmeal. Was it okay to ask out a male nurse I met on fifty-cent drink night at The Apache. Why did we go to a bar called The Apache in the first place? (Fifty-cent drinks.) There was plenty of time for it to come up before I found him on the couch looking confused.

Trent taps me on my arm and I look up. The restaurant is busy tonight, busier than usual.

“You drifted,” Trent says. The Valium must be kicking in. “How is it like mine?”

“Well, not exactly like yours, because you couldn’t see yours, but Lily’s is just sitting on top of her head for all to see.”

“Her . . . octopus.”

“Yes.”

“I never had an octopus.”

“Yes, you did! And if you didn’t I’d like to know what the hell they took out of you at Cedars when they cut open your skull.”

“They took out a t—” he starts, before stopping.

“What the hell do you think we’re talking about?”

“I thought we were talking about an octopus.”

“Exactly.”

Our martinis arrive. Three olives each. We sip our drinks in silence. The vodka is a cold salve on my throat and a welcome way to wash the powdery aftertaste from under my tongue. It burns as I swish it around my mouth.

“Do you want to get the deviled eggs?” I don’t know why he’s asking me this, because I always want to get the deviled eggs. He flags down a waitress and puts in an order. I don’t even have to say yes. “Did you call the vet?”

I nod. “They can’t see her until Monday.”

“When did you first notice the . . .”

“. . . octopus? Last night. It just showed up. If it was there before, I didn’t notice. It’s weird, though. It doesn’t really move, it just sits there with its arms hanging down the side of her face. I think it’s . . . sleeping.”

Trent muddles two of his olives into his martini with his fingers and I pull one of mine off the toothpick with my teeth. I can see him doing math in his head.

“How old is Lily again?”

“No.”

“What?”

“No.” I am firm. “I can see what you’re doing, weighing the probative value of my options here. One, I haven’t been to the veterinarian yet, and I don’t know what’s involved in removing an octopus that’s clinging to her head.”

Octopusectomy.

“Two, I am not letting that thing have her. I won’t allow it.” In my twenties, I had another terrible therapist (therapists!) who concluded that since my mother never says “I love you” (at least not in the same way that other mothers do), there was going to be a limit to my ability to feel love. Love for someone, loved by someone. I was limited. And then on the very last night of my twenties, when I held my new puppy in my arms, I broke down in tears. Because I had fallen in love. Not somewhat in love. Not partly in love. Not in a limited amount. I fell fully in love with a creature I had known for all of nine hours.

I remember Lily licking the tears from my face.

THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE! YOU! SHOULD! MAKE! THIS! EVERY! DAY!

The realization was overwhelming—there was nothing wrong with me! There were no limits to what I could feel!

And just as Trent had predicted, with only moments left to go on the clock, it all happened for me when I was twenty-nine.

I slam my fists on the table and the silverware jumps and the vodka sloshes to the very rim of our glasses and I grit my teeth and glare. “It cannot have her.”

A chill runs down Trent’s spine. I know this, because a chill runs down my own. He puts his hands over mine to calm me. He has a dog, a bulldog named Weezie. He loves her like I love Lily. He knows my heart. He understands. He would fight this fight.

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