Lily and the Octopus(9)
Written By: Steven Rowley
“What about kids?” I ask. “Do you want kids?” I like kids well enough—I have a niece that I’m crazy about. But I’m already too old to be a young father, and I don’t particularly want to be an old father, and I’m single and it’s not something I would do on my own. Nor do I have a particular drive to change my relationship status just to have kids, despite my being on a dating website. So I don’t really think kids are in the cards.
“No. Definitely not. I don’t get kids.”
“Oh, well, there you go. I want to have kids. Need to have kids. Lots and lots of kids. We’ll form a singing group and tour second-tier European cities like Düsseldorf.” And just like that, there’s my out.
On the way home, I have a sudden craving for ice cream. I stop at the grocery store and head right to the frozen food aisle and select a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra for me and an individual cup of vanilla for Lily, because what the hell. One summer when she was young we were driving somewhere together, and I pulled over to the side of a road when I saw an ice-cream place with one of those walk-up windows. We got out of the car and marched together across the gravel parking lot and I ordered a mint chocolate chip ice-cream cone because the mint chocolate chip ice cream they had was green and it always tastes better to me when it’s green (even though the dye they use is probably carcinogenic). We sat at a picnic table on some grass and I scooped Lily up into my lap.
WHAT! IS! THIS! CLOUD! THAT! YOU’RE! LICKING! I! LOVE! TO! LICK! THINGS! WOULD! I! LIKE! TO! LICK! THAT!
Even on my best days, I always wished life excited me as much as it excited her. So I lowered the cone to let her have a lick. The response was immediate.
THIS! IS! AMAZING! WE! MUST! HAVE! THIS! TO! LICK! EVERY! SINGLE! DAY!
It was impossible, eating the rest of that cone. She stood on my lap and put her front paws on my chest, her tail ticking on its fastest setting. And then the back paws tried climbing, looking for footholds in my abs, anything to hoist herself closer to her minty prize.
“Hey, hey, hey!” I objected. “Sit!” She did, steadying the paws on the right side of her body on my left leg and the paws on the left side of her body on my right leg while trying to maintain a semblance of balance. Her eyes looked up at me lovingly and with great anticipation.
Someone once said give a dog food and shelter and treats and they think you are a god, but give a cat the same and they think they are the god.
We shared the rest of that ice-cream cone, for I am a god.
Sunday, 4:37 A.M.
My legs jerk in that way that they do when I’m half-asleep and dream that I’m falling and about to hit the ground. I wake up in a cold sweat, prop myself up, throw the covers back, and reach for Lily all in one fluid motion.
The octopus is rattling the bed. Its limbs have come alive, all eight, and they swarm around Lily, gently but with purpose, and I just know that its dormancy is ending.
I put my hand on Lily’s chest. Nothing. I press down harder while my own heart stops. And then it comes, the familiar rise and fall of her muscled torso. She’s still here. She’s okay. The octopus’s arms slow and then stop and the terror becomes less immediate and things go back to more or less the way they have been since I first noticed the octopus on Thursday.
I try to remember if I was dreaming just now, just before I awoke. Something about standing on a boat, and maybe Lily was there. Or maybe she was both there and not there, in the way that in dreams things can happen on several different planes. I think I was chasing something. Not chasing, hunting. I can’t even be certain there was a boat or a dream at all. It all feels less like a dream and more like a memory, albeit a memory just out of reach.
Lily’s chest rises and falls again. Her breathing is deep, sonorous.
For the first three months that she was mine, she did not occupy my bed. She slept in a crate beside me. It started out across the room, but the first several nights she whimpered and whined, unable to sleep away from the warmth of her littermates. Each night, my judgment increasingly affected by my own inability to sleep, I moved the crate a little closer to me, until I could lie with my finger between the bars of the swinging door. We slept like that—side by side, me in a bed, her in a crate, sometimes my finger and her paw touching—until it was time to spay her. After the surgery to remove her uterus she refused to wear the cone that would keep her from picking at her stitches. THIS! IS! THE! DUMBEST! THING! I’VE! EVER! SEEN! AND! I! WILL! TAKE! NO! PART! IN! WEARING! IT!
Without the cone, she helped herself to licking at her wound whenever I was not there to stop her. So during the day I took her everywhere with me, and at night I brought her into my bed and slept with one arm stretched across her. I don’t know that I physically prevented her from pulling at her stitches, but it was an emotional comfort. Enough at least that it allowed her to sleep through the night, undistracted by the discomfort of her incision.
She never again slept out of my bed unless we were apart.
When her stitches were removed and her wound had healed, I no longer slept with my arm across her. Free to roam the mattress, she immediately burrowed beneath the covers to the very foot of the bed to sleep alongside my feet. Two nights I battled her, convinced of her imminent suffocation if she insisted on sleeping so burrowed. She would tunnel down to the bottom of the bed and I would drag her back up for air. Then she would tunnel back down to the bottom of the bed and I would drag her back up for air. We did this for hours ad nauseam, and late in the second night I hit my breaking point.