Lily and the Octopus(6)

Written By: Steven Rowley

The waitress comes with our deviled eggs and with two freshly chilled glasses and transfers the rest of our martinis. She smiles at us awkwardly and disappears.

I watch as ice sluices down the side of my new glass in slow motion.





Friday Night

Friday nights are my favorite nights. You wouldn’t think a twelve-year-old dachshund would be good at Monopoly, but you’d be wrong there. She can stack up hotels along one side of the board like nobody’s business and usually does so with little commiseration for others who might not be able to afford her upscale rents. Me, on the other hand, I like the first side of the board. The one with the deep purple and light blue properties with vaguely racist names like Oriental Avenue. Something about the color palette on that side of the board calms me. Lily is colorblind; she doesn’t undertake any such considerations when buying property. Also, I never feel too aggressive building hotels on those properties if I’m lucky enough to get the monopoly. The rents are reasonable and people are usually flush from having just passed Go. I guess I just don’t have the killer instinct.

Lily always makes fun of me when I want to be the wheelbarrow or the shoe. She considers these the game pieces of weak, feckless players. She always wants to be the cannon or the battleship or the “shot glass.” (I haven’t had the heart to tell her she’s been playing that piece upside down and it’s actually a thimble. She would be furious if she ever found out.)

Tonight our hearts aren’t really in it, but it’s what we do on Friday nights, so we go through the motions. I might have suggested we just skip it and do something less involved, like watch a movie (although Saturday nights are usually Movie Night), but I’m feeling some guilt from having left earlier today for therapy and dinner with Trent. As always, I have to roll the dice, move her game piece, conduct the transactions, buy her houses and hotels, and be the banker—because, well, she’s a dog.

Double fours.

“That’s doubles two times in a row. One more time and you go to Jail,” I say. She lands on one of the green properties. “North Carolina Avenue. No one owns it. Do you want to buy it?”

She shrugs. She is a shell of my usual Monopoly partner, both of our minds elsewhere. But while I’m putting on a brave face (maybe it’s the vodka and Valium), she’s just warming a chair. I look across at her. As always, I put a pillow on her seat so she can see above the tabletop, but tonight she looks smaller to me. Maybe she was always that small—I don’t think she’s ever weighed more than seventeen pounds—but her presence in my life has always been outsized.

“Do you not want to play? We don’t have to play.” She sniffs at her pile of money. When she bows her head I can see the octopus, so I look away. I’ve decided not to engage it, to look at it, to talk to it, to even acknowledge it, until our vet appointment on Monday.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

“Tell me again about my mother.” This is something Lily likes to hear from time to time. It used to bother me, her curiosity about where she came from. I guess maybe I was feeling some remorse about tearing her away from her dachshund family when she was only twelve weeks old, away from her mother and father and brother and sisters who later came to be called Harry and Kelly and Rita. But now it’s a story I like to tell. It’s a story about beginnings, and heritage, and our place in the greater world.

“Your mother’s name was Ebony Flyer, but people called her Witchie-Poo. Your father’s name was Caesar, after a great Roman general. I only met your mother once, on the day that you and I were introduced.”

“My mother’s name was Witchie-Poo?”

“It was a beautiful day, the first week of May. Spring. I drove hours into the country to this old white farmhouse with clapboard siding and peeling paint, my heart in my throat the whole way. I was so nervous! I wanted you to like me. The place sat a ways back from the road and the lawn was almost yellow; we hadn’t had much rain that spring, which was good for you and bad for just about everyone else.”

“I hate the rain.”

“Yes, you and every other dog. Anyhow, there was a little wire pen on the front lawn and inside were you and Harry and Kelly and Rita tumbling all over one another like noodles in a pot of boiling water. It was hard to even tell where one of you ended and the next one began, you were just a pile of paws and tails, so the lady who lived there picked you up and set you gently on the grass. The four of you ambled and tumbled and stumbled and bumbled, and I stood there thinking, How on earth am I ever going to choose?”

“But you did. You chose me!” Lily picks up a little red wooden hotel and chews it enough to put a few teeth marks on it before spitting it out onto a railroad. Normally this is not behavior I would allow, but she does it quite gently, sort of nonchalantly.

“No. No, that’s not true, exactly,” I say, and she looks up at me, startled.

Like any good adoptive parent, I have always fed her that line of horseshit: A mommy and daddy who have a baby get stuck with whatever baby they get. But adoptive parents choose their baby, and so they love them that much more. Of course, in most cases, it’s blatantly untrue. Adoptive parents are lucky to get the call whenever and wherever they do, and so they get the baby they get just the same as parents who actually give birth.

Steven Rowley's Books