Here’s a strange one: Early on a Thursday morning, late spring but not quite summer, Livy—age twenty-three and solitary, generally ignored or more openly reviled by everyone in our office—turned up on my doorstep. I’d ignored the first knock. Nobody ever called for me. I had the bottom rooms in a house so carved up over time that it resembled the grand villa it had been only from the outside, and then only from far away. To get to my door, you had to go down some rotting stairs around the side and into a grim little alcove, which is where I discovered Livy, squinting at the weeds that thrust out—so irrepressible with life!—from the cracks in the concrete path . . .
When I was little, I’d pretend to be on the phone. Some days the phone was a cornstalk bent around the ear, and some days it was a spatula—the instrument didn’t matter as much as the news I wished to convey. I’d speak with my friend Sesha, and I’d tell her all the things that couldn’t wait until school: “Rani has a new litter,” “Dippy is peeing near my house right now,” and so on. Occasionally I’d note that my brother was eating like a pig, gobbling more than his fair share of watermelon. And only rarely would I mention something like my father beating my mother; those things were never any fun to talk about . . .
Cuddlepot bit my hand when I was just trying to help him. I was trying to put the needle in the little hump of fat behind his neck just like I’d seen Kani and Gretel do a multitude of times, and I was being quick about it, too, but as soon as he saw the needle spurting a drop of amber liquid he started and he twisted snakelike and he bit me vicious into my hand with which I was holding him, his fangs deep, and I grabbed his neck even tighter and he went limp and I said, so you bite me? and before I had a thought I’d thrown him against the living room wall and first he lay on the floor, still and moaning, and I really thought he was dead, and then he moved so fast away . . .