Reading to Dogs


The day Lillie put her hand down her neighbor’s pants began like any other Saturday. She put on the kettle she’d filled the night before and tackled the dishwasher, her movements sure and efficient. A tip she’d clipped from the penny savers said you could unload a dishwasher in the time it takes water to boil — turns out you can, with minutes to spare. She spooned loose leaf English Breakfast into a big-bellied teapot and filled it the moment the kettle hissed. The canister said to brew for three to five minutes; Lillie set the timer for four.

At 36, Lillie Adams had adopted the reliable routines of a woman twice her age. She flossed. She lotioned. She rotated her mattress. Men noticed her curly auburn hair and no-nonsense jaw; women saw her as the Before picture in a magazine makeover. Lillie herself alternated between wanting to lose 10 pounds and wanting to be a good person.

She settled in her spot on the patterned sofa with a paperback mystery. She had known when she selected the bright floral that she’d be hearing from her dead mother: Chintz is impractical. It won’t wear.

Holding her teacup, Lillie studied the saturated blue of the sky that showed at the top of her living room window. The weather had turned frisky, the false spring that punctuates the soggy gloom Oregonians call winter.

She considered for a moment. Houses get stuffy sealed for the winter. She put her Dick Francis aside and went to the entryway of her split-level ranch house, part of a bedroom community built on farmland in the sixties.

She opened the door an inch.

Back on the sofa, her eight-year-old tomcat used her fleece robe to clamber into her lap. He butted the horsy front cover of her paperback, demanding petting. “It’s your turn, is it?” said Lillie, putting the book face down to concentrate on rubbing and scratching Tom’s head with its elegant, elongated bones. When she was first hired as the billings manager of the law firm of Reilly, Iverson and Peters, and dreading the requisite three months probation, she went to the pound for a shorthaired tabby. Maybe coming home to a cat would help — she imagined one that would greet her at the door, like a dog. Except not a dog.

Definitely not a dog.

Copyright Nan Narboe, 2011

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