My name is Roger. I’m two years old. I’m a big, shiny black dog.
The last time I hung out for days and days with Tutu I was just a 3 month old pup. Tutu lived in Olalla, Washington then and had a gnarly little beagle pup named Arly, just a month younger than me.
We had some great times, Arly and me, while my humans, the Bride and Groom, vacationed in Hawaii. So much has gone down since then.
I’m, like, a teenager now. I live in Seattle. I know stuff. Like the cat next door, Oscar, smells so good and interesting and my # 1 favorite treat is his poop. I know that the Bride is called Molly and the Groom is called Ben, or sometimes the Captain, and that Tutu is Molly’s mom.
I know that Molly is going to have a pup, and that Ben has been gone for days and days fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, for salmon, which is my favorite treat of all time.
I’m thinking these things as I lick pork juices from a dish Tutu just set down on the kitchen floor for me. Molly is still at work, but Tutu has been here with me for days and days. Pork juices and ham bits and licking the cookie batter bowl, these are my #1 favorite treats.
All treats are my #1 favorite treats.
* * *
Roger lies next to the couch, managing to touch both Molly and me.
My eldest daughter and I navigate hers and Ben’s treks to each other and to this baby, due July 8, right in the middle of the salmon fishing season, with our yellow notepads of to-do lists, our cellphones with the numbers of doulas and doctors, and even a contraction app.
Ben caught a whopping 15,000 pounds of salmon yesterday.
Today is July 4. Fireworks are banned because it’s been so hot and dry, but we can still hear an occasional explosion. We light a blue candle on the mantle for continued good fishing luck. Ben has a great crew who can handle the boat after he leaves, but he’d sure like to make “costs,” which is 70,000 pounds. He is thrilled – since they caught next to nothing up in Naknek at the start of the season, and took a risk boating all the way down to Ugashik (U-gash-ik) (I’m slowly learning the names of these Native Alaskan towns) , which adds precious hours to his return should Molly start labor. They both know Ben probably won’t get here to Seattle for the birth, but both want him to arrive as soon as possible afterward.
“So, Tutu,” Molly says from across our nesting table. “Let’s make a pact.”
Molly has started calling me Tutu, Hawaiian for grandmother. I’ve just lived in Puna, Hawaii a year, but I love it and have no plans to move any time soon. I’m honored to be called Tutu.
“Okay,” I say and pet Roger with my toe.
“Remember yesterday when you asked me if I really wanted to hold off on labor so Ben could get more fishing in?”
“I remember,” I say. “I wanted to know what to really wish for because, to tell you the truth of it, my heart wishes are potent and more often than not come true.”
“And I asked you how the Bearded One was doing on his own for a week now, with his back so recently whacked out?”
“Yes.” Roger licks my toes. I wonder where Molly is going with this.
“Well,” she says, looking straight into my eyes, “this isn’t about either of them, this having a baby, and we should stop asking each other about them.”
“We’re protecting them, imagining wishes to catch more fish or to have me back in Hawaii asap, and both our guys are okay,” I say.
“How’d you get so smart?” I say and smile. She guffaws and I wipe the dripping sweat from my face, neck, back and chest. It’s record hot and dry out, but these are supercharged, hot flashes of age, the moment in time.
* * *
I’m stayin’ on the bed, oh please, let me stay here on this big ‘ol king-sized bed, those pops and bangs and whistles outside are scarin’ me, you hear them, too, don’t you?
“Okay, Roo,” Molly says, and lets me stay. She’s under the covers – I’m not allowed, but it’s too hot anyway.
“Hiiii,” she says, using the voice she uses for Ben. Ben comes to Molly this way every night, I know, because I listen every night, although not always from the bed.
“I’m Hot and Pregnant,” she says, and then she laughs her big laugh, the one I’ve heard come out of Tutu, too. HAHAHAHA! “Nice to meet you, Hungry and Tired,” she says. Then, “Eighteen thousand pounds!”
I wag my bushy black tail. I’d like to stay and lick Molly’s happy face, but it’s my dogly duty to split my time between Molly and Tutu, who sleeps in the guest room across from the stairway. Tutu’s got a crinkly package of dried apricots by her bed and has been known to pop one to me on occasion.
Dried apricots are my #1 favorite treat.
* * *
I walk Roger by the church every day, his green plastic doggie poop bag tied to the leash. Molly and Ben live on a boulevard with a wide park down the middle. It used to be a trolley track back in 1913, when most of the houses were built, including Molly and Ben’s. At one end of the boulevard, on the corner, is a classy old brick Presbyterian church with arches and green mosaic inlay, and that’s where Roger and I turn.
So it felt strange to walk down the boulevard to the church on Sunday morning not only because I was going to church for the first time in two decades, but also because Roger wasn’t with me, sniffing the parched grass.
The intern of the Presbyterian minister who baptized Molly years ago is now the minister of this church in Molly’s neighborhood, a lovely coincidence I learned of 2-1/2 years ago when Molly and Ben first moved into this dream neighborhood with sidewalks (at least my dream back in the 1980s).
When I was seventeen and living in Houston, Texas, I became an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I envisioned myself becoming a medical missionary in Alaska,
not a middle school teacher and then a children’s book author in Seattle, Washington, which is what happened. Nor did I imagine that my mother and father (Dad died in 1985) and sister would follow me here and help raise Molly and her two siblings before and after my divorce and remarriage.
This two-week trip – maybe three if the baby doesn’t come by the due date – has been a time trip down a rabbit hole for me, visiting old friends from every decade of the 35 years I lived in the Seattle area.
I wave to Lydia, Molly’s friendly and spry next door neighbor, who is the same age as my mother. 82. Yesterday, Lydia told me that she still has hot flashes. This helps me cope, for some reason.
Roger greets me at the front door, licks the lotion from my legs. I see Molly is still in her favorite spot on the living room couch, exactly where I left her. But now she’s visiting with her younger sister Annie, aka the Nurse, who hops up from Ben’s big leather chair and gives me a hug. She’s stopped by, she says, to see for herself how Molly is doing. Which is that the Braxton Hicks contractions have picked up since Molly mentioned them to Ben last night, and are continuing to get harder. But that can go on for days.
“So how was it?” Molly asks
“I enjoyed it,” I say. “Not a lot of Jesus talk, which was good. Lovely women, a good man singer in the pew behind me, and a poignant communion. Want to hear a cool thing from the sermon?”
Both daughters look at me. Just last week we three attended a Navaho Blessing Way ceremony at Ben’s mother’s house,
where a dozen or so women chanted and recited our individual blessings and gifted Molly symbolic beads and then showered her with rose petals. That was good spirituality, not churchy spirituality, but they indulge me.
Roger looks at me and seems to know I’m setting up a story. He goes to sit next to Ben’s chair.
“So there’s a plane crash and 20 people are stranded in the wilderness, 20 miles from the closest town. The people are given a list of 10 items, 5 of which they can choose to have, but all 20 people have to agree. The items are an ax, a map, a compass, a lighter, a bottle of brandy, and five other things I can’t remember.
“Anyway, the question the people realize they have to answer is,Would you stay, or would you go? Think about it. Would you, along with 19 other people, stay and dig in and wait to be rescued, or would you, with those same 19 people, strike out for the town?”
“Oh my god, Mom,” Annie says. “There are so many other factors.”
“Not in this story,” I say. “The point is that you don’t know what gear you’ll need until you know your project. The sermon was titled, ‘Back to the Beginning.’”
Daughters and dog alike stare at me. “I’d stay,” I say. “I like to dig in.”
Neither daughter commits. The story is unsatisfying to them, I can tell. But Roger comes over and licks my hand.
* * *
I would stay with Tutu. I love her, the way she talks, the things she pants about.
* * *
Roger always lets me go down the stairs first in the morning, which I appreciate.
Molly stays in her room to talk on her phone, her first Monday morning not dressing for work. “Who are these little people, Erin?” I hear, and know she’s talking to her best friend from childhood, whose baby is due next month.
I turn off the front porch light which burns all night –
my off-grid Hawaii electricity mind notices these things, electricity is so expensive back home – and head for the kitchen and a bit of ham from the fridge for Roger.
I make Mango Maui tea and think about the Bearded One. We talk every day. His back is much better, he says, and Tom and our son, His Majesty, are working on new kitchen windows, a tile countertop and a new sink, hoping to finish before I return. He’s surviving quite well on the frozen spaghetti casserole and burritos I left for him. I still can’t completely take in the marvel of living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and calling Seattle any time, or Ben working in Bristol Bay, on the edge of the Bering Sea, talking with Molly from the tiny village of Egegik. Or last night, from his boat, after catching 27,000 pounds in 10 hours. His new all-time record.
Molly has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, Tuesday the 7th, a day before her due date.
The big question this morning is, “Should she let the doctor strip her membranes?” The doctor asked at the appointment last week, and Molly had said no. Even though she is very tired of being pregnant in this bizarre heat. I’ve told her that all three of my babies came the day after a doctor’s appointment, at which this cervical scraping occurred.
When she comes downstairs, we don’t talk about it, though. We talk about the shopping for curtain blackout fabric she wants to do, and I talk about visiting with an old friend who’s coming at 10. And we plan to leave here together tonight for her dad’s 64th birthday party at 6:15. I’m invited, too. It’ll be good to see Bill.
* * *
It’s the middle of the night and I am dead out at Molly’s feet, my favorite place, when suddenly Molly is talking. “You’re WHAT?!” she says. I creep across the bedspread, smell Ben’s joyful voice.
Molly says, “So why are you coming home?”
Why is she barking? A human mystery. She barks some more, and then gives in. He made more than costs, his goal.
She hangs up and sighs deeply. “Why did I fight him on this, Roger? Am I crazy? He’ll be home tomorrow night.”
I move in closer for the last hours of my last night alone with my favorite person.
* * *
It’s 8am and I move Roger and his food and water dish outside to the back porch and meet Molly on the front porch to go to the doctor. She drives and we discuss Ben’s return tonight.
“I fought him hard, Mom,” she says to me as we both watch traffic. “I must sound like such a bitch.”
“You don’t sound like a bitch, and besides, even if you did, you have every reason.”
She smiles a little, and we move on.
I’ve driven the route to the hospital already and know where to park and everything, but I prefer for her to drive. Seattle is a big, fast city.
“Where is he now?”
“Hopefully in Egegik.”
“The doctor is going to ask about striping your membranes, you know.”
“I’ll tell her Ben is on the way,” Molly says, furrowing her brow, “but I don’t think I want to hurry the birth. He’s not here, yet.”
Molly has a massage scheduled for this afternoon, and I’m going to cook my brains out. Ham and scalloped potatoes, a rhubarb pie and cookies.
We park in the immense concrete garage on level Alligator. By the time we are waiting in the actual doctor’s office, Molly has tracked Ben down at the fish processing office in Egegik. “Should I let her strip the membranes?”
“What did he say?” I ask when she hangs up.
“Not yet! is what he said.”
So we both shriek with hilarity when the doctor, a young woman who looks a lot like PeeWee Herman, and who both Ben and Molly love, strips them without even asking! “Ouch!” says Molly. “Say hi to Ben for me,” says the doctor.
* * *
Ben is home! I lick him all the way home from the airport. Besides salmon, I smell four different boats, a helicopter, and two different airplanes on him. His beard is long and especially tasty.
Molly made him throw his smelly fish shoes into the garbage, not even offering them to me. Tutu has been cooking all day, so I’m a bit full, anyway. Ben eats two plates of ham and scalloped potatoes with ketchup and hot sauce. I lay at his smelly feet. Molly eats a big piece of rhubarb pie and rubs her belly. “It’s tightening up again,” she says. Tutu has saved the cookie bowl for me to lick clean. Life is good.
* * *
“Let them sleep all morning,” I whisper to Roger, who is in my room when I wake up. Molly and Ben seem to be sleeping in, their door is closed. Ben doesn’t sleep a lot during fishing season anyway, but he had been up for 36 hours and was running on adrenaline.
I’m making tea when Molly appears in the kitchen. “Good morning!” I say.
“Ben is so tired,” she says.
“He looks great,” I say.
“Yeah,” she agrees, “he could wash his hair and shave, though.”
She starts the coffee pot and then leaves to go sit on the couch and make some phone calls. Roger escorts her.
I putter a few minutes, and then hear Molly calling from the living room. “Mom! I either just peed my pants or my water broke!” She hobbles into the kitchen, laughing and dripping.
“What time is it?” I say and rush to start my log. “8:30am, July 8.”
Molly wipes down her legs with a dish towel. “Oh my god,” she says.
“How do you feel?”
“Fine,” she says. “I slept great.”
She is concerned about wetting the couch, so I follow her into the living room with another dish towel and soak up the two spots. “No biggie,” I say.
“I’m cramping a bit now,” she says and leans on the arm of the couch.
“You’re going to have a baby today!” I say, giddy. I look at Roger who is looking at Molly, who is not noticing him at all.
“I’m going to get Ben up,” she says, and I say, “Okay, 8:40, Ben up. I’m going to write that down.”
The next thing I hear is Molly’s big laugh from upstairs. HAHAHAHA!
“What?” I sing out.
It’s Ben’s happy voice now. “Molly is such a rule follower. It makes sense the baby would come on the due date.”
I love that they are laughing together.
* * *
Not even Tutu remembers me. She runs up and down the stairs. Ben is on the phone with special numbers Tutu brings him, and Molly sits on the toilet without shutting the door. I’m not allowed in the bathroom, even though my water bowl is right there by the door. Tutu finally pats me on the head. I feel her nerves. She is sweating.
* * *
“It seems to be happening quickly,” Molly says to Ben from the toilet. She tells him she wants to talk with the doula while he washes his hair and shaves, that she doesn’t like seeing his hair so weird.
He says, “I haven’t seen a mirror or a bathroom for a month,” laughs and starts shaving.
Then Molly is talking to the doula. “Eat, rest, take a shower, take a bath.” Molly repeats the doula’s advice, hangs up and starts the contraction app. I watch her double over. Seems like at least a minute to me. When the hard cramp or mild contraction is over, she pushes the stop button.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask from the hallway outside the bathroom. It’s 9:18.
“Rhubarb pie,” she says. “In about half an hour. Downstairs.”
Ben finishes shaving, calls his mom and sister, then checks his computer in his office next to the bathroom. When he returns, he says, “The Chinese stock market crashed this morning. Wall Street just shut down. United Airlines cancelled all flights.” Oh great. Civilization is crashing today. I hope Hawaiian Airlines is still flying.
“It’s only going to get worse,” Molly says from the toilet. I don’t think she heard Ben. It’s 9:46. She gets up and leans over the bathtub now. She punches the start button and groans loudly.
Roger crouches by the stairs. “Come on, Roger Sweetie,” I say, heading downstairs. “Let’s put you outside.”
* * *
Here I am in my backyard with a nice big piece of ham in my bowl, which I eat, but my heart’s not really into it. I can still hear Molly groaning through the open bathroom window.
* * *
Downstairs, I call the Bearded One, then Bill (who calls everyone on that side of the family), then my sister (who calls our mom and brother). The message: Molly is in labor, the doula has been called. Ben is here leaning over the bathtub with Molly.
I cut a piece of pie and carry it up the stairs.
“She’s throwing up,” Ben says to me from the bathroom, looking concerned. No more need for pie. “Should we go to the hospital now?” he asks.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “Not until the doula gets here, anyway. Molly says she wants to labor at home.” It’s 10:30 and Molly howls through another contraction. Ben hunches next to her and says, “Breathe, baby. Remember, keep breathing.”
“Show me!” Molly cries out. “I don’t understand the words. Show me!”
Ben breathes out loud, in and out, in and out, fast, panting. Molly follows his lead and they ride the wave together.
“Okay,” she says, meaning the contraction is over and he is supposed to push the stop button on the contraction app. He does, but Molly needs to hear that he’s done it. “Tell me!” she cries out.
And he does. Every contraction after that for the next half hour, he faithfully shows and then tells.
I fetch the book with possible laboring positions and Ben helps Molly get into them. Breathing loudly for her as he does.
I run a warm bath and Molly sinks into the water. Then I breathe with her as Ben calls the doula again. He says the contractions are every 3-4 minutes now, and a minute long, but they haven’t been this way for an hour yet. Which is the guideline for heading to the hospital.
First labors are notoriously long, but it’s 11:15 and Ben reminds the doula that Molly has a very high pain tolerance. The doula says she is on her way.
I let the doula in an hour later, she works with Molly on the bed as Molly screams through multiple big contractions, and then at 1:00, Molly lets out a gut-wrenching groan that the doula recognizes as significant. “It’s time to go!” she says.
Ben is more than ready. Molly tells me to put towels on her car seat and get her hospital bag from the stairs. “Where’s Roger?” she says.
“He’s outside,” I say. “He’s fine.”
I can’t remember if I shut the door on the way out, but Ben says never mind, and I put Molly’s bag in the car. Then I just stand there. In the street. Molly is in the car. Ben is going to drive. The doula has already left.
“Get in,” Ben says to me. “Aren’t you coming?”
I draw a blank. Am I going? Somehow my job seems done. And I’m not needed there. The garbage needs to go out tonight, the plants need watering. And Roger. But I do seem to have my purse with me. “Okay,” I say. “Yes. I’m coming, too.”
All the way to the hospital, I breath with Molly. Hard and fast. I think about how Ben and I are a good team.
Ben turns into the hospital drop-off area at 1:15pm and hops out. The doula arrives just before us and is already running to Molly with a wheelchair. I move to the driver’s seat – my job now is to park the car – and I realize, to my horror, that the seat is too far back for me and I can’t find any lever to move it up. Ben and Molly are long gone, and I can’t even reach the car pedals!
I hop out of the car and stand before the line of various uniformed attendants and security people in front of the hospital doors. “Does anyone here know how to move a Subaru seat forward?” I call out.
A couple of men raise their hands, one runs over and finds the secret electronic switch for me, I thank him profusely and drive down and down to level DEER to park.
Sweat drips from my face in the elevator. People smile at me, even suspect who I am, a crazed grandmother trying to find Labor and Delivery.
Molly is on the delivery table, her legs up in the stirrups, six nurses in blue, our doula, and Ben surround her. It’s 1:30 and the woman doctor between Molly’s legs is telling Molly to push. She has been in labor just five hours and she’s completely dilated. The baby is coming.
I stand back where I can see everything and be out of the way. Molly notices me and waves me off to the side. I rush to the head of the bed near Ben, who Molly is hanging onto for dear life.
Ben is supposed to announce first if it is a boy or girl. He forgets, but it doesn’t matter because Molly makes that final terrible, beautiful push, the baby’s head comes out and the rest of the body follows fast and we could all see his little penis as he made his way up to Molly’s chest. 1:57pm.
Like a cooked shrimp, the baby turns from blue to pink as Molly and Ben kiss and kiss. The baby gazes at them. Cyrus is his name, after Molly’s great-grandfather.
Then Molly’s legs begin to shake and a nurse brings her a warm blanket.
Bill arrives. We hug each other and beam at the wonder of being grandparents.
Three hours later, Molly, Ben, and Cyrus are settled in a hospital room, Cyrus tightly swaddled in Ben’s arms. I declare my intent to depart to take care of Roger. The nurse suggests I take Cy’s little blue stocking hat, for Roger to smell.
* * *
“Roger,” Tutu says, “come here.”
She sits on the couch with a new toy in her hands. I stay on the floor.
“Molly had a baby boy today,” she says. “His name is Cyrus, and he has sent you this.”
Tutu holds out a cloth for me to sniff. Which I do. I sniff and sniff and the flesh on my nose tingles and drips with the scent. My eyes close and my mouth fills with moisture and I long to taste…
“No, It can’t be licked yet,” she says, “and never eaten. Baby Cy is your boy and he’ll be here tomorrow. In the meantime, you can smell his hat.”
Okay, Tutu. No teeth. Just smelling is good.
* * *
Roger sleeps on my bed with me. The next morning we get up together and do all the laundry, clean the bathroom, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum. I know I’ll go home as scheduled the next day.
As I make Ben and Molly’s bed and fold clothes, I look at the map of Bristol Bay above their dresser. We have a map of the Big Island of Hawaii on our wall at home. The white pineapples are ready now, I think.
After all the work is done, Roger and I go downstairs and look at old photo albums from when Molly was born. Time loops over itself. Finally, at 7pm, they pull up to the house in the Subaru.
Then, Ben is sitting on the couch, in the same spot Molly’s water broke just the day before, with the swaddled Cy. “Roger,” he says, “meet Cy.”
Roger sniffs the baby politely. “Good dog,” says Ben.
Roger looks at me, and I understand. He’ll take it from here, but come back soon.