Mary Miller

J.’s seven-year-old daughter built a house and put all of us in it. She built the house on the dinner table with wooden blocks.

“Draw yourself,” she said, handing me a square of paper.

She had already drawn her brother and her father and her mother and herself. They were yellow skinned, yellow haired. The boy and J. were wearing hats, the brims turned sideways. They looked almost identical. She and her mother also looked similar, their dresses geometrical.

I drew myself in blue with red loopy hair, but fashioned my dress after theirs. I gave myself circle cheeks and slit eyes, a mouth that went up and down. Three fingers on each hand and feet that pointed in the same direction.

She said her mother liked blue; it was her favorite color. I looked like her mother, with long dark hair, about the same size and shape, though her mother had a larger ass. If I was being completely honest about it, her mother was prettier. Even her big ass was nice. “You look like my mom,” she said to me once, early on, and this seemed to work in my favor.

When I handed her my drawing, she put me in a room by myself, a barricaded wing. The dog and cat could sleep with me, she said. The dog was my dog.

“Whose cat is that?” I asked.

“Mine,” she said. “He’s dead.”

“I don’t like cats. I’ve never liked cats.”

She placed the trashcan next to my door and J. and her mother in the marital bed. I told J., who was chopping something in the kitchen, and we laughed so she took her mother out of the bed.

“Mommy can sleep with me,” she said. “I’ll put the girls in bed together and the boys in bed together.”

I was still sequestered in my wing with the animals.

She made a leash for my dog, food bowls, a litter box. She made a ball of yarn, a dog toy that might have been a teddy bear or an elephant.

“What else does your dog need?” she asked.


She wrote DOG TREATS on a slip of paper. I pointed out that she’d drawn everything but had only written “dog treats.” She wrote CAT TREATS on another slip and placed them next to the pets.

“What else does your dog need?” she asked.

“Heart worm medicine. Flea and tick.”

She sighed as though I was being difficult. She drew a capsule, fat beads inside like a party. She attached the leash to the dog with a piece of tape before making the cat a pretty rhinestoned collar.

“Here you are,” she said, taping the leash to my three-fingered hand. “Walking your dog like you do.”

“Ooh,” I said. “That’s good. Get me out of the house.”

She placed the collar on the cat’s neck.

“What’s the dead cat’s name?” I asked.

J. overheard me and shook his head. No, he mouthed, no. He even made an X with his hands.


“That cat ran away two years ago. He’s dead.”

“I know,” I said. “She told me.”

J.’s daughter continued to think of other things she could put in the house—pizzas for our dinner, books and bookshelves, beach towels, a couch and a TV—all of the things we might need in order to live there together.

Mary Miller has a new book coming out in January of 2017 called Always Happy Hour. She has also written Big World and The Last Days of California. She likes sandwiches and dogs.