Thirteen Steps

The stairs in my house are steep. Before I came along they were attic stairs but now they lead to my bedroom, my sewing room, and a long closet. In 1939 families were bigger but people were smaller, and I often wonder who in the history of the house first decided to break through to the attic to expand the everyday living space. 

These stairs have seen a lot of action in my 20 years here. I slipped down the bottom two while holding Daisy when she was a toddler. I slipped down the top two while wearing comfortable but slippery shoes purchased in Nashville, an ill-advised purchase on a boring business trip. I dragged myself up after foot surgery and down after bladder surgery. I climb the stairs daily and, it seems, more and more often when I can’t remember where I left my phone or my keys. I’d rather not be discovered dead at the bottom by a concerned neighbor or frantic daughter, so I try to be mindful. 

These stairs have never been easy. Over the years in this house, all of my family, two legged and four, have had to learn to navigate them when we want to be together and when we want to be apart. 

Lovey the dog came to us as “Daisy.” We already had a two-legged Daisy Mae, so the dog’s name had to change. I wanted to name the dog Maybelline for her deep soulful eyes rimmed in black, but Daisy’s father insisted she be named Miss Lovey Howl, perhaps the most clever thing he ever came up with and certainly his most significant contribution to the household. We found the dog through an ad on Craigslist. We paid $300 to a young man – a boy, really — named Julio, whose boyfriend had purchased her as a demonstration of his love, albeit temporary, for Julio. With the boyfriend long gone, Lovey and Julio lived with an assortment of carefree and still-temporary young men on the top floor of a triple-decker in Federal Hill. Julio kept Lovey in a crate while he worked and partied at the clubs on Atwells Avenue. I imagine the two of them were relieved to be done with one another, and we were happy to welcome Lovey to our home. 

One of Lovey’s front paws was crooked from being broken and never set, and it hurt my heart to think about how that might have come to be. Over time, I didn’t even see the crookedness and was always surprised when someone pointed it out. “She came to us that way,” I would say, a little too eagerly. 

Lovey’s mental health was another topic I avoided. Back then we didn’t discuss such things. Anxiety caused her to whine and whine with no apparent cause. I would yell, “Shut up!” which would be followed by three seconds of stunned silence, and then more whining. It was my mother who pointed out how ineffective our daily call and response had become, and who offered a trick the Dog Whisperer had taught her on TV: “Tch-Tch!”, spoken quickly and with one index finger pointed due north. Instead of solving the problem, Mother’s Tch-Tch! became an integral part of our dialogue: 




Shut up!



A year after we got Lovey, a Lemon Bassett joined us in the house. We rescued Moose from an animal hoarder who lived in a split level on a dead-end street in West Warwick. There, they called him Cleo. Living amongst tens of cats and more exotic members of the hoarded menagerie, he had learned not to expect too much from humans. Sweet and handsome, with a prominent snout, long brown ears, and a white coat with cafe au lait spots, he didn’t find his bark for a month. When it arrived, it was a rich baritone. Daisy’s father wanted to name him Moose after a beloved childhood dog. I wanted to call him Mr. Spock, for the irony. Once again I lost the name lottery. 

Moose’s front paws were fat, thick pads the size of a grown man’s fist. They held up his long torso not five inches off the ground. His back legs were thin, arched, and delicate, like a swan’s neck, ending in what seemed to be almost dainty hind paws. This made Moose seem sometimes like two bodies struggling to communicate, but he managed it all with aplomb. When he decided to leave the deck to explore the mysteries of the backyard, he bunny-hopped down the three steps it took to get to the grass.

Years of Daisy’s first-day-of-school pictures inevitably captured Moose and Lovey in the background, sitting side by side behind the screen door. Their approaches to life couldn’t have been more different. Lovey would chase a ball but never bother to bring it back. She much preferred to chase and be chased by Moose, cavorting around the yard at Bassett warp-speed, biting and jumping on each other like boxing kangaroos. Loving siblings or an arranged marriage? Hard to say. Lovey would scramble to wolf down some garbage she found in the neighbor’s yard; Moose would lumber to the middle of the road and plop down as though holding court, with the occasional car diverting carefully around him. Lovey the Clown, Moose the Statesman. 

An incorrigible child in a perpetual state of survival, Lovey simply could not help herself; two squares a day were not enough. Skilled at breaking and entering, she taught herself to open the cabinet under the sink with her snout to get to the kitchen scraps in the garbage pail. She licked and chewed an empty can of Beefaroni clean without producing a drop of blood. Once, we found her under the dining room table, her mouth stretched end to end by the block of cheddar cheese she nabbed from the low kitchen countertop (remember, people were smaller). Lovey wasn’t choosy in her hunger; used sanitary pads stolen from the bathroom bin were a delicacy. Moose wasn’t indifferent to food, just unwilling to do the extra work to get it when by patience and immobility, food might be brought to him in a bowl twice a day. Lovey the Thief, Moose the Lookout. 

They navigated the thirteen steps from the second floor true to their character; time’s-a- wastin’ Lovey would throw herself pell-mell down the stairs in a not-so-controlled semi-fall, while Moose gingerly and intentionally took each step sideways, with a patient thud-hop-thud-hop, getting the job done with far less energy and drama.

Lovey died late one February. Her back legs were failing her, and I would hoist her across her low middle, like a forklift, to carry her forty pounds to the back door so she could pee. On her final day, we dragged her bed into the middle of the living room. The sun was streaming through the pane glass windows, evaporating the lacey overnight frost. Daisy lay down on the floor and held Lovey’s crooked paw. I stretched out on the other side, my face inches from Lovey’s snout. The vet administered the fatal dose of pentobarbital and I watched the life go out of her Maybelline eyes. 

At the vet’s suggestion, Moose was in the backyard during Lovey’s death. When it was over and we let him back in, he sniffed around his companion’s body then loped away for a drink of water. We laid there with Lovey. The only sound was our sobbing. Moose sat at a distance and silently watched. For the next few weeks, I stayed up late with Moose as he lay alone in the living room, in the bed he had shared with Lovey. He seemed melancholy, but then melancholy was his signature look. 

Lovey’s end was the beginning of the end for Moose. The thirteen steps he had once ambled up and down became a source of anxiety. It was Christmas and I was sewing a lot in the room at the top of the stairs. To get to me, he would soldier up the steps, slow and sideways like a crab, his body the length of the thirteen steps themselves; front legs, then back legs, one step at a time. When that became too much for him, he stood at the bottom of the steps calling to me with his resplendent baritone bark. Not wanting either of us to be alone, I would lift his fifty pounds up the steps, hunched forward to not fall backwards with him in my arms. 

How far do you let it go before you let go? Carrying Moose up and down and out posed a remote but real danger to the human, herself aging, upon whom he was reliant. The vet was called. Just as we had done with Lovey, Moose’s bed was pulled into the center of the living room on top of a blanket. We positioned ourselves around him for the mournful send-off. As I went to lay my face close to Moose’s, the vet barked, “Get away from his face! You never know how they’ll react!” Stunned into submission, I obediently inched back. Moose struggled against the needle. Unlike Lovey, who sailed away, the last look Moose gave me was one of terror. Shaking with rage, I paid the vet, never to use him again. We lay on the floor with Moose’s body. I put my face against his, whispering into his velvety soft ear, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….” When the pet cremation van pulled into our driveway. Daisy and I pulled the blanket up around Moose’s bed and struggled to carry him outside. In death, his weight seemed enormous. 

Now, along the thirteen steep steps hang photographs of Lovey and Moose, ancestral portraits positioned at shoulder height. Lovey, probably in mid-whine, stretches toward the lens, playing to the camera like a pin-up girl. Moose, never one to try too hard to please, gazes languidly yet directly at the photographer. Down in the living room, marking time, Monstera and spider plants have grown up protectively around the ornamental tins that contain their ashes.

“Do you want these?” I sometimes ask Daisy, now a young woman. “Maybe one day,” she says, as she bounds up the stairs without effort. In the meantime, I climb those thirteen steps with care. My heart is Lovey, but my body is Moose. More often than not, it’s slow and steady sideways, up and down, but on a good day I am still here to report that it’s a thud-hop, thud-hop, thud-hop, all the way. 


  • Margo Isidora Katz was born in New York City. She holds an MA in playwriting from Smith College and a BA from Hampshire College. She has been a first-place recipient of the National Scholastic Writing Award, a three-time winner of the Smith College Denis Johnston Playwriting Award, a Nichols Fellowship in Screenwriting semi-finalist, and a screenwriting fellow in the Chesterfield Film Company Writer’s Film Project at Universal Studios. Margo writes, quilts, and gardens in her Rhode Island cottage with seasonal views of Blackamore Pond.

  • Stills from the film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a 1931 American pre-Code horror film, starring Frederic March and directed by Rouben Mamoulian. March plays a possessed doctor who tests his new formula that can unleash people's inner demons. The film is an adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson tale of a man who takes a potion which turns him from a mild-mannered man of science into a homicidal maniac.