The first time we met, on a Wednesday at noon at a strip mall aquarium, there were no people around. Your space was lit red against the darkness, two conch shells lined up ready for you to recede. You almost did just that, but stopped. Did we know each other? We both swim in cold dark waters. You, here. Me, in springs at night.
People call you alien, but your rectangular pupils, little windows, felt like an old song to me; a flight of the soul, shifting the water between us, turning a tide. Your solitude, the keen freedom of your impressionistic arms, a series of portrait poses reflecting the tilts of shells and snails—could have been a kingdom or a prison.
I took off my shoes and began to dance like Isadora Duncan, all arms and legs, reaching, stretching, pulling around as I watched your face and slight moves. “This is what crazy looks like,” I thought. Then I said it aloud to the glass. I wondered what other people do on Wednesdays at noon. I used to have an idea.
You’re curious. You danced with me. To the left, to the right. Arms up, arms down. A spin, a lift, a little ball. It was wild choreography. I pressed my hands to the glass, and you touched them, lingering, looking. I swirled my finger in an infinity loop to say goodbye. You followed my movement.
The following week, you balled up, hiding in the corner with no lair in sight, your eyes retracting into your whitening skin in retaliation against screaming humans relentlessly tapping their fingers, smushing their faces against the glass.
“The stingrays are hungry,” I said to the strangers. “Go there. They’ll like you.”
I asked the teenage manager about the incessant daylight cornering you, no shells to calm you. “It’s so the people can see him,” he said.
Every day for a week, I visited you. You were shrinking and pale; no one liked you. They passed by saying, “Is that it?” I would draw infinity next to your body and wouldn’t leave until a tentacle touched it.
On the eighth day, I made a plan. I hadn’t made a plan in many months; the daunting work of life made me sleep and worry and fear that my best years were at the bottom of a ferocious sea. I visited you instead of caring about the price of avocados, back taxes, or the cat-eating coyotes in the neighborhood. I stopped thinking of the sky falling, crushing us into the hollow world.
People misunderstand you, the world’s greatest octopus. They gave you the same name as the two who came before you. But you’re nothing like Hank I or Hank II—they were ill before I met them. They disappeared. You are not Hank III. You are Octopus. Maybe you’ll tell me your name someday, if I can get you some silence, some sleep.
You’re not a sea monster, a cruel ship-wrecking beast. I want directors and artists and writers to stop villainizing you. I want more videos of your colleagues deftly escaping from places where people who don’t love your kind keep you poorly. I want to see someone choke on you as you climb up through their esophagus and get your revenge.
They let me feed you once, and I made sure to eat peppermint candy and hold roses against my skin before I touched you for the first time because I knew you could know me through your tentacles. Maybe you’d think, “You are so pleasant. I’ll take the crab from your nice hand. Thank you.” Your arms twisted around my fingers, pulling my hands into the fifty-five degree water. I wanted to swim with you.
Now, you are dying, and I have a plan. Two hundred miles worth of it. I look up “How to Transport an Octopus.” I need a large cooler, salt water, hope. The octopus swims at midnight. I slip the strip mall aquarium manager $500 to leave the back door open after closing time. That’s almost all the money I have. He’ll turn off the cameras and make up a story.
You’re sitting next to me. It will take four hours to get to the Gulf Coast, where we’ll meet a rogue marine biologist I found online. He’s suddenly a criminal, like me, ready to launch you from a quiet little boat into the blue-green sea.
Settle in, Octopus. The ride may feel like a storm pushing you around, exhausting you against your will. But don’t fight it. Be loose in the dark cooler. Roll with the highway tide. Soon, you’ll be free.