by V Rose Dahrke
“Hey Bobby! Bobby!”
Bobby stopped, removed an earphone, and called “Mr. Swindon?”
“Seriously? Could you not wait until after seven-thirty to mow the damn lawn?”
“Sorry sir. I’ll come back…”
“Don’t bother. I’m up.” Ken Swindon ended his conversation with his neighbor’s son by slamming the window and headed for the bathroom to shower. Honestly, it’s not like he has a real job to be on time for or anything, he thought as he undressed. He’d always been an odd duck, that Bobby, but that was no excuse for…
And that was when he saw it. It was just a black, star-shaped blob on the glass of the shower door, but even through the frosted haze he knew what it was. Naked except for one sock, he immediately turned and exited the bathroom.
“Mindy?” He could hear the radio in the kitchen. “Mindy!”
“What’re you looking for?” she answered, tired.
“There’s an octopus in the shower.”
“There’s a goddamn octopus in the goddamn shower.”
“I have no idea. All I know is that there’s an octopus in the shower.”
“There can’t be.”
“Come look at this, Mindy!” His voice was louder and higher than he intended it to be. Slowly, he heard her climb the stairs. He breathed faster than she walked, trying to fight a panic he didn’t understand. Why would there be an octopus? He looked again, still standing just outside the door. It hadn’t disappeared.
His wife of fifteen years joined him in peering into the room. “Where?”
“What do you mean ‘where’? Right there.”
“On the shower door.”
She stared at it for almost a full minute. See it, he thought, begging. If you ever loved me, see it.
“Ken,” she began. No. No, no, no. Please don’t say it. “Are you…did you take your medicine last night?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you think…how long has it been since you saw Dr. Walton?”
“Not that long. You don’t see an octopus?” As he watched, it began to creep downward along the glass, moving slowly as though it feared a fall onto the cold tile.
“I don’t see an octopus, dear. Maybe you should take the day off work.”
“I don’t need a day off.”
“I really think…”
“I said I’m fine, alright?” he snapped. Mindy said nothing, but the long stare she gave him made him slam the door harder than he meant to when he reentered the bathroom.
After that, it was just the two of them.
Ken took a deep breath and removed his sock, listening for the sound of Mindy walking away. When she was gone he rolled the sock into as hard of a ball as he could and threw it against the shower door. It bounced, the door rattled, and two of the creature’s upward-pointing tentacles came away from the glass for a second. Slowly, they felt their way back to the glass and gripped again.
Maybe that would prove something if it wasn’t exactly what you expected it to do.
He approached and slid the door open carefully; if he knocked it onto the floor there was no way he could shower.
Are you listening to yourself? There is no octopus.
It didn’t move again. It was right at eye level, so he watched it watch him as he washed. He had taken his medicine. He had been doing fine. He hadn’t seen Dr. Walton in months because he hadn’t felt a need. He had been perfectly, totally fine. For years. He was perfectly, totally fine. He was sure of it. He couldn’t be…
But that meant that he was eye-to-eye with a real octopus, one that had somehow managed to break into his home and get itself trapped in the shower, five and a half feet further from the ground than it clearly wanted to be. That wasn’t possible. He was almost positive it wasn’t possible in Florida or Hawaii, so it definitely wasn’t possible in Minnesota. It couldn’t be…
It blinked at him.
He put his head in his hands, resting his forehead against the glass of the door. He couldn’t go through this again, not the treatments, not the gossip, not the people asking how he was doing, like he’d had the flu, when what they meant was “How was the loony bin, Ken?”. He’d put too much into convincing everyone else–and himself–that he was better to ever face going back. He couldn’t put Mindy through this all again. She’d leave him, and he couldn’t blame her. After all these years he’d have to let her go, for her sake.
He might as well say goodbye now. Not just to her. To everything
Something brushed his hand. He looked up and found that the octopus had laid a single, inquisitive tentacle against two of his fingers, testing, searching for food or help and trying to decide if he was either.
But that was just what you wanted it to do. Not what you thought it would do, but what you wanted it to do. You wanted someone to tell you that it’s all going to be okay. To hold your hand. Did it feel good, Ken? Do you love your little hallucinated octopus?
He shut off the water.
“I’m going to see the doctor,” he announced when he reached the kitchen.
“Before. Now, in other words.”
“But you haven’t eaten your breakfast.”
“Mindy, there is an octopus in the shower that only I can see. A kind, gentle, terrified octopus. An octopus that understands what I need emotionally. Put my plate in the fridge.”
“Alright, then. Being hungry isn’t going to help the octopus,” she muttered. He kissed her on the cheek, found his keys, and left.
When he had gone, Mindy went upstairs, peeled the octopus off the glass, and carried it back down. She froze halfway to the kitchen, hearing the front door open. It closed with a reassuringly soft click, followed by slow footsteps that she knew weren’t her husband’s. They followed her and stopped behind her in the kitchen doorway, and she could feel his eyes on her back as she dropped the octopus into grocery bag, set it on the counter, and hit it twice with a heavy bottomed saucepan.
Bobby grimaced, watching it wriggle, dying. “How much did that thing cost you?”
“Thirty bucks at the Korean market down on Hiawatha.” She tied the first bag into a second and handed one handle to him. “Best thirty bucks we’ll ever spend, my dear. Bury it a couple layers deep in the can, then take it to the curb. Pick-up is usually around nine-thirty. After that, you can consider Phase One complete.”