1. At the California Academy of Arts and Sciences, a sign above the octopus exhibition said: No flash photography allowed at the octopus tank. I wouldn’t want to be on display for the world to see either – it would be too much like high school, where word spread like rain clouds in the sky and judgment came down like flashes of light. Octopuses can change colors to blend into the background, I read in the little information box on the side. I thought of how cool it must be to blend into the background at whim; the cells in my body expanding to camouflage me, my cells responding quicker than my heart would. At twenty-seven, I had slept with a hundred men and I could sleep with a hundred more. I guess my body did respond quicker than my heart.
2. The octopus is an amazing creature with three hearts, two branchial ones that pump blood through each of its two gills, while the third is a systemic one that pushes blood through the body. When I was thirteen, my French teacher David asked me if I would have coffee with him after school. We met on a humid September afternoon at Mido Café where the shutters were always down, and sunlight shone through in stripes. He was tall, gangly, and smelled like coffee. I liked the way his pale hand looked against mine, the way his yellow beard looked coarse but was soft to the touch, and the way our eyes were open when we kissed. Octopuses don’t have eyelids, so they have no choice but to kiss staring at one another’s pupils.
3. Two-third of an octopus’ neurons reside in its arms, not its head. As a result, the arms can problem-solve how to open a shellfish while their owners are busy doing something else. The arms can even react after they’ve been completely severed. When David asked me to buy Trojans from 7-11, I tried to tell him my body wanted something my neurons could not get together fast enough to object. He asked me if I had been with any other man before and I said, “Sure.” I wasn’t sure if being finger-banged by another thirteen year old, Jack Whitson, who had announced to his entire rugby team that I was his girlfriend, counted. But I was sure that if I had been with any other man, he wouldn’t have mattered then.
4. The octopus is a social cephalopod; when isolated from their own kind, they will sometimes shoal with fish. At school, David spent lunchtimes in the staffroom. I spent lunchtimes watching Jack play rugby on the field. David would ask me in the evenings if I wanted to go to the movies for once, instead of hiding in his cave-of-a-studio. “What would Jack say if he saw us?” I asked. “What could your boy say?” David said. “No one would suspect an older gwai-lo with his young Chinese wife,” I said. Octopuses love roaming around the seabed, collecting discarded shell halves and carrying them back to their corner. Whenever they got scared or threatened, they would enclose themselves inside these shells. The truth made us retreat.
5. After a long day of foraging for food, octopuses can follow their own mucus trail back home, but they generally use visual landmarks to navigate around their environments. By November, I had learned how to make David smile. Learning how to make David smile meant I knew how to make men smile. I had complete control when I put the tip of my tongue gently in his opening, and when I slapped his chest while sitting on top of him, and when he laid across my bare chest to fall asleep. Then I would slip my panties back on, my bra, my white collared shirt, my beige skirt, and my leather shoes and walk home undistinguished in my uniform. At dinner with my parents, I stopped serving my father first. I claimed the first helping of sea bass, the meat white and juice running down the sides, breaking the skin with my spoon.
6. Humans, like octopuses, have almost entirely soft bodies. The only difference between an octopus and a human being is that an octopus has a beak. But I would like to argue that even a human’s mouth could turn into a beak when angry. He can snap, draw blood, and break things with his teeth. Jack asked me why I didn’t hurt when he entered. I told him he wasn’t the first. “You slut,” he snapped. “Such a slut.” He drew blood. He broke things in his room that night, like staplers, his computer screen, his shelves, his heart.
7. At school, five girls in the bathroom cornered me to ask how sex felt. I told them that sex with someone you love felt soothing, like swimming in the Pacific Ocean, but then they laughed. Their shrill laughter severed my nerves. Octopuses don’t have any internal temperature regulation, so if you freeze them, you can get them to the point where they fall unconscious. When the principal asked me what had happened; since September, in the café, in the movie theaters, at his house, my veins turned into ice. He asked me many things like, “Did he make you do it?” “Did he make you – ” I heard them all laughing at the girl who couldn’t keep her legs closed, their laughter hacking my limbs.
8. After mating, it’s game over for octopuses. Males wander off to die. The female’s body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, rippling from her optic glands through her tissues and organs. It was 4 p.m. on a cold December Tuesday, and everyone knew why David had been fired. “Come with me,” he said at the school gate. “We can go somewhere – anywhere, but here.” He put both hands on my shoulders, his tentacles wrapped around me, blowing soft, wet kisses on my arms. I wanted the circular suckers to take me and leave a comatose body behind. Maybe the suckers, too gelatinous, wouldn’t hold, and I would have to shove the entire arm down my throat. I felt sorry saying no. I was sorry that he got fired. I watched him walk away, my two branchial hearts pumped blood through heaving breaths while the third one pushed sorries through my body.
About the Author: Ploi Pirapokin‘s work is featured in the Griffith Review, HYPHEN Magazine, the Asia Literary Review, the Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong, and Transfer magazine. Winner of the 2014 Leo Litwak award in fiction, her writing has been supported by the Ragdale Fundation, the Brush Creek Foundation, the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, Kundiman, Writers on Writing Workshop at Tomales Bay, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University where she is currently a lecturer in the creative writing department.
Artwork: David Hevel