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Aqua Vitae

by Kendall Defoe 10 days ago in Short Story / Young Adult / Love / Humor / Fable
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My Home, My Rules...

Aqua Vitae
Photo by jonas on Unsplash

This is the life for me.

When you come into this building at the zoo and pass by the fourth section nearest to arctic life – yeah, I know exactly where they put me – you see me, a beautiful octopus. Call me Frank. The media calls me that, and I think that it is a pretty good name (more about it later).

One of the best things about being here is that I have the tank to myself. I was discovered to be one of the biggest octopi – silly word; proper term is cephalopods (and octopuses sounds really dumb) – and they had to have me.

Think that I feel bad about leaving the ocean? Think that I miss the coral and the constant hunting and being hunted for food? No way, San Jose (oh, San Jose is where the aquarium is housed). I am too old to think that I was going to have any sort of a life back there. When they found me and brought me here, it was the best day of my life. They call me “The Giant of All Giant Pacific Octopuses” (can even see that they put it on a stand next to my new home). And I know what could have happened if I had been caught in the Mediterranean or near Asia (a very large meal for a very lucky fisherman and his family and friends).

Hey, you are probably wondering how I learned so much about myself (sounds strange when I say it out loud). Well, they do have tour guides here, and plenty of kids with parents who like to read the guide books out loud. And then there is your media. I was quite a star when I first moved in. That lovely young lady from a local paper said that “it is a real find for the aquarium” and that “San Jose never thought they would have such a special guest.” Thank you, Miss Stewart (also, beautiful outfit, if I may say so). You really made my day. And I have had so many wonderful days since your visit.

And I am treated well - plenty of space, sand, food, crawl spaces where I can curl up after a long day of being stared at and wondering how many photos I will pose for on any given day. My size seems to terrify the mothers and some of the fathers, but never any of the children. Always makes me smile (yes, even a cephalopod can smile).

But not everything I have seen is so nice. Not everything.

Some of you seem to think of me as a prisoner; a poor defenseless animal that needs to be put back in the ocean. That protester who ran up to my home – my real home – and waved around that sign really embarrassed me (“No Prisons for Patronizing!” it said; rather silly and totally inaccurate). I thought that they were going to put me back in after it continued during that nice Miss Stewart’s interview with the head of the zoo (Mr. Stewforth – I could not believe that name when I heard it). But those people went away, especially after one little girl smacked a taller boy with a stuffed animal and said that she loved Parker (my name now; not that it really matters, but I like it), and that he should “go home and go to bed”. Being laughed at was probably more hurtful to the kid than any of animals he could not “liberate” (again, a very odd choice of words for them). That little girl was my best fan and saved my tentacles (glad they got it on camera).

That little girl…

As I said, I observe things here. I have plenty of time to think about my new home and to see things as they are. Not all of them have been nice. Not as nice as that little girl, anyway.

Her name is Marie. She was there with her family, and I believe that she was eleven when she smacked that boy. The interview went well, but I noticed something a little strange about her family (all human families are strange to us sea life, but this one was a little different). The mother was off to the side, glowing with her smile and happy as a…clam (you people really need to work on your phrases; most clams are miserable and bad to invite to parties). She seemed so happy to have her daughter on camera after she showed her “strength of character”. She was a proud parent.

And then I looked at the father.

Was he even her father? What a disgusting slob, I thought. Badly dressed and indifferent to his child (maybe it was not “his” and that would explain things), over-stuffing himself with food from a bag (were those Doritos or Lays?), and being a little bit inappropriate with another lady who was there to guide her own son around (she did not seem to mind what he called flirting, but it still looked wrong). And then, when the interview ended, it got worse. That little girl ran to her mother first, holding her animal (a stuffed octopus; very sweet), but did not say anything to the father. They had to almost drag him away from the other lady and I could tell that the mother noticed how her partner (better word, I think) looked at other women. The thing is, she said something that I cannot shake now.

“You want her? You can have her.”

He was left there all alone as they walked out the main entrance and the other woman quickly stepped away, too (her son needed to use the facilities). There he was standing right in front of me, a few patrons staring at him and pointing fingers. One man laughed quietly but quickly turned away when noticed. But he did not leave right away. There he was, right in front of my home, right in front of all the other patrons. What he did next seems silly, but it is all true:

He stuck his tongue out and said: “You’re lucky to be in there.”

Was that a challenge? Did the man realize that I was in a huge box filled with water and he was walking around in the open air? I watched him trudge away, spilling food and drawing stares from a few other patrons nearby.

Now, I had been challenged before. Remember what I told you about the clams. Well, other octopi – or octopuses; I still prefer cephalopods – could be pretty tough on each other. There was once a fight between two squids that ended with several damaged tentacles and a lot of spilled ink (that stuff does not come for free). And there are the usual predators that could claim you: sharks, barracudas, desperate fisherman. But this was very different. A verbal threat was not something that bothered me in any of those cases.

And he did not appear for a long while after that. I was still getting more and more popular. At one point, two boxes were put in the aquarium and, after I decided to choose the one nearest the castle, I saw lights flash and heard screams of delight. The names on the boxes did not face me, so I had no idea why this was happening. It was only when I heard the words “Super Bowl” that I began to understand that they let me choose the winner. A lot of pressure on me, but it was better than being threatened.

I wish I could say that things went well from there.

The little girl was the first one I recognized. She ran up to the railing and smiled happily at me as her mother – I am still guessing on these things – walked up to her. And there was another man with her. He seemed better dressed, less prone to feeding his face, and the little girl was happy to be around him…and me.

“Frank! You pick the right team! Thank you, Frank!”

Again, a lot of pressure, but I did the right thing for them. They wanted me to choose for something called “The World Cup”, and I still hadn’t touched the boxes (they could wait). The family was what I was focused on.

My mistake…

He showed up behind them, carrying something in his hand as he moved quickly through the people gathering early that morning. And it was all a flash of movement, screams and blood. He hit the man as he smiled and turned at the woman’s scream. The girl tried to run, but she was too scared to move away as he dropped the object in his hands and tried grabbing her. The security guards moved in, but I could tell that the man on the ground was too damaged to help (human physiology is so basic). And the only thing I heard as they dropped the intruder to the ground was what I thought of as another threat.

“You cannot hide from me in this place! Not me!”

That was when I did the thing that many people here marveled at, but I felt had to be done…

With all of my arms tensed and ready, I fanned them out on the glass, almost shaking my home to its core as the staff looked up. And then, without really meaning to, I got my message out.

I inked myself.

As you know, some squid can spray ink into the water in order to cover their escape. Not many people think octopi can do it. But we can…and how…

I was embarrassed by how dark it was in that water. I almost forgot to let go of the glass and return to my spot when I saw all of the reactions. And maybe because no one paid any attention to her that the little girl did what she did.

She put her hand up to the glass.

My little Marie…

From that moment on, I was a hero to her…and to all of you. I know that you cannot understand me as I have these thoughts, but I am here and observing you all the same. My home is not some sort of prison or punishment for being such a large and interesting animal. This is where I should be.

Marie still comes to visit, as does her “family” with her now healthy “father” (you humans have so many varieties to spare), and the zoo now allows people to touch a very special part of the glass. Even Miss Stewart came back to do another story about me and my “courageous act for a young girl” with both Marie and Mr. Stewforth (still a laugh to me). All quite silly, as is the name Frank (cannot even tell you what that sounds like to us fish), but I will accept it. This is the life I want and you could not tear me away from my adoring fans.

And now, you must excuse me. I have a winner to pick.

How deep is your love?

Short StoryYoung AdultLoveHumorFable

About the author

Kendall Defoe

Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page. Very grateful to have found this other opportunity to expose things to the light.


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Comments (2)

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  • Hannah Moore2 days ago

    I love Frank's self esteem!

  • Loved the story. You should continue on with it in another posting or even do a book on this.

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