The Baby Octopus

Rainie Oet

 

The baby octopus in my shirt drawer missed the ocean, but she doesn’t know how to tell me that, so I don’t know, and go on petting her head gently morning after morning as I open the drawer and choose that day’s shirt.

            A pile of dresses and a pile of shirts. She’s lying on the pile of dresses I am always too afraid to wear.

            Today I open the drawer and find her pale-bluer, almost pale violet. She’s cold when I touch her head, and I feel a thin layer of slime between my fingers and the rubbery skin. Last night she was making noises in my sleep, but I ignored them.

            As I dreamed of driving down a highway very narrow and surrounded by trees with almost no cars and going up and down many steep mountains. Trying to get to the ocean, I kept taking wrong turns, going deeper.

            I pick her up and hold her in both of my hands, gently cupping the sides of her head. One of her eyes is closed, the other blank and milky. She doesn’t have a smell.

            I wrap her in a plastic shopping bag, put on the black cotton dress she’d lain on. The dress is damp, slightly slimy. It is embroidered with blue flowers.

            I take her outside and stand for a moment on the grass of my backyard. I don’t look at the sky.

            I am walking to the woods. There’s a little stream. I bury her in the bag, near the streambank. I wipe my hands on my dress. I go back to my house. I get in my car and drive to the highway.

            It occurs to me I am trying to find a highway like the highway in my dream. But everything is flat here, corn.

            Hungry, I get off at a sidestop and walk to the vending machines. I don’t have money with me, but there’s a bag of chips loose. I kick the machine to make them fall.

            A cop sees me kicking the vending machine and for a moment I think he’s going to come and slam my face into the glass. A group of teens goggles in front of a bathroom and one of them makes a joke I assume is about me.

            As I walk back to my car with the chips, a truck driver shouts, “Hey, turn around so I can see you! I’m talking to you!”

            I keep existing in this moment. Which is leaving. Which is walking back to my car and opening the door and getting in.

            I eat the chips as I drive—the direction the sun was rising in. I hope that’s the ocean. One day it rained and I walked outside and saw the baby octopus falling from the sky with the rain. She was going to hit the asphalt of the road. I ran into the middle of the road, and caught her. Two cars almost hit me from either side.

Rainie Oet is a nonbinary writer, and the poetry editor of Salt Hill. Their most recent collection is No Mark Spiral (CutBank Books, 2018). Their work appears in Colorado Review, The Adroit Journal, Poetry Society (UK), jubilat, and Redivider, among other publications. They are an MFA candidate in poetry at Syracuse University, where they were awarded the Shirley Jackson Prize in fiction.  rainieoet.com


image: Danica Novgorodoff, “Inside is mine,” 2016 (www.danicanovgorodoff.com)