Charlie stared out at the gloom; all low lights, aquatic greens and blues. She imagined it was supposed to look like something, somewhere else. She would screw up her eyes, and then she would recognise it, like something from a blurry memory. Charlie liked to sit on the rocks and look out at the tanks across from her own. Squirming, shivering squalls of small fish. She liked to watch them weave around their tank; frolicking in their fun, and freedom.
She looked at her own tank, bulbous, filled with rocks and small green plants. She wasn’t sure how long she had lived here, but then the place bored her so that it only ever seemed half familiar. Only the fish across the way were worth remembering. While she had been thinking they had disappeared into the far reaches of their tank. She sighed, stretching her tentacles wide then landing in a small bump against her seat of rocks. Over, for another night.
She crawled back over her seat of rocks, away from the plastic dome and to the solitude of her sanctuary; all rocky, and small, and safe. She nestled herself in a hollow, her favourite hollow. It was always so empty at night; nobody here but her, no visitors to see, no people at all. Charlie took one last look around, she wasn’t tired, but there seemed no other option but to sleep.
The next morning the bright lights shook her from her slumber. One of the people would appear early and open her tank to feed her, it was usually one particular person; a lady. She would put her hand in the tank and spread her fingers wide. Charlie would stretch her tentacles over them, it was like a game, Charlie liked games. It was also the only time she touched anyone or anything else, and it was her favourite part of the day. Sometimes another person would come, and they would not put their hand in the tank. Charlie did not like those people.
This lady was nice, she would talk to her. Charlie did not know what the noises meant but she liked their slow, melodic vibrations. It was better than being with those other people. The visiting people, who would sometimes make great noises, and bang on her plastic dome. She did not like them at all. And for them she would hide in her tank, and sulk.
This one particular morning she paid special attention to the lady’s hand, it looked to her like a tiny octopus, but with less tentacles. The lady’s voice was lower this morning and Charlie felt the vibrations more heavily. They made Charlie feel sad. When the lady had gone Charlie ate her food, sulking that she did not know why the lady was different today. Charlie sulked a lot.
The afternoon was a flurry of blurry furry people, with hair that stuck up on end and whose tentacle hands hit at the plastic dome and made the water shake. It could be interesting, sometimes. But other times, it wasn’t, and it would make Charlie feel sick. Later on in the day it got quieter and there was just a few people, then a couple more. They would look at her for a while and touch the plastic tank. She would think about touching them back, but never did.
This was how Charlie saw every day, through a plastic dome, occasionally retreating into the tank proper. In the evening she would watch the fish dance in their long, large tank. She would envy their space and their company. Every night she would go back into the far reaches of her tank and hug herself into her hollow and wonder if this was all there was.
The next day Charlie was feeling particularly sad for herself and when the lady came to greet her, she remained in her hollow. Small tentacle fingers found their way to her through the water and Charlie closed her eyes, holding on to the small, sweet, connection. The fingers rested on her tentacles and the two of them hung together in time, savouring the moment, seeming to understanding each other completely. When Charlie opened her eyes, the hand was gone, the moment lost.
That afternoon Charlie stayed where she was, noises rushed by and the tank vibrated, but she didn’t stir. Then there was silence; a sweet sound of nothingness. Charlie closed her eyes and imagined a great clear, watery, yonder, where she would swim out across to the other tanks and feel herself toss and turn and fall into the flow of all the others who lived beyond her small, insignificant space.
Then there was a tap, a small soft sound. Her curiosity was piqued. She swam across her rocks and over to the plastic dome. There was a little girl, no higher than the tank itself. She stood there, silently, patiently, all alone. Charlie moved towards the plastic shield separating them and looked at the girl, who made no noise, who demanded nothing. The little girl put her hand on the plastic and Charlie reached out a tentacle.
But as Charlie touched the barrier between them, the connection was broken, lost as the little girl ran away to a call from the distance. Charlie sat by herself, hopeless, heartbroken. This was all there was. She went back to her hollow and stayed there.
Octopuses don’t experience time like we do, and Charlie did not know how long she had been hiding in her hollow. Occasionally she would close her eyes and stretch some of her tentacles in front of her, imagining a great, endless space. But mostly she would just sit there waiting, for something, anything, to happen to her.
One night, when Charlie was sound asleep, there was creaking from somewhere in her tank. She pulled herself tight into her hollow. In the darkness fingers found her tentacles, someone was there. The delicate fingers entwined her tentacles and held her. Something strange was happening, something different. Charlie was scared, but was it was the good kind of scared; she was excited.
More fingers found her and in one brief moment hands hauled her out of the water and into another, smaller tank. Charlie looked all around her, feeling out the tank with her tentacles. What was going on? This tank was too small, she didn’t like it. There was a small tap, and Charlie looked up close to where a small light lit up a smiling face. She knew that face, she knew that lady. She did not know what the noises meant, but she wasn’t going to be scared now.
The tank was covered and Charlie was plunged back into darkness. The tank was moved this way and that, hours passed by and Charlie felt sure her home was long behind her now. Occasionally pieces of food would find their way into the tank, but Charlie wasn’t hungry. This was too exciting. She was on an adventure.
Eventually the noises stopped. The tank, stopped. Everything was quiet, and for a long time. She hoped they hadn’t forgotten about her, she didn’t like this tank at all, she didn’t want to stay here any longer. After a moment the noises started again. The cover was taken off the tank and in the darkness she could make out figures, hands held her and she wrapped her tentacles around them, softly, and securely. She was going somewhere, she was really going somewhere.
The hands put her in a large bucket, Charlie had been in one before, so she recognised it well. It had no top and a cold breeze blew across her body, much colder and breezier than anything she’d felt outside her tank before. And there was salt! She could feel it, salt in the air! Memories of a place she had never been surged through her mind. This felt familiar, this felt right.
There was more moving and more noises, and then there was quiet; absolute quiet. Then Charlie heard it, the lapping of water, lots of water. It was very close by, a great big world of water. She was seized by an instinct to follow the noise, the smell, she had to be out there. It was time to go.
As her tentacles grabbed at the side of the bucket a set of fingers stroked her fondly. Although she could not see her she knew for certain this was the lady. She squeezed a finger tightly, hoping she would not be scared, hoping she would understand. The finger squeezed back. She was ready.
The lady’s hands wrapped around Charlie’s body and she picked her up gently, before plunging her down in to the cool, cavernous water. Charlie felt some rocks not too far down below and she allowed her body to sink on to them. She was somewhere else, somewhere big. She stretched her tentacles as wide as they would go, delighting in the never ending space around her.
She swam around in circles, clambering over rocks, taking in every new texture and shape, and every small living thing that bustled and preened in their rocky holes. So thrilled was she that she had forgotten how she had come to be here. She poked her head out of the water, but the lady was gone.
Charlie was sad she would never see her again. But she knew the lady had brought her here for a reason, and that she would understand. Charlie sank back on to the rock bed and found herself a hollow to nestle in, but Charlie didn’t sleep. It was getting lighter and she wanted to be awake to see the new day, in this endless place, where she could crawl, and swim, and stretch.