about the author

Justin Davis earned his BA in Literature & Creative Writing from Rhodes College, where he received the Anne Howard Bailey Prize in Poetry. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Bodega, Squawk Back, and The Southwestern Review at Rhodes. He works as a community organizer in Memphis, TN.

Bookmark and Share


font size

The Octopus 

Justin Davis


The octopus sits on the tan suede of the driver’s seat, legs swirling around itself like the skin of an apple, head smooth and dumb.

Noting its uniserial suckers, gelatinous muscles, and non-hemispherical eyes, a marine biologist could immediately identify the octopus as a member of the family Amphitretidae, often found in the mesopelagic zone of open ocean, between two hundred and one thousand meters below the surface. Most notable, however, are its eyes: on movable stalks, set like jelly in the mollusk’s transparent body. They look like nipples, or bullets. They make this octopus a telescope octopus (Amphitretus pelagicus), native to the tropics and subtropics of the Eastern Hemisphere. Albeit one that’s far beyond its normal 8-inch length, which any M.S. holder specializing in the Amphritretus genus would have learned on day one, surely.

A literary theorist, on the other hand, would likely be more concerned with the fact of the octopus’ existence than what kind of octopus it is. With any number of interpretations being possible: an incarnation of Freud’s uncanny; a Marxist rumination on the ways that capitalism makes us suffocate in our own homes, surrounded by products; even, in a small way, a reference to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s 2009 article “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” in which the University of Chicago professor details a “collapse of the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history,” the heterotroph and the hatchback, the Amphitretus and the automobile (201).

She’s no academic, though: She’s in the parking lot of the Tennessee Aquarium with a girl named Camilla. In the ocean galleries a few minutes before, She had stood in front of a tank as tall as an obelisk, utterly unimpressed. She had tried to grab Camilla’s hand, which was busy posting the movement of every gill and scale on Snapchat, about four separate times. She had offered to rave about gills and scales at the coffee shop around the corner, hoping that eventually they could end up at Her condo. And She had picked up Camilla that morning, meaning that She’s walking to Her Own car now, pulling out Her keys, and seeing the octopus on the tan suede of the driver’s seat—its eyes meet Her at chest height. She lets out a little shriek. “What’s wrong?” says Camilla. Her response, of course, is nothing, nothing at all.


“One hot chocolate with marshmallows for, uh, ‘Her.’”

There it is again. Its head peeks out of the meek brown beverage.

“Everything all right, miss?”

“Yeahyeahyeah I’m fine!” She hurries back to Her table and sits down across from a still-phone-bound Camilla and sips the hot chocolate, swallowing a soft white tentacle, and it burns Her tongue a little bit. The combination of the image and the feeling of the drink is alien. But She powers through. After about ten minutes, the table fills with talking: She and Camilla’s downturned face talking, Camilla and her Galaxy talking, She and Herself talking. Things seem to be back on track.

Suddenly, She turns Her head quickly, gets up, and says, “I’llberightback!” Camilla doesn’t look up. If Camilla had looked up, she would have seen Her walking towards an empty table, where She sees it staring Her down with its long, Coke-bottle eyes, sprawled out across the table like it was a chaise lounge, even bigger now than it was in the car. She looks at it, mumbles through Her Own clenched teeth: “Go. Away.”

“We were just about to sit here, miss.” A wrinkled man in a black dress shirt is standing behind Her, huge golden crucifix on his neck. White, short wispy white hair, a short beard and mustache. A kind face. He’s with a scrawny older woman with graying hair. Without saying anything, She walks back to Camilla, not looking at anyone.


Consider the hastening of the condo after a decent drive. Consider the slow pressing of the brake at the curb, stopping out front. Consider Her mouth, open. Consider the following dialogue between Her and Camilla in the driveway: “We...can’t go in.” “I’m sorry, what? Why not?” Consider, if you were Her, the fact of the octopus, now swelled to gigantic size. Consider the tentacle She can see dangling from Her open bedroom window like a pulley, corkscrewing in the dark like a comet; another one rests on Her balcony. “Don’t you see it?” She says. “How can you not see it?” Her volume rises with each word. She pulls out a pocket knife and sprints up the front porch.

Consider that maybe She’s swallowed a tightly wound bit of rope that’s sitting in Her chest now, suspended by another rope that can’t be felt. Consider how She feels.


The author begins by ruminating on the possible critical approaches to an octopus being discovered in a locked car, an octopus whose homeostasis is as far removed from a car in the parking lot of the Tennessee Aquarium as possible. She, the owner of the car, returns to Her car while on a perhaps unsuccessful date, only to find said octopus in Her car—leading, perhaps, to an internal conflict or tension of some kind. She buys Aquarium tickets, She buys hot chocolate and coffee, She drives Her sedan. Sometimes She pays bills and smokes a blunt. Sometimes She calls Her mother and checks on her garden. Camilla exists on a plane separate from the octopus, making her critical approach to the octopus problem align most closely with something like logical positivism, meaning that if faced with a question like “Why, in making claims about the world, should we be scientific as opposed to say mystical?” Camilla would likely tell you to go back to your hippie commune (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). At the condo, the author uses anaphora in a manner that potentially marks it as a sort of climax. Camilla checks her phone again. She’s confused to the point of silence.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...