Septimus | Lucie Bonvalet

Septimus had always had a fondness for cephalopods. The poetry of suction cups, the grace of tentacles, the strangeness of their beaks, the mysterious flexibility of their heads. He wanted to know everything about them. It was a love story.

Everything started before the first of the Great Wars, at the aquarium of Vladivostok. Septimus was fourteen. He had come to the aquarium for the lampreys but found himself lost in thought, as if frozen outside of time, in front of the octopus. Melancholic and lonely, in a poorly lit tank, the creature let only the tip of a tentacle appear from beneath a large rock. Yet something had called the attention of Septimus in front of the seemingly empty, dark space. He stayed and watched the tentacle tip tracing endless distorted figure eights. He thought he perceived a crisscross of small waves across the ruffled surface, through water, through glass, through air, through skin and into his skull.

He came back to the aquarium repeatedly. Through the afternoons, their relationship evolved. The octopus seemed to wait and look out for his arrival. When he would approach the tank to greet her, she would flatten the most delicate of her tentacles along the glass, the vibrations of a purple-blue color, tender, enwrapping his shoulders.

One Sunday evening during spring, he decided to spend an entire night inside the aquarium. In the darkness of empty corridors, the body of the octopus emitted its own light. As he had wished, the octopus lifted her body and without any apparent strain pushed away the top of her tank. She let herself glide soundlessly along the glass and down onto the marble floor, in front of the bench where Septimus stared, mesmerized.

Her tentacles swallowed all of the space between them. She lifted her body onto the bench. She watched him. His two eyes could not meet the two eyes of the octopus simultaneously. He chose to look into her left eye. It opened, closed, opened with a peaceful regularity that seemed to attempt to calm him. She wrapped the tip of her tentacle around his wrist, creating an unexpected warmth on the surface of his skin. Again the purple-blue color, a sort of winter sun captured on a negative, sprouted in his mind’s eye.

They stayed just so, in the nocturnal silence of the closed aquarium. Together preoccupied, together in search of how to solve this color.

At dawn, the octopus glided back to her tank. She carefully closed the lid above her head. She hid under her rock.

Septimus noticed that the skin around his wrist had turned blue.

Septimus fell ill. A high fever forced him to stay in bed for two weeks.

When he was finally able to come back to the aquarium, a heavy black curtain hid the tank of the octopus. When Septimus asked the guard where the octopus was, he told him she was gone.

— She is dead? She is ill? She has been transferred to another aquarium?

— No. She left.

Throughout the Great War that broke out soon after (Septimus chose to serve in a submarine near Okinawa) he had the recurrent dream that the octopus came to visit him each night while he slept. She wrapped the smallest of her tentacles around his wrist. She glowed. She created a forest of lilacs in full bloom, swaying around his bed.

His long career as an oceanographer did not help him to find her again, nor to learn more about the color that she had offered him.

Six decades passed.

He still dreams about her. When he is asked to attend conferences in Moscow, Berlin, Tokyo, he never mentions his memory of her. He only provides detailed new data on the death of the oceans: the feverish waters, the constant threat of undersea volcanoes awakened by the wars.

His recurrent dream shape-shifts: now when the octopus exits the dream, she leaves the door of his bedroom wide open behind her. From his bed, Septimus can see the sea, as if filled with lilacs in bloom. From within night and sleep, the waters vibrate.

Lucie Bonvalet is a writer, a visual artist, and a teacher. Her writing (fiction and nonfiction) can be found in Catapult, Puerto del Sol, 3AM, Hobart, Michigan Quarterly Review, Entropy, and elsewhere. Her drawings and paintings can be found in Old Pal magazine and on Instagram.

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