Angela Readman, Winner

Ten Months with Octopus

  1. Even when severed from the body, the limbs of an octopus can function on their own. I clean outside the tanks at Sea Land and catch the display, rubber squidgy screaming over wet glass. The couple nearby have pink streaks in their hair like they shared something last night. They snap a photo and kiss still clutching their phones.
  2. The street I had to move to has a kid who keeps dragging an inflatable squid across the lawn. It’s sunny and his parents are estranged. When his father collects him, his mother picks lint off his shirt and withdraws fast. Standing by the paddling pool, she doesn’t wave at the VW pulling away. Her hands are clasped behind her back.
  3. The oranges are so cheap all July the market sells them in nets. I carry some home, fruit squeezing through mesh, juice bleeding like macerated sunshine on my legs. The fruit bowl got smashed, I forgot that. I lay the oranges out like a clock on the table and picture someone peeling one long strip of lingering rind.
  4. Houdini the Octopus has left the building. They imagine he squeezed through a drain & will find himself at the ocean like a surfer who thinks he left his keys in the door. I say this aloud, turning towards the cushion as if it may find this funny. I switch a programme about wallpaper to something about homeowners and self-defence.
  5. I find a shirt one Friday and freeze. It’s fluff flecked, squeezed into ball behind the cushions. I should have left the couch in the old flat. Later, I find a leather belt poking out like a tongue. I lay the pair out and sit beside them when I answer the phone. My sister’s pregnant again and worried about her blood pressure. I tell her everything will be fine, fiddling with the belt, winding it around my ankle until my foot turns blue.
  6. Only losers spend Halloween as themselves. I put on a sequinned skirt and slit it to the hip for a party at work. If pushed, I’ll say I’m a mermaid. No one asks. Everyone’s a sea creature of some description, even the IT guys. I get stuck talking to one dressed as an office worker, other than for a rubber fish mask he pulls out of his pocket occasionally as evidence he tried. I’m pretty, for someone with such a sad face, he claims. He smiles, and I tell him to put the fish mask on again.
  7. I shag him, though I refuse to move on from shit. I drag memories around everywhere and crouch under them for minutes at a time. There’s a chance this makes me seem enigmatic. We’ve just seen The Shape of Water and, curled on the couch, somehow my socked feet have squirmed their way under the guy’s legs, found their hot weight. During, he holds my left breast, just one, like he daren’t want too much. I look at him and wish he still had the fish mask. He asks what I’m thinking. I inform him an octopus has three hearts.
  8. I agree to see him on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts. It’s too soon for much. I get him a Manatea to perch on his cup making fruit infusions with its tail. It looks like a walrus who had its teeth smashed in while everyone was in bed. Honestly, I only like the name, a manatee united with tea. There should be more words that include things, like widow- a combo of marriage and death. There’s no equivalent for girlfriends. Girls called Diedra write died every day. There’s no meaning for the rest of their name.
  9. I let fish face stay over in January. During the night, my legs weave through his, a sleeping arm drapes him like bindweed. He binds back, we drift into wakefulness like that, intertwined. I start a fight over breakfast about politics, global warming, cuttlefish. The words are black ink squirting into the air. In the cloud they leave behind, I can scuttle away, slam a door, wrap that stinking shirt I found in the couch around me and breathe.
  10. It’s been a while, but he calls, apologies for his opinions on fishing rights, bacon, and not getting dressed as soon as he’s awake. I peer through the door, open a crack and look at him- a slither of dork in black cords and a Houdini shirt. He’s holding out a plant growing from a sea urchin, for my bathroom, it looks kind of bare. It needs no water, he claims, only air. I light a cigarette and tell him I’ll probably kill it anyway. It will keel over without me doing a thing. His morning breath alone could do it, I say, fingers on the lock closing the space between us, before they loop open the chain.

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Angela Readman’s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Competition and The National Flash Fiction Day Competition. Her collection Don’t Try This at Home won The Rubery Book Award and was shortlisted in The Edge Hill. Her poem The Book of Tides won The Mslexia Poetry Competition and was followed by a Nine Arches collection of the same title. Something like Breathing, her novel, was published by And Other Stories in January 2019.