The Octopus, With Three Hearts to Spare, Succumbed Too Easily to Love

The octopus is known for many unique characteristics. Among the most notable are its lack of internal or external skeleton, making it able to slip through just about any crack with ease, like the cockroach of the sea. But, of course, octopi are far more majestic than that. They can change into any color or pattern, mimic any aesthetic to protect themselves from their daft predators.

But most notably, the octopus has three hearts: two branchial, one systemic. The branchial hearts are sort of auxiliary, pumping blood through the gills while the systemic one concentrates on getting blood flowing through the entire body. It occurred to Rochelle as she sat on the dock of Carmel Bay that humans could really use this trio heart system–it could definitely help with their life expectancy upon experiencing inevitable heartache and the disappointment therewith associated. She herself had already experienced a massive heartbreak at age thirty-one, right at that time when it becomes harder for a woman to “bounce back” from major cardiac arrests of a love-induced nature. That was four years ago. Now, at thirty-five, she had settled in nicely to her routine as a docent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Her speciality was mollusks, and the octopus fell into this category. Still, in spite of being around them all the time, she preferred to dive into the water to see them in their natural environment. Diving was when she felt her most at peace because the sensation was like being utterly detached from her body. It was after a few regular weekly visits into the water that she became acquainted with Kraken–that’s what she named the male octopus she would so often see during her underwater journeys.

In typical disappointing male fashion, the octopus packing a “penis” (this just means a “specialized arm” called the hectocotylus, which is designed for specific use of shooting out spermatophores–it’s not very romantic) usually dies a few months after boning. He can’t even be bothered to stick around to at least help with the child support. Apart from their mating ritual, octopi generally remain on their own, preferring to travel alone through the sea. Why bother hanging out with someone if he can’t give you some of that hectocotylus action, anyway? Kraken had just such a hectocotylus, and used it to enchant another shallow water beauty, Pariah (also a name chosen by Rochelle). It was clear from the outset that Pariah was interested in what Kraken had going on. She approached him with unabashed candor, and he reciprocated with the extension of his hectocotylus. Though octopi don’t bear overt expressions, Rochelle thought she caught a glimmer of love in Pariah’s eyes.

It was a glimmer that was gone the next time she saw her, swimming solo. Kraken had probably died or moved on to the next female while he still could. It was also evident to Rochelle that Pariah’s locomotion was all out of whack, slow and languid, even by turtle standards. That is, until Curt came into the watery picture. And even though Pariah should have been in the process of dying now that her eggs had been laid, she kept going for the sake of Curt–who quite literally infused her with new life. Impregnated once again, Pariah was forced to continue with her solitary existence now that Curt had expired. She didn’t seem as sad about it as she was with Kraken. Like Elsa Morante says, “Nothing can compare to your first love.”

On Rochelle’s latest dive, she saw Pariah again, this time with Pericles, who, truth be told, appeared to be the most attentive of the suitors she had seen her with. But she also knew what was coming from a mile away. Pericles wasn’t going to stick around either. The innate need of the octopus to be alone is too strong, frequently throwing the females for a tentacled loop. And how useless it was to even have tentacles when you couldn’t hook them permanently onto someone. So it was that Pericles at least had the decency not to send any “sperm packs” her way. Or maybe it was obvious to him that her “cavern” had been stretched to its brink. Whatever the case, Pericles fled without the moniker of father to accompany him. And so, this was the third heart–systemic or branchial–Pariah had spared. And it would be the last. While Rochelle’s colleagues assumed it was simply well past her life expectancy, and only natural that she should die, Rochelle intuited otherwise. As she lugged her to the surface for examination, she saw in Pariah’s giant eye the look she had seen so often on herself. The look of defeat that comes from loss via rejection. If she could only rip out Pariah’s hearts and put them into her own chest cavity, maybe she could get through the rest of this thing called life, too. Four hearts surely ought to be enough fortification. Even if three were dead already.


Original artwork by Laura Mega

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