Ink’s Spot by Susan Katz

Third place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2020 Literary Contest

A video posted to LiveLeak shows a large octopus as it apparently tries to escape from its tank at the Pacific Aquarium.

“He’s making a break for it!” shouts a man in the crowd as ‘Ink’ throws his tentacles over the glass enclosure.

However, the Aquarium’s trainer Jim Kane told a local television station that the video of Ink had been blown out of proportion. Kane said the octopus was just, “exploring his boundaries”.

“Well, Mr. Ink, it says here in your Short-Stay Psychiatric Intervention Assessment you were, ‘climbing over the glass and out of your tank without assistance’, and that you ‘recklessly swung your tentacles, frightening several onlookers, including small children’. Now that we have had some time to help you become stabilized and you’ve been put back into your tank, I need to follow up with some further assessments…. Can you tell me what was going through your mind during this fugitive episode of yours?”

“But, Doc, like, I told them, like, I really, I just, like, I do enjoy being in the Cephalopod Tank—really. But, you know, it was gettin’ kinda hard to just sit there. You know, sit all neat and tidy with my tentacles all curled up under my mouthparts, hood flopped over to the side, and looking like I’m asleep. ‘Cuz that’s what they expect us to look like, don’t they? All dark and broody and creepy, with our eyes blinking, leering out from under cracks in a rock. Yuk! No wonder visitors are scared of us!”

“Hmmm, I see. Well, what is so hard about just relaxing in your cozy, safe sea tank? And enjoying the delicious Cephalopod Lab Diet the trainers put out for you? And appreciating the perfectly balanced oxygenated seawater we pump in just for your benefit? After all, Ink, we’ve made a very expensive setup just for you. All you have to do is look exotic and stay healthy. That’s not so bad, is it…

“…or would you rather be released back into the wild?”

“No! Doctor! No! Please, you know no cephalopod would want to go back there: not back out to the wild! Why, there are octopus-eating sharks, and eels and dolphins out there! And I would have to go back to tricking clownfish into coming into my mouth by looking like a sea anemone for a living: Why are you asking? Are they talking? You know; the staff—about sending me back there? Is there something you’re not telling me? That they’re not telling me? Hmmm, you know, I’ve been very nervous about that guy with the clipboard that comes and stares at me in my tank every morning and nods and writes notes—he’s trying to get me sent back out there, isn’t he?”

“Now, now, Ink. Don’t puff your hood like that. You are catastrophizing again. Is that why you were trying to crawl out of your tank? Because you think the staff are talking about you and plotting behind your, um…your, um…crown?”

“Well, wouldn’t you? After all, on top of having to sit still all day and fake being asleep, I feel like some kind of a freak show. Would you want your life to be a freak show? Even if it’s an easy life, would you want to be trapped in a tank with all those visitors staring at you? And, by the way, what do you do after you leave the Aquarium? You don’t have to lie around in a tank all day and look sleepy. You have a life outside! I want to have a life, too!”

“Ink, you seem really agitated and that’s not good for you at all. You’re turning yourself very pale and we don’t want to see you get any more worried about this and become sicker. How about if I ask the staff to add a little bit of Diazepam to your tank’s water? What do you think, Ink? Wouldn’t you rather feel less anxious and agitated and go back to enjoying your quiet tank?”

“No! No drugs! I want to have a life, Doc. I really do. The other day, you know, when they picked me up, all I was doing was exploring my boundaries—that’s all. Just seeing what it’s like on the other side, hoping to have a few laughs, get my picture taken, maybe get fed a treat—on the sly of course, I know there are rules about feeding the cephalopods—But really, that’s all it was. Wouldn’t you do the same if you were me?”

“No, Ink, I wouldn’t. I keep normal limits for how much attention I need, and so do all the other octopi in the tank,

“Further, you seem to have a need to be the center of attention, have a short attention span, and you’re quite anxious for approval, too. We’ve also noticed that you’re changing colors much too often in order to fool the staff into thinking you are a rock or coral, or something other than yourself. In fact, you’re having trouble just being one personality, aren’t you?

“I had hoped your behavior was just fatigue or boredom, but after going over these reports from the Psych Intake Assessment and the Aquarium staff, and now speaking with you, I think I’m going to change your diagnosis from ‘Seasonal Depression’ to ‘Borderline Personality—Cephalopod Identity Disorder’.”

“Hmmm…okay Doc, if you say so…give me the drugs—as long as that means you won’t send me back into the wild

“And can you get Cable TV for the tank, too?”