The flat is immaculate. My master suite is crisp and bright in cotton, marble, and mahogany. Birds of Paradise in the vases, a hint of lemongrass in the air. Spiritmasks on the walls, furniture engineered and minimal. Perfection in tribal modernism.
The first room is Chimpy’s and Electra’s. Their bunkbeds are made, everything sorted just right. The legendary Mr. McPickles pulls a Zippo from a pocket on his crushed velvet smoking jacket to light a stick of patchouli.
Rascal’s room is trashed. I cannot say with confidence that the Billy goat is one of my favorite animals. He’s been starting to show signs of playing too rough with Eve, first at mealtimes, but now more recently it’s been whenever. And he’s a chewer. And a climber. I tether him and lock his door.
Electra is perched on the grandfather clock performing New Age spa sounds. She’s agreed to set the mood. My Wing Woman.
I’m hoping the emu egg will hatch tonight while Antonia is here.
It’s as if a red lens has fallen right over my pupils. Suddenly everything is tinted with a red light. Everything everywhere.
Iwan tmo respace, I hear in my mind.
Who wants more space? Who said that?
Everything is still red.
Iam nota fraid tokil lyou.
Not afraid to kill me? Did you hear that?
Raat! Hear what?
Chimpy signs, Hear what?
How could you not hear that?
The voice buzzes in my head, Ifyo udonot giveme mores pace, I willeat allof yo urani mals.
The red stops.
I look around. Everything is back to its natural color.
Beethoven suspends itself front-and-center in the aquatank. Our eyes meet.
You said that, didn’t you? I ask.
Beethoven stares me down, its tentacles gathering.
You’ll eat all of my animals if I don’t give you more space?
Everything goes red.
Doyouk now whothe wo man is?
Yo urgues tton ight.
Raat! She’ll be here! Don’t worry! He’s lost his marbles.
Eve sits alert at my feet, ears stiff, paying me mind. Ready to hunt. At my word.
The wo man isag oddess.
The red ends.
Electra’s wings beat violently. Raat! Who the hell are you?
I say, Electra, is it speaking to you now?
She croons, “The Lady in Redddddd…”
Electra, what is it saying?
Raat! Thanks but no thanks, partner.
She launches herself from the top of the grandfather clock, dips into the tight corner, flies right into her room.
Chimpy grunts, drums his chest, then straightens up. He has a far-away look in his eyes.
I ask, Have you heard it yet?
He stands perfectly still.
Is it speaking to you now? Does everything look red?
Chimpy waddles over to the aquatank, knocks on it three times, backs up and signs, If you ruin tonight for Raymundo and Antonia, that cleaver right over there hanging on the wall is the knife I’m going to use to chop you into bits and feed you to the platypuses. Gambino and Luchese. We call them The Syndicate. They will eat you whole. Even when you rot.
What did it say? I demand.
Chimpy freezes again.
What is it saying?
He signs, So, we have an understanding.
Who? What understanding?
I can hear Electra in her room mimicking the theme music from The Twilight Zone.
If you break that promise and don’t show respect, I swear on my life I will fry you. Don’t kid yourself. I will fry you alive to a crisp. We’ll all eat you. The goat, too. Ray will put out all the special sauces. Believe that.
What is it saying? I ask again.
It says it won’t interfere but it does need more space. It’s not mature. It’ll get way bigger soon.
Fine. It said Antonia was a goddess. What did it mean by that?
Chimpy signs, It means that she’s a goddess.
Buenas noches, Raymundo.
Welcome, come in. You are a vision.
O, Raymundo. Chew our saucewheat.
Please. Let me take your cape.
Basically. They’re called yabbies.
¿Y les gustan?
Oh, it’s their favorite thing to eat.
I’m sorry. It’s only that I just got it today and it’s super temperamental. I didn’t mean to sound critical of you.
She smirks kindly and shakes her head. Jude hidden.
¿Podemos ir a ver a las abejas?
Sí, arriba upstairs.
I did get two beekeeper suits.
She gasps and applauds. ¡Que divertido fun!
I smile. I ask, How do you do that?
Chimpy returns with two pisco sours in stemmed glasses on a sterling silver tray. Antonia and I trade our empties for the refills.
She looks at Chimpy, taps her mouth, then beckons him. Thank you, darling.
Antonia has flipped off her shoes. She’s spread out comfortably on the sofa, playing with the red ribbon.
I’m in the loveseat. I begin to read from the book she gave me, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery: “Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange.”
Antonia grabs her mouth and gently squeals.
“It can change color and shape. It can taste with its skin.”
She sticks fingers in her ears, kicking the air, wincing as she giggles. ¡Dios Mio!
I continue, “Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart. This bore out what scant experience I had already had; like many who visit octopuses in public aquariums, I’ve often had the feeling that the octopus I was watching was watching me back, with an interest as keen as my own.”
Playfully protecting herself, as if I were flinging atrocities, Antonia holds up crossed arms. She covers her eyes with the backs of her hands, the folds in her palms shaped into curved lines, like two perfect question marks.
Everything turns red.