On Octopus Sex And The Moon

Life and late-night drops down online rabbit holes

CB Anderson
Slackjaw

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Magenta octopus on aqua sea floor
Drawing by Zo Razafindramamba

Midnight web surfing, and you see this on Reddit: “TIL that some male octopuses set up dens next to female octopus dens and have sex without leaving the den by extending the mating arm from one den to another.”

The comments tend toward smut — appendage length, glory holes, etc. — but also,

“So they’re practicing ceph sex?”

“The ol ‘Work from Home’ move, elegant.”

And, “I laughed so loud at this that I woke my cat up.”

Your cat is already awake. You’ve been doing this lately, whimsy drops down online rabbit holes. Covid-era evenings are long — nightlife limited, Netflix watched up and books read, your husband in bed by 10:00. But late night pulls you in. The daily world feels fraught right now, everywhere imperiled. Nighttime offers respite.

So you and the cat are on the sofa with your laptop, travelers of a sort. When you laugh at the Reddit, he puts on his amused face; he’s companionable that way. You link to a science site that confirms one of the male’s arms is like a penis. Called a hectocotylus, it’s capable of erections. Reddit was on the level here.

You learn the hectocotylus can deliver sperm from a distance, which evolved because females tend to kill and eat their partners. One octopus species even has a hectocotylus that functions as a detachable penis, swimming to the female on its own.

(Reddit, are you listening? — the potential. And by the way, I love you, place where people are so giddily, so authentically, so scarily themselves.)

When things go coitally awry, “the female will carry the inert body of the male into her den for a quiet meal.” As such, the male offers not just sperm “but a nice helping of protein.

If science textbooks had been written like this when you were in school, you might have wound up in a wholly different field.

You learn too that octopi have nine brains — including one in each arm, which means the hectocotylus has its own mind. This gets you thinking, a little pensively, about gender struggles independent of species. The cat puts on his pensive face, which looks a lot like his amused face.

But now it’s time for a screen break, so you head out to the porch where you do another habitual late-night thing — watching the moon and wondering whether it could ever drop from the sky. Some nights anything seems possible on this grievously compromised earth.

Which is likely why you started whimsy-surfing in the first place.

Apologies — you meant to linger over octopi, not to describe the current precarity of your mind. In short: your husband is hunkered down and steady in this peri-pandemic world; you are less so. The late-night surfing transports you from disquiet, from feeling as though the moon could fall and needing a little— lightening.

Back on the sofa, you click on “Are octopuses smarter than us?” which leads to a video of an octopus opening a jar, then to an octopus, in a jar, unscrewing the lid from the inside. The cat presses close to the screen for these.

You’ve had a little bourbon when a search for “detachable penis” yields a music video by that name. The performer sings about losing his and eventually finding it at a sidewalk sale, next to a toaster oven. The seller wants 22 bucks, but the original owner talks him down to 17. The video’s been viewed four million times.

Fleetingly you consider going into the bedroom and snuggling with your husband to see whether he wakes up, to talk or do whatever, but he’s a morning person and the likelihood he wants anything other than sleep right now is very close to nil.

Instead you read about more clever things an octopus can do, such as using tools and impersonating other animals. But now the cat is restless, so you offer something he likes, something you discovered during another online drop— into early punk.

You close the living room door and play The Clash and Patti Smith, then Suffrajett and The Ramones. Eventually you land on The Kinks. You pick up the cat and dance, and for now the moon stays put.

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CB Anderson
Slackjaw

CB Anderson's work has appeared in Boston Magazine, Iowa Review, Brevity & others. A collection River Talk was a Kirkus Best Books. She likes swimming & Scotch