“I’ve never seen it do that before.”
“Him. Not it. A thousand times, Henry, I’ve reminded you.”
“Well, it’s a fish. It doesn’t scream “gender role” to me.”
“Okay it’s a squid. An octopus. A creature of the deep.”
Henry assumed a variety of contemplative poses for each. He stood, palm in his elbow, finger tapping his lip as he watched the beast and the girl.
“This kind of reminds me of that scene in that movie? You know the one, where the giant monkey takes the blonde up the high-rise in New York City? And she’s all fainted in his hand?”
“You overstep, once again.”
“Well, really, look at them. She lets out that scream that could shatter asphalt, and faints. And it–he–just cradles her tenderly.”
“Tentacle wants what he wants, Henry. Now, off with you to the kitchen where you will cease to annoy me. Prepare a light repast for us. It seems he has chosen. You may inform any future callers that the job is filled.”
She was floating in darkness, unaware of anything. As she became conscious, she wondered if she’d fallen asleep on the train on the way to her interview. She hoped she didn’t get mussed–
With a gasp her eyes opened wide.
“Congratulations, girl. You’re hired.”
“Hired? Hired? I want out of here…out …now…”
He spoke quietly to her, soft enough that she strained to hear his words, though he sat just a few feet away from her. Soft enough that she could almost forget the …thing…twined around her right ankle.
He spoke of a stipend that made her eyes widen, of free housing, here, all the freedoms she was currently used to, without finals, without job hunting. He outlined duties that seemed innocuous. Swim with the octopus. Talk to him. Continue the work that he’d devoted his lifetime to.
The thing around her ankle tightened, making her gasp.
“He likes you, girl.”
“I’m a woman.”
“You’re a female. Should I call you that instead? Bring it to the bare bones? Homo sapiens? Hominid? Humanoid? Biped?”
“Now you’re being silly.”
“I am never silly.”
“That’s patently untrue. Biped? You’d call me a biped?”
“If it spares me any further lectures on my misogynist tendencies, then yes. I will call you a female biped.”
Damn him. He made her want to laugh. She should be offended for the sisterhood. But he was, as was said, “old school’–a product of his generation. The thing touching her ankle made her want to shudder, but the promised job was indeed a lucrative one. To ditch school and stay? To get to have tea in the rainbow room?
“How about a trial basis? This is…weird. This is …crazy. This is not anything that I ever imagined. What if I can’t…”
“There isn’t can’t. There is ‘won’t”–which speaks to me of mediocrity, and yearning for failure. How does “can not” sit with your feminist values of equality and the ability to do tasks equal to men and become successful at them? If female astronauts had said going into space was crazy, and weird, there would have been no women in space.”
He looked at her, serious and somber.
“How is that unfair? Because I make you pause and re-examine yourself?”
“For playing the sexist card.”
“It seems to me that you are the one playing the sexist card, girl.”
He talked her into corners. She shook her head, knowing that once again he had turned loops around her.
“A trial in case–”
“You want a fail-safe. Life often doesn’t come with them. Female race car drivers have the same cage in their cars, with the same ability to crash and burn on the track as their male counterparts.”
“Fine. I accept.”
He wore her down like water over granite.
The tentacle climbed from her ankle to her thigh.
She tried to push the shudder away as her employer rose slowly from his chair.
“Good girl. I’ll go get the contracts.”
“You’re going to leave me alone with him? What…what if he…”
“You’ll be fine. He likes you. Talk to him.”
She watched as he moved across the room, disappearing into the darkness. Fear filled her as the creeping tentacle tip rose from around her knee as if scenting the air around her.
“uh….good boy?” She tried to give it a gentle pat as one would a puppy, brow furrowed.
The sound of resonant laughter filled the room. It had not come from her new employer.