Every night Lorelei held a captive audience at The Ocean Machine, double-jointed, doll-slack in the embrace of her red octopus Gustav.
Lorelei danced the main stage under neon flush and sweat. Gustav had hard eyes like yellow marbles, fat muscled arms snaking up her back and down her thighs to lure the viewer’s gaze between them. The sailors loved Lorelei, with wild orange flowers in her hair and black glitter on her eyes, amorous for the way she folded herself in two and held her breath beneath the skeletal jut of her diaphragm. Her arms were loose like tentacles reaching for the North Star, her belly rippling in ocean waves. On stage Lorelei was more octopus than woman, Gustav more lover than octopus. Moving across the stage as one, Lorelei never said which was truer than the other.
Men came from across the port-city to watch Lorelei dance, and others further still. Henri with his sallow complexion and uneasy temperament claimed he had come from Paris. He had traveled on the murmurs of smitten boys and sailors to admire her, sitting in the front row to catch her smile or the touch of her hand. Each night Gustav made love to Lorelei for an audience of slaves before being put to bed in his tank with lipstick kisses against the glass, “Goodnight, my love.”
Where Lorelei ended and Gustav began, only the octopus could say, and he would say nothing of it.
Henri always came backstage after Lorelei’s performances, making his way past sailors with elbows and stiff shoulders, telling all others “Step aside, step aside.” His coat pockets were burdened with diamond rings in velvet boxes, offering promises in rose blossoms. In her dressing room and gown, Lorelei always sighed and rolled her smiling eyes. From his tank Gustav changed color from red to black at the sight, but said nothing of that either.
“Come away with me,” Henri would say, taking her hand with his bony fingers. “I will take you far from here.”
“All men say such things.” At her vanity Lorelei would gently pat Henri’s thin cheek. “I’m flattered, but if I ran away with you, how would the men of this port amuse themselves?”
“That is no concern to me. My father’s fortune awaits me in Paris. If you accompanied me home you would want for nothing again."
"I want for nothing now.”
From across the room Gustav’s marble-gaze would darken, his skin changing like a lightning flash. Things were said between them, the signals of lighthouses written across Lorelei’s eyes. It was a language of which Henri knew nothing. In his bed he slept restlessly, dreaming of Lorelei, her doll limbs and ribcage like splayed fingers when she danced. When he opened his eyes to visions of exotic flowers, he knew she could no longer deny him.
For three nights Henri followed Lorelei home, down the spindly dirty alleys beginning outside The Ocean Machine and leading down light-speckled avenues to the brownstone where she slept. Gustav traveled with her, arms drawn tight as to fit inside the fishbowl that Lorelei carried, his fat eyes gold in the shadows stretching between street lamps. He never left her side. Each night Henri kept a discrete distance beneath the brim of his hat and the shield of his coat lapels, hiding as he strained over garbage cans and window-boxes to see inside her curtained windows.
Lorelei and Gustav made silhouettes by candle-light, smoky through patterned red drapes and never betraying their secrets. They lived as lovers it seemed, Gustav’s arms around Lorelei’s shadow, wrapped tight around her like a husband to his wife in a sensuous tangle of limbs. It put fire in Henri’s belly, maddened by the thought. Lorelei had no right to deny him, especially not for the embrace of an animal. Some mindless thing found feeding on the bottom of the sea, brought to false heights on dry-land.
For three nights Henri festered. On the fourth he went to the club to watch Lorelei, face hot and knobby fists in his coat pockets. Lorelei danced with Gustav, spine bent, boneless and indistinct like the octopus that cradled her. Henri watched, sickened by the sin of it. After the performance he stormed backstage and into her dressing room, shouting in his displeasure.
“I’ll give you one last chance to save yourself. Come with me tonight or you'll pay for this disrespect.”
Lorelei pushed Henri, beating a fist against his chest. “Get out, get out,” she screamed. In his tank Gustav changed colors like a spinning top. “And don’t you dare come back.”
Henri slapped Lorelei twice, hard across her face, pushing her to the ground. He slapped her once more and tore at her robe, impatient to undress her. She fought him; kicked him soundly and wrestled away, getting up to scoop Gustav from his tank. Lorelei fled out the back door of the club, down the crooked alleys that had led Henri to her door, her octopus clutched to her breast. Henri followed in hungry steps as she took them on dirty bare feet to the docks, running to the end of an empty landing.
“You’ve trapped yourself here, you stupid girl,” Henri’s lips pulled back to sneer. “Come to me before I have to hurt you.”
Lorelei set Gustav down at her feet. She slipped out of her tattered robe and under the spidery veins of moonlight her body changed. The skin blackened at her waist, a rough hide that combed down her legs to cleave them into eight limbs, thick-muscled and strong. Black flesh crawled up her back and over her shoulders to flank her in the octopus skin, making hard marbles of her eyes until she was at last transformed into the half-woman she was on stage. It was then, stricken in his silent horror, that Henri understood.
Over the edge Lorelei slithered into the water. Gustav followed to disappear with her beneath the silent ripples, leaving Henri’s world behind.
"The Ocean Machine"
Copyright: © 2011 Magen Toole
Magen Toole is an author from Fort Worth, Texas. She likes black holes, dinosaurs, Star Trek and writing stuff. More of her work can be found at http://www.eonism.net/