Tea And Sympathy

Entry by: jaguar

29th March 2018
An Octopus has a beak and a mouth at the centre of its arms. Every time I saw Arnold's face I thought of one. He gesticulated all the time so it appeared he had many arms. The first time I met him he came to fix a leaking tap.

I don't know how he got into that tiny space under the sink but I know Octopi can wriggle through anything. It was fitting that I associated him with water. Wrong that I thought he could help me, mend things, make life better with his company.

He came round often after that, lived just a couple of flats along the balcony.Things (and people) went wrong so often in these old council flats. There was something for him to help with almost every week. He was a good listener too. I told him about my childhood, my kids and stuff I hadn't realised I felt. At first I talked too much, gave him tea and dog-eared tenners to thank him. Then the notes went plastic and he started talking back.

Tea and sympathy but it was more than that. Sympathy could do nothing against the force of his sadness. His lost wife, missing daughters, even his name was gone. He said it was too difficult, he called himself Arnold Smith here. It was only later I wondered difficult for whom? What does it mean if you give up your entire name? I'd felt strange enough taking on Bob's surname when we married. It was like dropping part of me. I changed it straight back after he left. My maiden name's good, solid and very English.

There was nothing English about my visitor. Emotionally Arnold had no skeleton, everything had been shattered the way his homeland had been destroyed. He stopped doing the odd jobs, sat on my sofa most of each day, chatting and sobbing away. Not like a man at all. That was how he got into the tiny space in my heart.

It was because he had no bones, he didn't mind my fierce shell and he used to sniff and lick my hand as if he craved the smell and taste of me. It took some getting used to but I didn't mind as long as no one saw. It became automatic to make two teas rather than one. He blended right in while we were inside the flat but I felt odd going out with him.

Last night we sat watching a nature programme and there was an octopus. Arnold didn't react as if he couldn't recognise his own kind. I watched it force its victim's valves apart, its little stabs of venom. Thought of his careless comments about how beautiful his wife had been, how well his daughters did at school, how deprived his life here was. The way the octopus flipped the shelled victim over with its suction cups made me feel nauseous. There was something familiar about its every move.

I threw him out. My eyes have been opened. Even his passivity was an attempt to control me. I'd suggested redecorating to make my place more homely for him. He said I was kind and it grieved him that he couldn't ever feel love for me. I wasn't having that. Then that octopus appeared on the screen like a warning.

There is no hole in my heart now, I won't be made a fool of again. No one else will ever get in. If only that tap would stop dripping.