Coughing Octopus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
Struggling with God as a teenager.

Submitted: March 31, 2017

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Submitted: March 31, 2017



When I was thirteen I coughed up an octopus. It was to be the first of many. It said its name was God with a capital G.

I was outside in the heat of semi desert. White wash wall houses of a small Karoo town, heat making everything burn to sleep, scuttle to shelter over the lava tar. I was digging. I can’t remember why. Perhaps it was for treasure, perhaps it was to plant something. Could have been that my mother was exercising me like the Nazis did the Jews in concentration camps, and I was to fill the hole up again later. Perhaps it was a grave.

I dug fierce and I dug strong. My mind whirled and whirled with memories, embarrassments,wishes, hurtful moments. Most of all fear. I dug against it like I dug against the heat, trying to smash through it with the spade. Grunting with effort. Sweat from my head watering the newly exposed soil. Fear.

I thought of Sundays. I thought of praying in the morning. I thought of hesitations and bad answers from adults. I thought of dead holy men in my head watching. I thought of nothingness, of never having been.

Suddenly, everything stopped whirling in my head and the picture closed in on something clear. Something here. Joining my sweat in the baking soil, my tears took even more salt from my burning body. I cried. But still I dug instead of running for some scuttle, beetle shelter. The thought of running. It was too much. It was too hot and I was already in the oven. So I just cried and carried on digging. Dirt flew over my heaving shoulder like a cartoon and I became shorter and shorter until I dissappeard into the ground. Then the bawling stopped as suddenly as it began. I began to cough.

When I was younger, in the cold of a Drakensberg winter and in a house without electricity, I had caught pneumonia. I would stay up into the night hacking up great globs of infected phlegm into a bucket.

This was worse.

This cough shook loose a headache in me that was  excruciating, as though the force of it had separated my brain from me somehow and now it tore and jiggled and begged me to stop. But I couldn’t. I coughed and coughed and coughed like a thousand baboons barking, each one stunning me like a punch and sending stuff loose everywhere in my body. Stuff that wasn’t there when I was born but had grown onto me like barnacles, like poisonous mushrooms. I ripped it loose with my coughing, ripped and ripped at it like a giant scab inside me until I became obsessed. Like an absess, you can see the white, it’s coming, it’s coming out, oh my shit it’s coming, oh it hurts, but squeeze and squeeze and tear and peel and scrape and cough and cough until it’s clean until…

Massive lump of moving slime in my throat. I couldn’t breathe anymore. My jaw bent up and open until I was sure that it would snap, my eyes closed with the pressure as I heaved and wretched. After what seemed like an age in hell, an octopus slid out with my teeth marks newly scraped upon its bulging, jelly head. It slumped with a mucous flop onto the ground, giving up, getting ready to die. It’s tentacles had pictures on it swimming transluscently inside. I knew these ones had been in my head. There was the dead holy man, listening to me when I thought of girls. There was the tall building, reaching for heaven, imposing, invading. There was me, a shaking boy, afraid of things that were real, wanting to be rescued by a story.

The Octopus’s eyes were weary, closing heavily like an old man in a rocking chair. He was dying fast. I wiped my eyes and spat a big something of mulit-coloured mucous. My jaw ached. My body ached. But I felt free. Like puking when you’re drunk stops the world spinning. I asked him what his name was, he rasped a reply with a barely whisper. He said it was God with a capital G. That he had been fed to me in a golden cup when he was tiny and grown and grown since then. He seemed in pain so I knelt down next to him and held his head and poured some water on him. He said thanks, but it was too late and that I was a good boy. He died very shortly after.

Blistering with sunburn, exhausted but somehow refreshed. I buried the God they had fed to me. I often visit the grave and sit in the desert twilight with a beer, remembering, wondering.

© Copyright 2019 Sam Hardy. All rights reserved.

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