The Internal Octopus by Yoko Tawada

While Yoshiro’s mornings were packed full of worry seeds, to Mumei each morning was fresh, full of fun. At the moment he was battling those mischievous sprites called clothes. Though cloth was not necessarily ill-tempered, it didn’t bend easily to his will, and as he tried rubbing it, smoothing it over, folding it, but generally having a hard time, bits of brightly colored paper—orange, blue, and silver— began to sparkle in the gray matter of his brain. He wanted to take off his pajamas, but with two legs he couldn’t decide which to start with, and while he was puzzling over this problem he remembered the octopus. Maybe he had eight legs, too, and it just looked like two because each one was a bundle of four, tied tightly together. That might be why when he tried to move one leg to the right he felt like swinging it at the same time to the left, or sticking it up in the air. There was an octopus inside him: Octopus, get out of there! He pulled off his pajama pants. He couldn’t have pulled his legs off with them, could he? No, they were still attached—it was only his pajamas that had come off. So far, so good, but he still had to get into his trousers for school. They were a mountain of cloth, with tunnels running through it. His legs were the trains, trying to get through the tunnels. He sure wanted to go back to the Meiji Restoration Museum and play with the model steam engine again. There were two tunnels, so the train headed for Tokyo can go in one, while the train going in the opposite direction comes out the other. That must be it, but although his right leg went in okay, his left leg didn’t come out. Oh, well, who cares? Flesh-colored steam engines slide into the tunnels. Chugga chugga choo choo.

“Mumei are you dressed yet?”

At the sound of Great-grandpa’s voice, the octopus scuttled off in to his his socks as the trains slid off the rails, leaving Mumei there all alone. He hadn’t yet completed the task of getting dressed.


Today’s Tuesday. Tuesday is fire day, so maybe we’ll do an experiment with matches in science class. I’ll probably get burned. Tomorrow’s Wednesday, water day. I might drown in the heated pool. I wish they’d turn up the heat. It’s so cold now it makes me want to scream at first, but if I make too much of a fuss I get so tired, my legs go all wobbly like noodles and I can hardly walk. “If you’re tired just lie down beside the pool and rest awhile,” the teacher says but don’t grown-ups ever notice that the pool has tides? I’ll be lying down as the waves get higher and higher until they come right up over the edge, and splash, splash, splash, right in my face. Then a great big wave will come to swallow me up. I’ll gasp and lift my head up, truing to breathe, but the wave pulls my wrists and ankles down to the bottom. But wait—oh, yeah, I know what to do next: I’ll just turn myself back into an octopus. No need to be afraid of the water, I’ll get through water day as an octopus, and wait for Thursday—tree day. On tree day maybe the cherry tree in the schoolyard will fall on top of me and crush me.