Dear Merrill,

I hope you appreciate how hard it is to type with tentacles. It has been some time since the accident—if it was an accident—and I think I deserve an explanation.

Tentatively,

Peter

 

 

Peter!

Oh my God, Peter! Dr. Fish told me you were dead.

M

 

 

Dear Merrill,

Surprise! The first of many, I assume. The irony of winding up in this situation because of a man named ‘Dr. Fish’ provides no end of amusement here in the tank. I laugh until my sides hurt. Well, everything hurts, actually. All the time.

Hilariously,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter

Where do I begin? It was a normal day at the Institute. We were studying the regenerative abilities of starfish and their application to human trauma patients. You had some fascinating ideas about combining starfish genes with human stem cells. Dr. Fish was with us. He saved your life, you know. After the explosion, he pulled you to safety. ‘Such a mind,’ I heard him say, practically in tears. ‘We must save his mind.’

 

I can’t write any more. This is very upsetting for me.

Merrill

 

 

Dear Merrill,

If I still had eyebrows, I would cock one at you in a dubious manner. Usually, when one embarks on a career studying things that live in a foot of water, one is reasonably confident that they will not catch fire. Did you know that this was the only explosion ever to occur at an oceanographic institute? Go ahead and Google it, I dare you. Aren’t you just the teensiest bit suspicious? Don’t scientists ask questions anymore?

 

Here’s one for you: How is good old Dr. Fish? Banged him yet?

Ka-Boom,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

You’re angry. You’re bitter. I understand. But just because we used to be, well, intimate, that doesn’t mean you get any say about my personal life. Dr. Fish is a genius.

Merrill

 

 

Dear Merrill,

I don’t think you do understand, Merrill. I have a beak now. A beak! And it is not located where my mouth used to be.

 

The genius came to visit me today. In between smirks, he explained my situation. After the explosion—still not even the feeblest explanation for that—my body was horribly burned. I could not have survived, but what luck, Dr. Fish was on the scene. Rather than call 911, like a sane person would have done, he whisked me off to his lab, where he grafted my remains into the genetic material of a giant squid. Based on my brilliant research, he added. Hooray for me. Essentially, he grew me a new body, but it is that of a squid. He found it rather easy to convince himself that this is what I would have wanted, in the name of science. I had no idea he hated me so much.

 

I’m pleased to report that I struck him. I lashed out from my tank and smacked Dr. Fish a good one. Up and down his face and neck, the suckers on my tentacle left marks that look like big, red hickies, which is exactly what I hope his wife believes them to be.

Beakily,

Peter

 

 

P,

His wife?

M

 

 

Dear Merrill,

Oh. You didn’t know? I’m sorry. Yes, married with children. You can do better.

 

I hate to mention this, but it occurred to me that if you are still involved with that man, he could be using you as a sort of double agent. He could have dispatched you to write to me and report back to him. This is the sort of thought that occurs to me these days.

 

Really sorry,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

Who are you kidding? You’re not sorry at all. You love telling me things I don’t know, particularly important things, or painful things. You get to watch me react, and then you feel like you’re in control. I felt so good when I left you for him, happy in an angry, take-that kind of way, but you knew all along that I had only made things worse for myself. He’s just like you, you know.

M

 

P.S. I am not a spy. Although if I was, isn’t that exactly what I would say?

 

 

Dear Merrill:

Point one: I am not responsible for your lack of self-awareness. If you can’t see the patterns in your own behavior, if you keep doing the same silly, self-defeating things over and over again, whose fault is that? Sleeping with a co-worker was bad, so you thought sleeping with your boss would be better? Really? Sex can’t solve all your problems, Merrill.

 

Point the second: I am nothing like Fish. I never used you, and he uses everyone. If we were children, scuffling in some grubby schoolyard, I would demand that you take that back.

 

It’s possible that I had more fun in our brief affair than you did. Very possible. And for that, I am sorry.

 

If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Live in a Fishtank?

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter:

See, you know me better than I know myself. Have you any idea how annoying that is?

 

I admit I’ve made some mistakes. I’m coming to see you. I need to do this.

M

 

 

Dear Merrill,

It’s hard to keep a giant squid secret, much less a mutant man/giant squid hybrid, but Dr. Fish seems to be managing it. I’m in the basement, in the tank where they used to sequester the sick whales. It’s very dark, to simulate the deep-sea environment I ought to be in, but there’s a light above the little computer desk to the side. I’ll wear a pink carnation so you’ll know it’s me.

 

Please be careful. I don’t know what Dr. Fish will do to anyone who discovers his little secret before he’s ready to reveal it, even an ex-lover. You should be a little afraid of him, I think.

 

Soaking in My Own Bouillabaisse,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

To be absolutely honest, I knew Dr. Fish was about to embark on a big project, but this…I had no idea. I suppose he’s always been jealous, of your intellect, your work, of what we used to have. How many times did he walk in on us cracking up over slimy trays of marine samples? We always looked like we were having such a good time.

 

Now I’m just dumbfounded. I don’t know what to do for you. I’ve spoken to the police about the explosion, and they seemed to be taking it seriously, right up until I told them about you, then it was pencils down. Apparently, “There’s a man trapped in the body of a giant squid in the lab basement,” doesn’t sound especially sane.

 

Speaking of which, you look much better than I had imagined. Your rosy color is lovely and your tentacles are so graceful. Watching you curl and stretch in the murk was mysterious and breath-taking. I thought bits of you would be squid and bits would be human. But no, you’re all squid, just with you inside somehow. It’s almost like he put a spell on you. But is that true? Are there no human traits left? Dr. Fish’s notes seemed to indicate that he is not entirely confident that you could survive in the wild. You may be too human to process sea water? Will you be in that tank forever?

Merrill

 

 

My dear Merrill,

I assure you I will certainly be in this tank for the rest of my life. Dr. Fish explained it to me: the Institute has hired me as a special consultant. I have enormous scientific value. I am the only giant squid in captivity and I can use a computer, however slowly and moistly. There’s so much we don’t know about good old Architeuthis, and Dr. Fish believes I will fill him in. Someday, the great genius might work out that as he never turns off his computer at night, I can do a lot more than he knows. These e-mails, for example. I’m always worried that his keyboard won’t dry out by morning.

Thank you for your kind words. If I had known that all I had to do to win you back was transform into a giant squid, I’d have done it much sooner.

Your Special Consultant,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

Who else knows about you?

Merrill

 

 

Dear Merrill,

No one. My mother said to pick the very best one and…you…are…it. My only hope, Obi-Wan. BTW, did you go to my funeral? If so, tell all.

I wish I had been nicer to you and a lot of other people. I have a horrible feeling I may be better at being a giant squid than I was at being a man.

If you come back, please bring anchovies. I’ve been craving them recently.

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I try to concentrate on problems I can actually solve. As I’m sure you recall, I’ve been a lab technician at the Institute for a long time. My thesis languishes and my disillusionment grows.

 

I think I can get you out. I remember your tank. I spent hours and hours holding a hose over the thing to fill it. It’s supposed to release into the sea. Free Willy! As long as Dr. Fish hasn’t changed the system, I think I can open it and you can take your chances.

 

Sabotaging such a huge experiment will mean the end of my job and probably my career, but I want to do it. Think carefully though, it’s not like I can get you back in if you change your mind. Putting toothpaste back in the tube hardly begins to cover it.

Merrill

 

P.S. I did go to your funeral. They cremated whatever was left of you and scattered your ashes at sea, as befits a marine biologist of your rare talents. The ceremony was sparsely attended and—knowing what I know now—quite strange. Dr. Fish gave an uncharacteristically effusive eulogy.

 

 

Dear Merrill,

I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve done it already, remember? The worst thing is that I won’t be able to write to you; your correspondence has sustained me in these strange and difficult days. No laptops at the bottom of the sea. But I choose freedom, although I know that my choice requires me to sacrifice the one thing I want to be free to do.

 

Can we do it tonight? Tomorrow, Dr. Fish will discreetly bring in some colleagues to show me off for the first time and I would love to deny him the satisfaction. Besides, what are we waiting for? I am a preposterous 35 feet in length and I would like to stretch out.

Languorously,

Peter

 

 

Dear Peter,

I’m standing by your tank. You really are magnificent, you know. Are you sure you want to do this? If I kill you trying to save you, I will never forgive myself. Once I crank the wheel, there is no turning back.

M

 

 

Dear Merrill,

I see you. The light is dim and I don’t see colors any more, but who else could that be? I’m glad you are the last person I will ever see, glad it’s your palm pressed against the tank.

You are not allowed to worry about me.

Peter

 

 

Some weeks later…

Dear Dr. Fish:

Isn’t it interesting that even when we were sleeping together, I never used your first name? ‘Dr. Fish’ illustrates the essential clamminess of your nature and I find it impossible to improve upon.

 

To answer your staggeringly impertinent question, no, I will not return to the Institute for an exit interview. I’m sure the administrators are asking all kinds of questions; it is strange that you are so suddenly and ominously short-staffed. You say you could press charges and I should consider myself lucky not to be in jail. You don’t see it, do you? We’re in stalemate: you can’t prove I vandalized a scientific experiment that never officially existed and I can’t prove you murdered a man who might not even be dead. He’s not even a man any more.

 

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Peter. I hope he’ll forget who he used to be and adapt to life on the ocean floor. Realistically, he’s probably dead. But if he’s alive and has retained his human memory—his soul, if you will—then he is certainly angry. You could be out on your boat one day, cinematically squinting into the wind—Jacques Cousteau poseur that you are—and you’ll never see him coming.

Goodbye,

Merrill

Letters from the Tank

 

by Colleen Quinn

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