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**PRINT: 1997, by C.T. Ballentine (with an assist by Doug Milam), the first in our 8.5-by-11-inch mini-broadsheets series, easily printable on readers' desktops. We encourage active participation in distribution from any interested parties. Follow the main link above for more.

**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHANDís 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

CHARLIE'S TRAIN, PART 2 Heather Palmer
WING & FLY: A MESSAGE FROM HAROLD RAY -- Nerves of Steel Feb. 8! | Todd Dills
MINNIE LEE's FUNERAL Anne Whitehouse
BASEBALL Alec Niedenthal

Alexis Thomas

Thomas lives and writes in Chicago, where she'll be featured in the all-city finals for the competitive Windy City Story Slam this Friday, Feb.26, at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago.

When I realized we were octopi we couldn't do anything about it. We weren't in an ocean or an aquarium. We were packed in a plastic cooler with fifty other octopi, in the back kitchen of this Korean restaurant Paul and I used to go to when we didn't want to cook dinner.

Bohemian Pupil Press, Chicago publishers of the South Side Trilogy

"What'd you get us into?" Paul slapped his tentacle over the side of my head. That's how I knew it was Paul. We always blamed each other for everything. It's his fault people got murdered and it's my fault 1.35 million children ended up homeless.

It's the end of our world. All around us, Octopi cried and threw up seaweed and sand while clinging to the octopus next to them. A man reached his hand into the cooler. His calloused knuckles softened and melted into the waves of panicked octopi. He clamped his fingers around an octopus, and it's tentacles wrapped around his wrist. This one gave up without even trying.

A girl octopus grabbed onto me, whispering: "I think we are going to heaven!"

"No," a boy octopus said, pulling the girl off me, "we're not, stupid ass."

The water went still. Octopi clung to the side of the cooler. All that remained in the middle were the two arguing octopi.

"Call me stupid again!" The girl octopus pushed through the water and into the boy's face, holding two tentacles in the air like fists. "I dare ya! Call me stupid again, bitch!"

The cooler stood still except for bubbles and beating hearts. Paul looked excited to watch these two beat the shit out of each other. For once, it wasn't us. The boy octopus pushed into the girl and screamed: "Stupid!"

Just five seconds passed before the girl wrapped her tentacles around the boy and pulled him into a headlock. That was something Paul would never allow me to do. The hand reached into our bucket again and grabbed a baby octopus out of its mother's arms. She screamed until her screams seeped into my veins. I bet everyone in the whole world heard that scream.

A grandmother octopus stepped between them and pulled their tentacles off each other like rubber bands.

"She started it!" The boy octopus yelled, pointed to the girl. "I didn't do nothing."

"We don't have time for this," grandma said, grabbing one of his tentacles and twisting. "This is what happens if the sharks don't get us! It's even worse than the sharks."

"What?" Paul stepped toward the oldest octopus, others floating around him like balloons.

"We are being made into dinner," she said.

"Or maybe we're going to some zoo or aquarium," I said. I couldn't remember which one it was. The last time I went to either I was a girl scout and wanted to be a scientist. Instead, I ended up working retail and sleeping with guys like Paul.

"The aquarium, you idiot," Paul said, and I watched the oldest octopus in the world disappear between struggling tentacles.

This is how I met Paul: I sat on a bench, in a park, near my place, shoelaces untied. Paul stopped and said, "You should fix your shoelace before you fall and get hurt or die."

"That'd be a good thing."

"Which part?"


The shoelaces led to phone numbers exchanged on palms and dinner at this Chinese place with red walls. Somehow, though I said I wouldn't go home with him because he didn't know how to use chopsticks and chewed with his mouth open, I ended up back at his place. He was on top of me until I crawled on top of him. Six months down the line, we both stopped crawling on top of each other.

Then we broke up. He said he needed the kind of girl who had her shit together. I said I needed the kind of guy who didn't find that kind of stuff important.

It was six months without Paul. I owned Logan Square and he ran off to the south side. He wanted to avoid me and all the things that belonged to us. It is the best thing he ever did for me.

I ran into him on Halloween. We ended up at the same party. In a city like Chicago, eventually you run into all the people you didn't want to have anything to do with.

He went as a fireman. He always wanted to be one but couldn't run a mile under ten minutes. I went as a robot. I painted cardboard boxes silver and hoped no one confused me with the tin man.

I hid in the kitchen until I ran out of beer and had no choice but to go to the living room, where Paul stood next to the keg, a fake ax in his hands. We got to drinking then got to talking and decided it wouldn't hurt anyone if he walked me home.

Two blocks before our old apartment, which is now my apartment, I started throwing carved pumpkins into Western Avenue traffic.

"You're terrible at throwing!" he yelled, after I threw one that landed in the gutter.

"Why don't you try, smart ass?"

Paul grabbed a pumpkin from a porch and threw it. His arm couldn't do any better than mine. He threw another just to prove he could. It slipped out of his grip and onto the trunk of a police car.

"Oh man," he said under his breath.

"Shit. Should we run or something?"

"No. I'll take care of it," he said. "We'll be just fine."

Just fine meant a night in jail. The same one I bailed Paul out of a year ago when he got picked up for pissing in public. We were handcuffed to a pole that felt like ice. The man next to me rubbed his crotch against it and moaned, "If I wasn't married I'd sure find a way inside of you."

"Paul," I said, "this guy is being a creep."

"Don't pay attention to him. He's probably too drunk to get hard anyways."

It was Paul's idea to escape, but I was the one that reminded him Octopi couldn't survive without water.

The hand pushed into the water and octopi climbed on top of each other. The oldest octopus closed her eyes and the hand lifted her above all of us, her tentacles dangling like worms. Losing her felt like losing the grandma I never knew I had.

"If we climb over the octopi and wrap our tentacles around the edges of the cooler and crawl to the dishwasher we'll be OK," Paul whispered to me, wrapping his tentacles around my head.

"How are we gonna get there before we dry out?"

"Hustle. We're gonna have to hustle," he said.

"I don't know about this."

"Just fucking do it."

We jumped out of the cooler. Paul landed hard, his tentacles falling around him like rocks. We crawled past sneakers and bags of rice until we found bubbles between tiles leading to the dishwasher.

"Now what, dummy?" My lungs turned into prunes.

"Climb on top of me and then pull yourself up." He struggled to keep his eyes open.

"No, I'm not doin' it."

"Just fucking do it."

Inside the dishwasher it felt like last summer when during a rain storm our entire apartment flooded. Plates clung and snapped in steam, and every turn we made one of us fell into the boiling water. I hated Paul for getting us into this.

"We need to find a way to the ocean," he said, as more plates piled into the dishwasher.

"How are we supposed to do that?"

Paul scrunched his face. "Maybe if we soak up enough water and hurry to a bigger body of water," he said, "maybe that'll work."

We slithered past ovens and right through the back door, into an alley that smelled like onions and mozzarella cheese. Paul dodged potholes and sewers.

"Slow down!" I screamed.

We didn't belong in an alley. We belonged in an ocean next to starfish and coral. I had no idea how long we could survive without water, but I knew this was bad.

"What the hell is that sound?" Paul turned and faced me. Even as an octopus, he was handsome.

"What sound?"

"Oh fuck." He held a tentacle to his mouth, a candy bar wrapper stuck to it.

"Oh fuck what?"

"Don't turn around. Just don't."

"What the fuck Paul!"

I turned around. I had to. Like last August when my boss kept asking me out to the bar and Paul said: "I think he's trying to sleep with you." And he was. He didn't even need to get me all that drunk and we went back to his apartment and I let him screw me in all the ways Paul loved to. When I told him, Paul said we couldn't ever be the same. He was right.

I stood face to face with a rat. He licked his lips and I tried to keep myself from shaking. Then I slapped him. Another rat came on, though, and tied my tentacles into a bow behind my back.

"Paul!" I screamed, but I couldn't see him. The rat tightened his grip around my neck and licked my cheek. "Fuck you, Paul!"

The rat reached his little claws deep down to where my hipbones should have been, had I still had bones.

Paul came out of nowhere and pulled the rat off me.

"Run!" he screamed, but before I could, another stuck his claws into me. His nails opened me up like a car accident. The only thing I could think to do was what the instructor in my woman's self-defense class at the YMCA said.

"You can't hurt me because I'm a woman!" I kicked him between his beady eyes until he dropped to the ground and the other rat ran off.

Paul carried me out of the alley and into traffic. He had no idea where to go. I knew the city better than I did the pores on my face. Although I couldn't see the street signs I knew the corner of Irving Park and Western was the only corner in Chicago that smelled like cotton candy and burning tires.

"There's a pool four blocks away!" I said.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah," I said, "I went there for camp when I was, like, twelve or something."

"If you're wrong and we melt and die it'll be your fault."

It was always my fault. It was my fault when we killed a bottle of vodka and ate pepperoni pizza. It was my fault when we fucked on the kitchen table because I wanted to show him this new move I learned in my yoga class. And it was my fault when I realized I was pregnant.

It was two months too late to do anything except have the baby. Paul tried to do all the right things. He read books about being a father and covered all the electrical outlets.

It was my fault when I started bleeding in the morning. It happened after Paul kissed me goodbye and rubbed my tummy. "Take it easy, lady," he said, pointing at the couch.

The baby fell out of me onto the bathroom tiles. Blood splattered all over Paul's white shirt he left on the floor. I took the bus to the hospital instead of a cab. Cabs always made things more serious. I didn't want this to be serious.

"There's just not enough room in your belly for all those organs and a baby," the doctor said.

"But I did all the right things," I cried.

"I know, I know. Do you have anyone to take you home?" He patted me on the back.

"No. I'll be just fine."

By the time Paul came home most of the baby had been flushed down the toilet.

"You what?" He closed the front door behind him. I tried to hug him because I wanted to be inside of him, inside of anyone but myself. Paul wouldn't wrap his arms around me.

"It just died." I pulled away and held my belly, rubbing between the places that should have been kicking and hiccupping.

Paul sucked his lower lip in and I clenched my belly because it felt like something still belonged in there.

"I can't believe you killed it."

"I didn't." Paul's skin looked radioactive, like his dad who died the Christmas before from cancer. "That's the last thing I wanted."

Paul looked past me. "Well it's better the thing died now instead of later."

When we got to the pool the moon tucked behind the rising sun's rays. Paul didn't wait for me to catch up. He took one look at me and jumped in. His tentacles swelled with water as mine turned into fossils of their former selves.

Covered in street grease and the kind of dew that collects on sidewalks at 3 a.m., I crawled to the edge of the pool. Paul swam around like he just found the answer to everything terrible in life, except he didn't know what I knew about pools: suction and chlorine.

His skin shortly dried and cracked. And the pool swallowed him up. All that remained was bubbles. I laid down. I didnít want Paul to be the last thing I knew. Rather, the sun was coming up to the east, and I took a breath of all the cotton candy and burning tires Irving Park and Western had to offer.

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