Harold and the Squid
How Harold had come to attain the squid was beyond even him. Yet, here he was in possession of a tiny squid in a ziploc bag full of ocean water. It was apparent that he now needed an aquarium, so he walked to the pet store and showed the man behind the counter the ziploc with the squid inside. He asked, “How big of a tank will I need for this?” The man laughed. When Harold continued to hold up the bag, the man shrugged and showed Harold all the aquariums he had. Harold pointed at a big one.
The man said, “We can also do delivery for an extra fee.”
“Delivery would probably be good,” Harold said. “I walked here.”
“You’ll probably need a few other things if you want to do it right. Here’s a hydrometer to test the salinity in your tank. There’s different types of hydrometers, but I can recommend this one here personally. You’re also gonna need a filter—there’s good types of bacteria and bad, you know. You’ll want this UV sterilizer too to help with parasites. Of course, you’ll want a heater to maintain the temperature of the water. Here—take these test kits. For testing pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. You’ll want salt, obviously, and you’ll need some live sand, rocks, et cetera. Here, follow me.” The man led him through various aisles, handing Harold bags and boxes of this and that until he couldn’t carry anymore. “Welp, meet me out back.”
The man pulled around in a red pickup truck. The thing looked like it had been hit with a few dozen golf balls. The man was now also wearing an old Mariner’s baseball hat, the bill more folded than curved.Harold put his newly acquired things into the back of the truck and hopped into the passenger seat, carefully cradling the ziploc bag in his lap.
“It’s not far,” Harold said. They drove.
“I don’t know too much about squid,” the man said at a left turn.
“My buddy Carl might know something, though. He went to school for marine biology.”
“No, that’s alright. I think I’ll be all set.” They drove for 10 more minutes. Then they pulled up to a grey-blue house. “This is me,” Harold said.
The man helped Harold carry everything into the house. Harold gave him some extra money for the help, and the man tipped his hat. He left a business card for Bill’s Bird Barn on a table by the door. “Store’s name changed, but mine’s the same. In case you need anything else.” Harold waved and thanked him again.
It took about an hour to set everything up. Then, Harold submerged the bag into he tank and opened it. The squid wiggled out of the bag and then darted behind one of the rocks.
Over the course of the next week, the squid grew at an alarming rate. As Harold was leaving the house one day, he stopped to look at the squid, who was floating about. He knew then that the squid would outgrow the tank in a matter of days. Okay, he thought. We need a new tank.
So Harold built a bigger tank. He constructed the frame out of wood and then screwed plexiglass into it. He also used a lot of sealant—this was important, the man at the hardware store had said, otherwise you’ll get leaks. Harold definitely didn’t want those, so he got a few tubes of the sealant.
The new tank was four by ten by eight feet. He had to move the coffee table and the TV stand in order for it to fit. What did he even need the TV for? Who needs a TV? He would just watch the squid, no TV needed. So it was decided. He moved the TV to the side of the road with a “FREE” sign taped to it.
Then, he called up a company that would deliver him ocean water.
“What you need it for anyway?” a man had asked through the poor connection. Harold said, “Home project.” This seemed to satisfy them, and a few hours later a big van with a water tank mounted to the roof backed into the driveway. A short man with a newsboy cap got out and came to Harold’s door.
“Ocean’s here,” he said, and ran a garden hose from the truck into the living room. While waiting for it to fill, Harold said to her, “It’s a home aquarium.”
“Ah,” he said, and left it at that.
When the tank was full and the man had driven away, Harold wheeled the small aquarium over to the edge of the plexiglass. He reached in to grab the squid. In that moment he knew it was true what he’d always heard—working with your hands was a most satisfying labor.
Eventually though, the squid grew too big for the new tank. Harold wasn’t able to sleep. Some nights he would go out into the living room, then sit next to the tank with his hand on the plexiglass. He wondered if squid slept, and if they did, what they dreamed about. Sometimes in those moments he thought about bringing the squid back to the ocean, but then he’d wave the thought away. He knew there was a better answer out there somewhere.
Next Saturday morning, he called up Bill from the pet store.
“I’m just not sure what to do at this point,” Harold said. He paced in bathroom with the door closed, holding the phone close and speaking in a hushed tone.
“You could donate it to the aquarium,” Bill said.
“What about your friend Carl?”
“What about him?”
“Could we get him on the line?”
He told Harold to hold and then came back with a “Hello?”
“Hello,” Harold said.
“Can you hear us, Carl? Harold, can you hear Carl?”
“Hello,” a nasally voice from another line said. “This is Carl.”
Harold gave him the rundown.
“I see. Have you considered the ocean?”
“I’m exploring other options.”
“Something more like squid laundering, then.”
“Yeah, what is that?”
“Let me think on this a bit. I’ll call you back.” There was a click.
“You think he’ll be able to come up with something?” Harold asked.
“Did you hear the way he said squid laundering?”
The two hung up and Harold felt a bit better knowing he had a team working on this. The phone rang a few minutes later. Harold picked it up.
“It’s Carl. I did some thinking. How much tape do you have?”
An hour and a half later, a double-wide pickup pulled into the driveway. A tall, spindly man stepped out. As he walked up the driveway, he shoved some almonds into his mouth. He wiped his hand on his jeans before extending it to Harold. He introduced himself as Carl. They went inside.
“I wasn’t able to find much in the way of tape,” Harold said sheepishly.
“Nevermind, I thought of a better plan. Way less tape. Also, how much room do you have in the basement?”
“I don’t have a basement.”
“Oh,” Carl said. “Well...hmm.” The water filter hummed loudly between them. “Well, maybe that’ll work...” Carl went back to his truck and lowered the tailgate. After a few minutes, came back with a miniature crane looking thing that rolled on small, black wheels. It looked absurdly heavy. He pushed it up the driveway and into Harold’s house. He was clearly sweating when he stepped back inside. “That there’s an engine hoist.”
Ten minutes later, as the two tried to measure the squid from the outside of the tank, a knock came at the door. Harold opened it. A man and a woman stood there, both in dark suits and wireframe glasses. The man presented Harold with a thick manilla envelope.
“Sir,” the woman said, “it has come to our attention you are currently in possession of a squid, and that squid has gotten too large for residence in this domicile. According to East Hangham County bylaws, you have one week to secure a more proper residence for your squid or we will be forced to resolve the situation ourselves, i.e. relocating the squid to a more suitable environment, e.g. the ocean.”
“What?” was all that Harold could manage. His throat dried up. He felt exposed, more sandbar than man. Who were these interlopers to tell him how to house his squid? There was also the fact that the woman had a strange likeness to his mother, which made him curl his toes in discomfort.
“Enclosed,” the man said, “you’ll find all the necessary documentation for this visit and details of your legal responsibilities in this situation. It’s all there in the packet. We’ll return in one week to ensure that you have secured more proper accommodations for your cephalopod. Any questions you have can be answered by the enclosed packet.”
Then they left. Harold felt a tide of panic rise up inside him. He thought back to something he’d read online:
The cardiovascular system of the squid consists of three hearts. Two branchial hearts to feed the gills, and one triple-chambered heart to push the blood around the body. These hearts are faintly green due to the copper-rich protein in the blood. This creates cardiac output closer to that of a human than a fish.
“I’ll figure it out,” Harold said. Carl nodded and eventually left him alone with the squid. Now alone, he brought his face close to the plexiglass, cupping his hands around his eyes so he could see inside. The squid bobbed up and down. “I’m going to figure it out,” he said.
By the end of the week, he had not figured it out. He called Carl.
An hour later, Carl pulled up to Harold’s house with Bill. They lined the bed of Carl’s pickup with a tarp and then filled it with water from the aquarium. They then readied the hoist. The squid squirmed as they got the straps underneath it. Harold rubbed its mantle with a shhh as they maneuvered it into the bed of the truck. The squid splashed into the water and curled up in the far corner.
“So where to?” Bill asked. His voice sounded distant, as if coming from behind thick glass. Harold slid his hand into the water. It was cold. The smell of brine stung his nostrils. He reached out to the squid—to reassure it, to somehow tell it something, to find a pulse. His hand found its mantle. It was slick and rubbery. He felt a dull throbbing there, though he wasn’t sure if it was one of the squid’s hearts, his own heart, or the truck itself rumbling as the engine came to life. It could have been all three humming in unison under the pale blue sky.