My boyfriend lives in the country. His house is modern, all minimalist design, geothermal heating. No internet, no television, no phone. When he goes into the city, he wears a black trapper hat with a special mesh lining to protect him from the electromagnetic fields. He doesn’t visit me much; I go to him.
He was the one who told me about octopuses, about how they dream through their skin. He was a marine biologist before becoming a recluse. They can change their color and texture and shape as thoughts shift through their bodies. It’s not just for camouflage. They’re kaleidoscopic when they sleep. But how do you know, I want to ask. How can you tell what an octopus is thinking?
On Sundays, if it was too late for me to drive back the night before, we go for long walks in the woods behind his place. He tells me about the deer tracks in the mud, the squirrel family he’s almost succeeded in befriending. He’s learning about trees. There’s an app on my phone. You only have to take a picture of the leaf and there it is. Betula cordifolia. Mountain paper birch. A thin-leaved, deciduous hardwood. But my phone is in the car, locked in airplane mode. Looking it up in a book is more satisfying anyway, he says.
Or we visit one of his neighbors. Jade lives three kilometers south, in a converted farmhouse. A morning’s walk. She’s hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields as well. A former human rights lawyer, she now keeps chickens. We make omelets for lunch after our visit.
Lately he’s been getting headaches again. He attributes them to the new wind turbines near the highway, past the bright red barn containing Al’s Antiques.
Sometimes, when I drive back to the city, which throbs with electromagnetic energy, when I swim back through the wifi, I can feel I’m changing colors. I light up like a neon sign. I glow and pulse with light. The octopuses aren’t dreaming, I want to tell him. They’re wide awake.
Jennifer Falkner’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Jellyfish Review, Spelk, Firewords Quarterly and LitroNY, among other places. She lives in Ottawa, Canada. Find her on Twitter @JenFalkner