THE GRAND MAL - RICHARD MILWARD Listen to the Podcast on this story here.

For mimic octopus Malcolm, love is a many-tentacled thing.

Illustration - Jack Noel


Richard Milward was born in Middlesborough in 1984. His acclaimed debut novel Apples was published in 2007.

He was born half human, half mimic octopus. Now, you might not think that was perfect boyfriend material, but Malcolm was a great catch. Chances are you're imagining him as some hideously deformed lovechild of John Merrick and a sea monster but, fortunately for Malcolm (and myself), he retained all the physical attributes of a normal human being, apart from a few suckers on the bottom of each foot. These he hid in Patrick trainers.

Aside from the Patricks, initially Malcolm was perfect. I first met him at the London Aquarium - not in one of the tanks; he was just visiting. We were both nosing around the squid bit and, despite him smelling a little salty, there was something about Mal that made me want to talk to him. To be fair, that afternoon he was mimicking a Very Hunky Male (as is his habit during 'mating season'), and after we went for a pint in the Ship, it was only when I got him home in bed that he returned to his usual self: Nondescript Half-Decent-Looking Male. During sex though he transformed himself into David Beckham for me (imitating the well-stared-at poster on my wall), so it was alright.

For three months it was bliss - the typical duration of the blessed 'honeymoon period'. Since Malcolm was able to morph into any celebrity at any given opportunity, we found ourselves granted access to the exotic world of the A-lister. Me and Brad Pitt went to the premiere of Finding Nemo and got snapped by the paps and popped in the paper the next day, me and David Beckham shagged in the toilets of the Groucho on a torrential Tuesday evening, and me and George Clooney d ined with Macauley Culkin and the President of America at the Ivy one night, though we didn't really know what to say to them. Often we just stowed ourselves away in the corner with some free booze, Malcolm morphing back into Nondescript Half-Decent-Looking Male so as not to draw attention to himself. He couldn't half make me laugh. Not only could Malcolm transform himself physically into anything he wanted (animate or inanimate); he was also great at impressions. For hours he'd entertain me with all the legendary catchphrases of Bruce Forsyth, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Daniel MacIntosh - our pretentious friend from Balham who says words like 'zeitgeist' and 'dichotomy' and 'lunch.'

Malcolm also made me feel incredibly safe wandering the silly, sinister streets of London. One night we were coming back from a fancy do at the Savoy - me dressed in red, Mal beginning to lose the cheekbones of Jude Law - when, all of a sudden, these men started hurling abuse at us. Perhaps they thought we were rich people. One of the thugs had a head like a lager can and arms the size of beer barrels, and he was pissed. He growled at us, 'Got any change?' in a Lordship Lane accent.

As is my way in times of crisis, I started to panic and clung helplessly onto Malcolm's biceps. The horrible man's friends started yelling sloppy insults at us, like 'bastards' and 'f**king rotters' and "blerrgghhh!' and, just when I thought we were going to get our heads bashed in, suddenly Malcolm's arm began to transform into a hefty baseball bat in my grasp. The thugs' wobbly eyes glistened. Without any further ado, I decided to lash out with the baseball bat, raising bruises on the men's chins and foreheads and bottoms. I'm not sure what came over me. However, since Malcolm had turned completely into the bat, it was three slathering thugs versus one little me, and soon they started to regain the upper hand, pinning my arms behind my back and slapping me across the face. I yelped, wishing I wasn't on my own.

I started to stain my red dress white with tears, and my high-heels got trodden on. Just as Mr Lordship Lane was about to kick me in the kneecap and steal off with my handbag, the baseball bat made another strange transformation. Concentrating with gritted wooden teeth, at the perfect moment Malcolm managed to gain the physical appearance of a police car, and all three thugs went galloping off down the crooked street, empty-handed. Then Malcolm drove me all the way back to mine. Then we had sex in his uniform. 'I love you I love you I love you' was not something I said very often to boys. But, after enduring two lengthy relationships with boring wastes-of-space and various one night stands with men with spots, it didn't take long for me to realise Malcolm was special. Whilst I was worried about him leaving sweaty sucker marks in the bathtub after showering, by the time we got to our seventeenth date I was asking Mal to move in with me. He accepted. Half a week later his Seal and Hootie and the Blowfish and Blue Oyster Cult CDs were sitting between my Rod Stewart and Dr Hook and Beethoven records. We had a brilliant time at first, Mal morphing into the elusive can-opener whenever I cooked for him, or transforming into an electric blanket whenever we snuggled up in bed, or turning into an armchair and a foot-spa whenever I came back from a horrid long day at work. Mal didn't have a job. While he chipped in evenly for the rent and bills and sh*tty council tax, I did have a feeling Malcolm was just pulling out his hair and making it turn into money. By the fifth month of living together, Malcolm was practically bald. We continued having sex every night, but back then - instead of Brad Pitt or David Beckham or George Clooney - I found myself shagging Duncan Goodhew and Ainsley Harriott and Buster Bloodvessel. I was beginning to get exasperated. By the time Mal was completely slap-headed, it was a quick downward spiral into absolute hell.  

At first we tried our best to patch things up, buying bucketloads of Nourkrin for Men (they didn't have the half man / half octopus version in stock), and going on fancy dates again. However, once all Mal's pubes and armpit hair and fingernails and toenails had disappeared, he literally didn't have a penny to his name. One shivery September night, we dined on mussels and chocolate and other aphrodisiacs as a restaurant in Soho, but when it came to paying the bill, Malcolm transformed himself into a knife and fork, and I was left to fork out for the bill. What a bastard! What a f**king rotter! What a blerrgghhh! We went home that night and had a ginormous argument. I accused Mal of being salty and selfish and making eyes at all the shellfish, but all he did was laugh and mimic me, accusing me of being sad and stupid and full of f**king s**t. I slumped down on the sofa. For a while I flicked through the TV channels, but all they had on were fly-fishing programmes or aquatic documentaries or Michael Fish doing the weather, and it depressed me. Malcolm went next-door to soak in a lukewarm bath, and I slept alone that night, tossing and turning on a seabed of lumpy mattress and floppy Habitat duvet. I was glad to be on my tod, despite not being able to quite switch off, what with all the erratic thinking etc etc etc. I cursed myself for getting in too deep too soon with Malcolm, and I vowed the next morning to break it off with the bald-headed bastard, or at least slow things down a few knots. Perhaps humans are all just so desperate not to be alone in the world, they make silly rash decisions sometimes. Perhaps all half human / half octopuses are absolute tossers.

The next morning the weather was mostly bright with some scattered showers and moderate cloud-cover and fog. Despite it being a Saturday, I decided to get up early and make me and Malcolm a slap-up breakfast - one last act of kindness before telling him to get out of my house. With the radio on volume 5, I knocked up some eggs and buttered bread and tomato sauce and orange juice and seaweed soup. It was 9:15am. I didn't bother doing any make-up - and purposefully splodged some sauce on my chin - so Malcolm might not be quite so distraught about me leaving him. There's plenty more fish in the sea, after all, as someone very clever once said.

Balancing the plates on my hands and forearms, I wandered through to the bathroom, to rouse Malcolm and pull the plug out. A tiny weeny part of me hoped Mal had drowned in there - like Jim Morrison, except without all the straggly facial hair of course - but, when my feet hit the cool lino, I was disheartened to see the bathroom completely empty. The porcelain bathtub was shiny and pristine, with no trace of a salty scumline, and even the steel fittings looked clean and untouched.

'Mal?' I called out, the plates beginning to get a bit uncomfy now. No reply. I groaned. All of a sudden the flat felt incredibly silent, and my footsteps gained the enormous roar of dinosaurs as I paced about looking for Malcolm. He was nowhere to be seen. I checked in the water closet, and I checked in the kitchen sink, and I even checked in the empty fishbowl where Delilah the goldfish used to live, but to no avail. Disappointed, I plodded through to the living room and sat eating the egg sarnies on my lonesome. I couldn't remember Mal leaving the house the night before, after all I couldn't sleep and would've noticed the familiar squelch of his tootsies lurking about the apartment. So where was he?

Pushing the eggy plate to one side, I slumped back in the sofa and sighed. I wondered if it was possible Malcolm had pre-empted my bad news and cleared off of his own accord; after all octopuses could be very perceptive and sensitive, what with their many suckers and possibility of sonar. To be fair, after our argument, Mal seemed as upset as me. Perhaps the hatred was mutual.

I sat up straight. While it was comforting to think Mal had seen the errors of his ways and set sail to pastures new, there was a slight selfish disappointment him having dumped me before I got the chance to do it myself. Nevertheless, a few days later, the flat was still empty, with not one whiff of salt or fish or squid. I felt liberated, and I resolved never to date a half man / half octopus ever again. I could run around the flat again without fear of treading on or knocking over furniture Malcolm had happened to morph into, and I could wander about the flat stark naked without Kriss Akabusi perving on me any more.

One bright, misty Sunday afternoon, two months after Mal had left, I was jumping up and down in the nud to Rod Stewart's 'Hot Legs'. For the first time in a while, I felt ready to go back on the pull - me and my best friend Sandra planned to go into town and reel in a pair of handsome millionaires. Jiggling my bottom, I made sure to take my Pill, and I decided to put on some luxury underwear. Mal used to love me wearing the lacy aquamarine bra and knickers, and I grinned as I delved into the pine dresser. Swimming through various pants and bras in various shades and fabrics, it took six minutes to realise the aquamarines had disappeared.

'Eh?' I said in my head.

At first I wondered if Mal had stolen them, as one last keepsake of a rotten, yet very sexual relationship. He just didn't seem the type though. Despite being incredibly eccentric and greedy, Mal could be trusted around women's underwear. In the early days he used to wash all my delicates while I was at work, watching in awe the washing machine whizz and ebb and flow, and not once did any of my knickers go walkabout. Poking my bottom lip out, I decided to look a bit harder. After all, I had more knickers in the dresser than I had freckles on my bottom (Mal once counted 23). Opening the drawer out further, I poked my head right into it, rummaging through multicolour (everything from saffron pink to period brown) lingerie. Getting breathless, I felt like I was snorkelling through fabric. At one point I thought I spotted the little aquamarine numbers, but it was just a mirage. Squeezing my head and shoulders further and further into the drawer, I tried to have one last rummage before giving up, when suddenly the chest of drawers let out a blood-curdling creak. I panicked. Before I had any time to react, all of a sudden the drawer slammed itself shut, taking my head and shoulders with it. My skull and brain crushed, five bones were smashed, and I stained all my underwear red with blood and mush. Then the chest of drawers burped.


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