“Octet” by Alice Lowe


From the Latin octo, meaning eight, October was the eighth month of the year under the Roman calendar, before January and February were tagged onto the front end. My birthday is on the eighth of October—octo octo—a pairing I’ve always thought propitious.


In chemistry an octet is a stable group of eight electrons occupying a single shell in an atom. An octet in music is a group of eight musicians or a composition for eight voices or instruments. I know little about chemistry, but I’m partial to chamber music—small ensembles as opposed to full orchestras—including octets by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert.


Logan Mountstuart, protagonist of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, claimed to be writing a novel titled Octet—homage to the eight significant women in his life—but when he jettisoned a lifetime of memorabilia into the fire shortly before his death, the Octet file was empty. Out of curiosity I listed the important men in my life and came up with eight as well, although numbers two and three are questionable and would have to be recorded with asterisks and explanations, a la Major League Baseball statistics.


The number eight represents balance and harmony in numerology. Its symmetrical circles signify wholeness; flipped on its side, the symbol for infinity. Eight is a lucky number in Chinese, signifying wealth, because its sound—ba—resembles that of fa, which means getting rich. Libras, those born between late September and late October, are believed to exhibit similar traits: stability, fair-mindedness, diplomacy, wishy-washiness (a side-effect of balance). I’m skeptical of both numerology and astrology, yet I seem to be a textbook octo-octo.


The age of eight was lucky for me, having nothing to do with wealth. My family migrated west, New York to San Francisco, when I was six. After two years of personal and family mishaps and misfortune, a visit to Solana Beach, a serene seaside town in San Diego County, was our deliverance. We returned home, tidied loose ends, packed up and moved south, where happier days ensued.


– A verse form of eight lines of iambic pentameter is an octave; in music octaves are eight-note intervals.

– An octopus is a soft-bodied, eight-limbed mollusk; Doctor Octopus is one of Spiderman’s archenemies.

– Octetra is a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi that appears to consist of five six-sided pieces. Hmm.


In three years I’ll become an octogenarian, and with a history of high-octane performance (I still run/walk half-marathons). I expect to join this elite club with excellent health and boundless energy, though I’m forewarned by Merriam-Webster’s example: “The octogenarian uses a cane for walking.” 


One Christmas my true love gave to me an octet of magnetized cat butts. They’re still around—orange tabby, Siamese, gray, tortie—adorning fridge, stove, and file cabinets. We appreciated their absurdity and our good fortune—that we lack for nothing—and agreed thereafter to stop exchanging gifts.

Alice Lowe’s flash prose has appeared this past year in Hobart, JMWW, Headlight Review, Parhelion, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Burningword. She’s been cited in Best American Essays and nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Alice writes about life, literature, food and family in San Diego, California and at http://www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.