Cancer: Crabbing by Batnadiv HaKarmi

When my sister painted her bedroom dark purple, and marked off the Cancer constellation in glow-in-the-dark puff paint, my mother barely blinked. “She’s working out her interests,” she said. She sounded proud.

My room remained white.

Each morning, Caro read aloud from the horoscope between bites of cereal. “Most Cancers have been called psychic at some point,” she said, gesturing with her spoon. “They are the emotional heart of the Zodiac.”

I’m sure she made up a lot of it. All was rosy for crabs.

“It’s because we’re on the ascendant,” she told me. “You’re a Scorpio. It means you’re the weaker water sign.”

“You’re a crab because your crabby,” I retaliated.

She rolled her eyes. “Grow up.”

That summer, she grew tall, casting off old clothes and shoes. Baby fat slid off her frame like tanning oil. I followed at a distance, short and stubby. Each species of crab has a particular number of developmental stages, separated by molts. She had reached the megalopa stage, almost resembling an adult. I was a larvae to her elongated form.

Some mornings, she’d still deign to go crabbing with me. As the tide fled, we’d work our way between the rocks, trying to pry the crabs from their holes. “Do you know that a hermit crab isn’t a real crab?” she told me. “It borrows the name, just like it borrows everything else.”

I was the one who first noticed the mole crawling up her back.

“Look, a crab,” I said, pointing to the branching claws. “A whole fleet of them.”

She laughed. “Told you I was marked for greatness.”

A twitch of uneasiness, like a ghost crab scuttling transparent towards the sea.

“You should check it out,” I said,

“You’re just jealous,” she said.

Once crabs become juveniles, they keep moulting till they become adults. The old shell is softened and partly eroded away, while the beginnings of a new shell form beneath.

The first skin graft was red and shiny, stretched over the bone like Caro’s spine was trying to burst through. She lay on her stomach, trying to avoid any pressure on her fragile shell. Overhead, stars peeled.

“It’s a new technology for staying young,” she told me. “Better than Botox.No wrinkles, ever.”

Then, “Do I look like Frankenstein?”

The crab must extract all of itself – including its legs, mouthparts, eyestalks, even the lining of the front and back of its digestive tract – from the old shell. If it gets stuck, it will die.

Five years later, she had her second skin graft. This time, they removed the lymph nodes from her underarm as well. After the operation, she returned to her apartment in the city. She said she couldn’t take the constant sound of the sea. “Or mother, peeking to check on me, like death.”

At night, she cried that she was bursting out of her skin. “There are a million legs scuttling over me.”

I told her she was entering her final moult. “Unpredictability is the cancer’s defining features,’” I read to her. “Who knows what you’ll become?”

I imagined walking through different years, finding her discarded skin left in the back of the closet, under the bed. A transparent Caro, marking the spot, as she began her next migration.

Batnadiv HaKarmi is an American-born writer and visual artist living in Jerusalem. A graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, her work has been published in Poet LorePoetry International, Ilanot Review, Fragmented Voices, Indolent Books and Biscuit Root Drive

Woman wearing a crab on her head
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