Cancer: Crab by Luke Rolfes

She clapped her hands and said “I’m supposed to love Cancers,” when she found out his birthday. Her name was Bobbi. Even though he went by Robert, she insisted they be known as the Bobbies. Her favorite restaurant was Red Lobster—imagine that. She told the hostess, “A booth for two Bobbies.” He had never dated someone like her. When they returned to her apartment, she said “I can be terrible sometimes” and took off her shirt.

On their fourth date she showed up at his place with a 10-gallon aquarium. Inside: a bed of sand and rocks, and four colorful shells that moved. “Hermit crabs,” she explained. They already had names: Pinch, Claw, Battle-Crab, and Leonard.

Robert tapped on the glass. The crabs became shells. “How about Greek food?” he asked. She shook her head and took off her shirt. They did the thing he had been waiting four dates to do. Again and again. Next to the bed, the Hermit crabs skittered in their glass cage.

It snowed for days, and Robert and Bobbie spent nights huddled next to the space heater watching movies on her laptop. She put the aquarium next to the heater and fed the crabs lettuce and saltine crackers. Leonard, the biggest, peeked out long enough to pincer a hunk of salad before retreating under a spiral shell. Robert got used to the little creatures after a while. Their rooting around after he turned out the lights soothed him to sleep.

On the first night of February, they had a terrible fight. Bobbie said she would no longer sleep over.

“You hate my friends and my sisters. You won’t meet my mom.”

“But I love you,” he insisted.

“You love what we do at night.”

“Is that wrong?”

“What are my sisters’ names?”

“I don’t remember.”

“It’s not that you don’t remember. It’s that you don’t care.”

She plucked Claw out of the aquarium.

“What is this crab’s name?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Fine,” she said. With her fingers, she tugged the tiny crustacean out of its yellow shell, stuck it in her mouth, and swallowed.

“Are you insane?”

“I gave them to you, and you don’t care.”

In shock, he watched her eat Pinch next, and then Battle-Crab.

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” he said.

She pulled the final crab out of the aquarium. It squirmed in her hand.

“No,” he said. “Not Leonard.”

Luke Rolfes teaches creative writing at Northwest Missouri State University. His book Flyover Country was published by Georgetown Review Press, and his stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals including North American Review, Bat City Review, Connecticut Review, and others. He co-edits The Laurel Review and serves as a mentor in AWP’s “Writer to Writer” mentorship program.  

Vintage picture of a woman at the beach
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