The Crab Man
Eliza Smith

I loved the Crab Man and the Crab Man loved me.

We were married on the beach under evening fog. There we lived for a few years at the tide’s edge in a little shack. We were happy enough to burst. At night we would listen to the waves lap, pulling in and out with the moon’s tug. He would reach for my hand, my arm, my cheek with his grey claws and I would think how I loved him more than there were stars.

Living with the Crab Man was strange at times. I had loved many men, but none like him. When we coupled, he wrapped his legs around me, some of them human, some of them crab. I liked this, feeling shelled.

His mouth was also his stomach, a taut expanse of tough dermis, mottled with sensitive hairs and receptive spikes. When he spoke, he showed me his insides. Frequently I mistook his conversation for hunger, and would throw steamed, unshelled shrimp into his cantilever middle. I never missed.

And then he got a job in the city. His office was on the highest floor of a concrete and iron giant. His windows, he would tell me over a dinner of kelp-wrapped krill, looked over the whole of the downtown. Up there, he felt like he owned everything he saw.

He had a stooped tailor make him suits with many arms, one blue, one black, one grey, and one deep red.

We slept in a tank of salt water, warm as a bath. We decorated it with rubber coral, dwarf kelp, a plastic miniature castle, a bubbling treasure chest, and a diver figurine. He slept on the bottom of the tank. I learned to float on the saltwater. If I turned in my sleep, he would right me, automatic.

At first I loved this new life. One night he brought me a diamond necklace, sparkling like an eel. Another evening he brought me pearls, unstrung and laid in a purple velvet box. So you can run your fingers through, he told me.

I had dresses and gowns in satins and silks, hemmed and lined in linen and lace. He bought me robes and blouses and skirts and slacks, all sewn for me in feverish bouts by his favorite bent tailor.

We ate well. Quail on a bed of nettles one night; chicken stuffed with snails another.

After many months, though, I felt myself dulling to these delights. Our tank smelled like gravel, not sand. I found myself standing in the fish market, smelling for sea. The city where we lived shored a lake, but I detested freshwater. I wanted the ocean.

I told the Crab Man over dessert. He was gobbling apricot tart (with a buttery sage and cardamom crust) into his steel-trap mouth. I couldn’t see his eyes. I want to go home, I said. He chewed for many more minutes, showing me the pulse of his stomach, his lilac liver. And then he said, this is our home now.

My throat chapped without salt, without sand. My skin flaked, dusted surfaces. Some days I never got out of the tank. I would turn my ear to the water and listen for the steady thrum of waves. It never came.

The night I left, the Crab Man brought me earrings of jagged coral. They cut my lobes, stung my fingertips as I sunk them in my ears. You’re wonderful, he said, and blood plopped down my neck, plink, plink, plink, staining my collar.

I took him to bed, gripped him as he held me with armored hands. He fell asleep in my arms, and I broke a small slip of his shell, took it with me as I jumped out of the tank and packed a small bag. I could hear the bubbles of his breath rise and fall; I stole out of the house and into the dark as he slept.

In the chill of the air, I brought the broken crust of him to my nose and smelled for the coast.

Eliza Smith was born in Los Angeles, but now she lives in Berkeley, which suits her better. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Spork and Emprise Review. She is a co-editor for Story Tapes.