One Redeeming Thing
Benjamin Ludwig

Then he remembered that she did one redeeming thing, one thing that would let him think of her as a person, a fellow human being. There had been a crab, a hermit crab she kept in her classroom for the students to study and care for. It had gotten sick. How do you know when a hermit crab is sick? It stops moving and starts to look pale. When she picked up its shell to examine it, she discovered that the black and white pepper vibrancy of its skin had turned gray. So she threw it in the garbage, knowing that the October night, which regularly conjured frost and skims of ice each morning, would take its life.

All day and evening she was uneasy with what she’d done. When she went to bed she couldn’t sleep. Finally at eleven thirty she woke him up, told him she was going back to school to find the crab. When did you throw it away? he asked. In the morning, before the kids came in, she said. Won’t the janitor have thrown the lining out? Probably, but I’m still going. To which he said, I’m going with you.

There was a dumpster out back behind the school, and that was where she found it. Hoisting through transparent garbage liners and broken yard sticks, tossing aside papier-mâché masks that had molded from too much condensation, it took her an hour to find the bag from her classroom He stood in the cold night, watching. You wouldn’t know what to look for, she’d said when he tried to help. You’ll only get in the way. The most he could do was stay with her and watch for skunks.

Then she found the right bag, and dragged it off the heap of others, and opened it on the pavement under the light. They were both astonished to find the crab, curled and tight within the stony spiral of its shell. But when she lifted its softened claw with the tip of a slivered pencil she found a parasite, a groping black worm twisting in its flesh. In horror and disgust she let the two creatures fall back into the bag together. Whether it would be worm or cold that took the crab’s life they would never know, but at least they knew the cause of the trouble, and that it was irreparable.

She sobbed and wept on the dark drive home. And for what? A crab that could be easily disposed of and replaced. There was beauty in that. That was how he could remember her, now, wrapped in the ever narrowing turn of human grief, the end of which he’d once thought left no room at all for sympathy.

Benjamin Ludwig lives in New Hampshire, where he is a middle school language arts teacher. He received the 2014 Clay Reynolds Prize for his novella, Sourdough, which is forthcoming from Texas Review Press in September (2014). His most recent work appears in Foliate Oak Literary Journal and Prime Number Magazine.