Crabs is the first short story I wrote in a series asking how music influences my writing. It was written while listening to Big Star’s #1 Record/Radio City.
Crabs. They sit on the bottom of the tank and make it look easy. Their tough skin and rough shells don’t give even under tens of thousands of gallons of water. Under that immense pressure and without air. And they just sit there like lazy pieces of crap. But I’m sure their calm. These crabs have never had a bad day in their lives.
Crabs don’t get angry. Crabs don’t get lonely. Honestly. Where did “crabby” come from. Crabs aren’t crabby. These crabs don’t have anything to want for. Their lives are set as long as people keep coming to the aquarium.
I tap on the glass between our worlds. They don’t even care. I stare at them bathing in their blue heaven.
My radio crackles on and a man’s garbled voice tells me that C block is secure and that he’s headed off. I give him a quick, friendly acknowledgment. I walk out of the room and lock it up.
In the next exhibit I catch my reflection in the glass of an electric eel tank. A clean shaven man with enough hair and wrinkles a little uncommon for his age looks back. Big gritty bags under the eyes. The grey blue uniform reminds me of all the filth I have to clean. Filth the American middle class left me personally because what is life without some brown smeared on the wall.
I keep staring. There’s something in my eyes that I haven’t seen before. A question.
I think it’s that I haven’t looked at myself in a while. I haven’t stopped to see a sunrise in a long time.
It’s weird at a time like this that I suddenly think about a little black notebook I used to have. No, wait. I still have it. It’s somewhere around here.
That book is all the way from back in high school. Got it from a friend. My memory sucks.
It wasn’t a diary. Nothing in it was quite fact. Though calling what I scribbled fiction would be insulting to the form. It was back when I thought I could write. I’d transcribe a lot of the adventures Rodrigo, Matthew, Stephen and I used to have when we played D&D. I almost bust out laughing, but I remember where I am.
I walk over to the light well in my office and start shutting off the lights one by one. There’s still more to do, but I’d rather do it in the dark.
I wonder what I’d think about those simplistic story lines and the non-characters that filled them. Stephen always forgot he was supposed to be a refined elf out of his element. Most notably when he decided to stab the prince of the kingdom randomly while the rest of them were trying to help him solve what had happened to said prince’s father. He wasn’t popular around the table the next few weeks.
There’s no way those scribbles held up in any way. There was other stuff though. I remember typing a few manuscripts, but they were garbled nonsense. Stephen had read them. He said they were good. No one else read them. No one else really knew they existed.
And after high school? There was that coffee shop on Stark that I used to get tea at. Man I used to scribble away in there. That place was great. They never played any damn radio, and there were always cute girls to steal glimpses at. Is that place still around?
I can’t even remember what I wrote. Or what I thought I was doing. Where did I think that was going?
Not this job. No, not here.
The key ring feels hot against my fingers. Better finish up.
Under the dim skylight’s glow, I lock up the remaining rooms and scrub down the bathroom. I’m well suited to that kind of thing, so it doesn’t take long.
As I take off my latex disposable gloves, I get a call on my phone. It’s Robbie.
“Hello?” I say tossing my gloves at the garbage bin and missing.
“Dad? Are you running on time?”
Crap. I pick up the gloves and then dunk them into the garbage hitting my hand against the bin. That’ll probably bruise.
“No. Sorry. I’m almost out of here.”
“K. Dad you don’t have to come.”
“I said I was gonna come right?”
“Dad. You hate concerts.”
Sweaty people banging into you all night with subpar music? What’s not to love.
“Dad I’ll just go…”
I swallow. I’m being rejected by my son and it doesn’t even feel weird or wrong.
“Go do something you want to do,” said Robbie. “I’ll be fine.”
I walk into my office and fumble around with my key ring for a minute.
“Oh. Yeah. You’re right. Have fun, and don’t do anything stupid.”
He hangs up, and I stare at the phone for a second. Then I find the key to the second drawer of the desk. The key clicks in and out slides the desk. There’s a little black notebook buried under a trash heap of expired coupons and unopened letters. I take it in my hand. It’s so light.
I open it up and see a stick figure drawing I did in high school. There’s no telling what it was supposed to be.
A smile creeps on to my lips as I flip through the pages quickly. I need somewhere to look this over. I ask my phone to find me all the coffee shops in the area.
I’m not a crab. I need this.