Craig could only see the crabs through the hole in his shirt, right at the crook of his left arm. If he tried to look at them through the neck sleeve, over his shoulder, or through the wrist sleeve, up his forearm, he saw only his arm. He tried to reach into the hole to pull them out, but they would only dig their sharp legs into his flesh and pinch his fingers with their long pincers. He tried to shake them out, but that did no good, either. Their oddly shaped carapaces scraped up and down his bicep and forearms with the motion, and made a godawful scraping sound, like the grinding of teeth.
He knew he could not take off his shirt, or it would all be over for him.
Craig could not remember when exactly the crabs had proliferated inside the crook of his arm. It could have been the other day, when, at work, Benny had the gall to steal a good table of tippers from him at the restaurant. When Craig confronted him about it, Benny said Craig should have been quicker and more attentive because the family was becoming restless about their drinks. Craig talked through his teeth, fuming and saying that Benny had asked Craig to look after Benny’s table while Benny was taking a leak. Benny’s table had been an old man who complained about everything and wouldn’t stop complaining, even as he shuffled out the door, recounting the long personal history he had with the restaurant. Yeah, the crabs pinched at Craig’s arm bad as Benny split the ten dollar tip that was rightfully Craig’s.
Or maybe it was when Craig when to pick up his girlfriend a few weeks ago and he saw Rafael flirting with her out on the sidewalk while she waited for Craig. It wasn’t so much that Rafael was smiling his sleazy, dimpled smile with his slicked-back black hair— it was that Lily was smiling back so hard, her skull and eyeballs about to pop out of her face. Lily had never smiled at Craig like that. The crabs knew this too, and they scurried sideways and pinched and set his nerves on fire. On the ride home Lily said Rafael was “Just a friend”. The way she said it was as unabashed an admission as if she had said, “We fucked by the dumpsters on our lunch break, and I came three times.”
Or maybe the crabs colonized his arm a month ago, at the intersection, while he was on his way to work when some asshole in a delivery van ran a redlight and struck Craig’s Prius and spun his lightweight car around like a dreidel. The delivery truck was not even scratched, but the Prius— and Craig’s neck— was all bent out of shape. What was worse, Craig went to the hospital, after the paramedics insisted, and came out with a bill that his insurance company, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company fought tooth and nail to refuse to pay. Craig had been fighting with the two of them over his bills since the wreck. The wreck had also put a crimp in his love life. Whenever he and Lily tried to get intimate his neck would start hurting, or his back, and she would leave the bedroom in an angry puff, going to watch tv in the dark living room. He would take an Ibuprofen and fall asleep. One night, however, he had gotten up to go pee and had heard Lily talking to someone on her cell-phone. She crooned and giggled and was talking like a schoolgirl in love. When Craig went to wash his hands near the sink, he felt a searing pain in his neck. Looking up in the mirror he saw a Red King crab clutching the base of his skull with its large pincer. When he reached for it, the crab was gone, but the ache wasn’t. It spread.
In fact, the crabs spread all over him. They pinched him at the most inconvenient of times and places. While walking down the street, when someone bumped into him, or when receiving the wrong food at a fastfood restaurant. There were crabs behind his ears, and under his tongue, and folded up under his armpits. There were small crabs pinching at the nerves in his eyes, holed up in his eye sockets, and antagonized with eye strain. There was even a crab somewhere scuttling about in the chambers of his heart. He knew he would never be able to remove that one. Its spiky crustacean body scuttled restlessly as if the very beat of his heart set it off in a fury.
And he didn’t ever remove his shirt. He kept it on, even as it began to stink. He knew it had to remain, or all else would fall apart. It was the first thing Lily had bought for him when they had first started dating. It kept everything together, even as the holes in it grew larger and multiplied, revealing crabs in every ragged aperture.
It seemed to Craig that the crabs became worse during certain activities. Work, for instance, exacerbated them, sending them scrambling and pinching and poking him in various places. Driving in heavy traffic, too, made them worse. Having arguments with Lily really intensified them.
And then, one day, everything escalated. He was late for work because of a traffic jam, and Lily wasn’t returning his calls, and Benny kept taking smoke breaks during the busiest times of the day, then returning to poach Craig’s tables. Craig cussed Benny in front of customers, was reprimanded, then cussed his manager, was subsequently fired, and walked down the road in a fury, leaving his dented Prius in the parking lot. He walked all the way down to Lily’s place of work— an artisan café shop—and saw her flirting with Rafael while on break again. Craig felt an awful pain shoot up and down his back. Gritting his teeth, he went to a window of a nearby building and stooped over, raising his hood. In the faint reflection off the window he saw a giant snow crab sprawled across his back, its extraterrestrial head rising as its two eyes stared blankly at him from atop their stalks. His anger flared and went right up to Lily and Rafael and, punched the flabbergasted sleazeball right in his perfectly gleaming grin. Lily shrieked, further angering the crabs that scurried all over Craig. He slapped her across the face, then left down the street. As was his luck that day, the police came by fairly swiftly, demanding that he put his hands on his head and kneel on the ground. Instead, Craig lifted his shirt and flung it off, dissolving into a cast of crabs that scuttled sideways down the street.