Strategies for Being No. 1

Summer, 2019 / No. 43

The night he left, the claw appeared, protruding just above her left elbow, where her hand had been. It was red and lobster-like, tiny teeth-like spikes between the upper and lower pincers. Her friends said they could not see the lobster claw, even though she felt its bulk bump against the walls of their houses, saw the black marks the impact left behind.

She had told him she didn’t want to have sex, but he pushed her to the bed and called her a slut and her underwear was sticky with mucus and she asked him to hold her arms down. She remembers he squeezed her left elbow too hard, but she liked that too.

The claw swings heavily by her side as she walks to buy groceries, forcing her shoulder to slump, so that she walks with a slouch.

As a child on a rock beach, she’d gathered crabs in a large white painter’s bucket she filled with seawater and a brown tangled nest of seaweed. Some died, tiny bodies floating to the surface of the pail. And she remembers diving, eyes open into the water, pulling through a gold-brown mass of kelp, searching for more. She remembers the salt on her skin.

Kate Barss is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Catapult, The Hairpin, and the Awl. Last updated summer, 2019.