The more time we spent working in our Vieques garden the more we realized just how intertwined land and sea can be on a Caribbean island.
One particularly hot afternoon I was unspooling the hose to water the plants at the far end of the terrace when I spotted an unfamiliar sight—a large shell stuck to the exterior wall of the house.
Who put it there, I wondered, and how did they attach it? Idly I reached over to pull it off—but it wouldn’t budge.
Then, very slowly, it began to move.
Okay, now I was intrigued.
As I watched its glacial progress up the wall it dawned on me that I was looking at a hermit crab–and that, unbelievable as this might seem, it was actually trying to “flee the scene.”
Its presence on our porch, a couple of miles from the ocean, boggled my mind. Very cool.
But what to do about it?
I certainly didn’t want to hurt or upset it in any way, but at the same time I didn’t want it crawling through the window and attaching itself to my face, Alien-style, at two in the morning.
So I pried it very carefully from the wall and, after taking an admiring look at its bright red body and the way it had arranged itself so snugly in its stolen home…
…I ambled downstairs and laid it in the thick grass in our side garden, crab-side down.
The fact that it didn’t scuttle away immediately didn’t worry me—as I had already seen, it was incapable of anything remotely resembling “scuttling.”
But when it was still loitering in the same spot an hour later I became moderately concerned. And when it was still there at dusk I became downright distraught.
Had I committed crabicide?
Racked with guilt all evening, I decided not to tell Michael what I’d done. I felt sure he’d call the Vieques branch of PETA and have me taken away in cuffs.
I was just glad he didn’t suggest shellfish for dinner.
And when I rushed to the balcony the next morning I was hugely relieved to see that my crab friend had disappeared. Clearly it had found its bearings and discovered some new surface to cling to.
With a contented sigh, I stumbled back inside to pour my first cup of coffee. All was right in the crab world.
But after a few sips an even more ominous thought occurred to me: what if a dog had eaten it?
And although I couldn’t actually imagine any creature making a meal of such a hard and intractable creature, you never knew. When you think about it, lobsters don’t look all that enticing at first glance either.
So of course five minutes later I was roaming the sideyard in my flip flops searching for my lost crustacean. It didn’t help matters that I had begun to think of him as “Mr. Krabs” from Sponge Bob Squarepants.
When Michael wandered out onto the balcony a half-hour later I was still looking in vain for my new pet.
“Okay,” Michael said in his most patient voice, regarding me with something resembling pity. “I give up. What the hell are you doing?”
It occurred to me to lie, but what story could I concoct that would be remotely feasible? “I’m looking for a crab,” I admitted.
Michael lit a cigarette and exhaled in the early morning light. “You might have better luck at the beach.”
I thought about trying to explain but it was useless. “Good idea,” I said. After a while he went inside, no doubt to call my therapist.
A few minutes later I found Mr. Krabs clinging to the far side of our avocado tree.
If I didn’t know better I would have sworn he waved a claw lazily in my general direction.
Whether it was a greeting or an accusation, it’s impossible to say.