by Amanda Hempel


I was the oldest and should have known better.
And, in the kind of truth afforded by lapsed decades,
I know that I did.
We were dangling chicken wings into the Chesapeake,
all the cousins, hoping for crabs. Male crabs.
The females, at that time of year, were forbidden,
as protected as my littlest cousin’s knees.

But one big bitch kept latching on, wasting time
and precious chicken.
After we hauled her up for the last time—
the last damn time, we swore—
feeling brave and unwatched,
we slapped her down on the dock.
She shuffled sideways toward the water,
much faster than we had imagined,
and I let the net fall back on top of her.
Not so fast. Not so damn fast.
I flipped her upside-down, the V on her shell infuriating.
And then with the other end of the pole I hit her,
like a wriggling hockey puck,
out as far as I could, over the long marsh grass
and the cheers of all the cousins.
The big bitch never came back, whether for distance covered
or fear, or having a cracked exoskeleton, we didn’t care.

Later that week one of the girl cousins found a seashell
as we stood in the ocean. I wanted to see it,
but she cried and clutched it, screaming that I would throw it.
I hadn’t wanted to, but she screamed and went on screaming,
because all the children knew that I could have.