IMITATION CRABMEAT by Nathaniel Duggan

IMITATION CRABMEAT by Nathaniel Duggan

Dad spends Christmas Eve on the beach killing green crabs, before he returns home to turn on all the holiday lights. The house flashes and dazzles like a landing strip. The sky, meanwhile, looks foreclosed.

“You should’ve seen the fuckers,” he tells me, pinching his fingers to imitate claws. “Some of them big as your face.”

He has no heat, furniture, or future, so we sit in lawn chairs in the living room, our breath glowing like neon. His expression is sour-smug: he is a man who knows his own expiration date. When he dies shortly thereafter—without complication—I bury him in the garden and discover the action figures he stole from me during my youth to prove important points. There they all are tucked an inch below the soil, dirt-clotted and tangled in rhododendron roots.

I crack a beer, plotting my next move.

I spend maybe a few too many years sitting alone in dark living rooms at 3AM.

People claim I approach them with slanted intentions. I am between jobs and lovers. I live as an alleyway, defined mostly by the clutter and the things I keep apart.

For the sake of staying busy, I steal my last friend’s wife. The friend himself cannot be reached for comment; he has long since scuttled off to some forgotten corner of Alaska. As for the wife, she drinks.

This works out pretty well until it doesn’t. We drink too much too early, spend most of our days passing out. Our lives live outside and without us, and we are perpetually slumped against the kitchen cabinets or else spread-eagled on the bathroom floor, piecing together where we last left off: usually the entangling business of her bra.

Sleep scrubs her skin as pale and thin as a bedsheet. Her eyes close into her face. She fades, recedes into the background of herself, until all that’s left is a mapped suggestion of a person, pure theory and postulation.

On the other hand I grow puffy, weighted with my somnolence. I develop certain unsociable tendencies, namely clamming and a technique of eating Chinese food by the fistful. By the time I notice her absence, she’s already gone.

What do you do with so much nothing? Me, I leave the clams to die in the basement. Whole pounds of them, just slowly dying. They make little screaming noises throughout the night, but it’s one of those things like lobsters: you’re not sure if they’re really screaming or if it’s just the water compressing inside their shells or whatever.

Lately the rum I drink has taken on the plastic tang of action figures.

Lately my heart is the size of a face.

Midsummer I set up Christmas lights. I drape the bannisters, hedges, drainpipes. The bulbs throb sickly, pulsate underfoot like crabs on the march. This accomplished, I stumble into the front yard, chug the last of my cocktail. The house swims in my vision, so lucid I can’t look at it straight on. For a while I feel that I am expecting the arrival of something, until I realize I am expecting to have finally arrived somewhere else.

Nathaniel Duggan is a former mattress salesman. His work has appeared previously in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and New World Writing, among others. He lives in Maine.

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