Blue Crabs

Alake Pilgrim


8. Killing Crabs


Uncle licks his knife under their backs, a gentle slide, jerks up with that same hand (the other holds them down). I hear the Krak! I see the blue-black ink flood down their flinching legs like oil on the stone jukking board. Grey ridges cry black tears into the bottom of the sink, flecks of white flesh fly up, the smell a mix of earth, saltwater, blood. I am afraid. Their many-jointed legs still fight against the tethers of green string. Something alive still animates their limbs and whispers: Strike and pinch. They bleed black until he washes them out, white flesh encased in bones,flat and curved shells joined together at the weakest spots. He breaks their bodies open, scrapes the spiky hairs from their legs.


If one is already still, curled up, we do not eat it. I’m not sure why— something about poison, a kamikaze death, the last revenge of crabs.


Sometimes I urge him on, jump up and down, squeal in terrified delight, Kill them, uncle! Kill them! Or in a whisper, no less loud, Uncle, kill them. Kill them now. Sometimes silence falls and a grassy breeze picks up the call of a lone semp crying for her loved one who just died. 


Did I see a bright sliver of regret in his eyes? Or was it just excitement for the cook that he would make—curry coating the slippery taste of my remorse.


24. Tobago Love


We are in his studio high above the bay. His masks devour the walls. His

statues wait for me. I turn around, they’re always there, eyeless, bigbreasted, longtongued.


We go out again to dinner, his new favorite spot. “Here’s my card,” he tells the chef-owner when she comes out. They discuss the crab soufflé, Frankfurt, fish broth in Bacolet at dusk. Her hands are small but tough. The blue veins in her temples pulse when he makes her laugh. Loneliness nibbles at the corners of her lips while I listen to the surf break and picture flying just above the sea’s dark face, the shwwwwww of the wind, the mist of spray.


That night he reaches for me as I search for sleep. I squirm away. He laughs, gets out of bed. The next day I wake up to an ashy aftertaste, more laughter. The downstairs neighbor has come up for their morning smoke. She throws a grin my way. “I hear you paint.” They watch me as I hem and haw. “It’s been months,” I whisper. I don’t know why.


A knowing look, she turns away. I hear a giggle, “new protégé,” and then

she’s gone. “I’m making breakfast,” he declares, not leaving room for silence. I am thinking of how to ask him. Then I smell them in the sink. They are dead, de-haired, cracked open. I feel the heave surge up before I get away.


That night he’s holding me when his cell phone rings. He jumps up, turns it off right away. A pause. I wait. “Love, I have to get back to Trinidad tomorrow to do some work. You can stay. Try to paint. I’ll be back in a few days.” I say nothing.


“And it’s time for you to get over this thing with crabs,” a whisper now,

knotting his fingers into the roots of my hair. I start to shake. “You’re such a child,” he says, cradles my face and covers it with slow kisses.


11. Dance doux doux dance


Black skin shivers in the moonlit rain. He pants, “Dance doux doux dance.”

Spin me stories from under your little dress, from your trembling insides, spin me stories of skirts flying up like wings. Sing for me. Sing a song of six pence a pocket full of rye, four and twenty black birds baked in pie. When the pie was opened the birds began to sing. Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?


He catches me while I am sleeping, the wolf. I could not stay awake. He grabs me up in his red red mouth, takes me outside in the rain, to the far end of the yard where no one is listening. I try to dream myself back to sleep, keep my eyes closed to the pain. But he bites down hard. Sing, he tells me. Sing. Sing sixpence while we dance. I feel sick. I cannot remember the song. I cannot remember my name.


“I’m your uncle,” he said when he first saw me, his brother’s only child. At

the funeral everyone stared at him, standing there still as stone, looking down into the hole where my parents had gone. I heard Miss Iva whisper to Miss Elaine, “He loved her too you know.” I thought they meant me. But that was strange. He had never visited us before. He just appeared before the funeral and said, “You’re my niece. Now your father gone, I will take care of you.”


And he did, until something in him grew wild, started watching me from the corners of his eyes, throwing itself against the bars of his mind. “You turnin’ more like her every day,” he cried, and the rage would boil up in his face like oil, disfigure him. That thing ate my uncle alive. Night after night I could hear it in the room next to mine, snarling and coughing up tears.


Now all of life tastes like the sweat on his lips. He sucks on my eyes when

they ask him why - says he will squeeze them out. I scream inside. But no one is listening. Tomorrow morning when the neighbors come to take me to Sunday School, he will pretend that it is all okay. But I know what waits for me inside his smile.


So every night now I sleep up in the pommerac tree, hiding from the moon, praying against rain. I hide and wait: a small body full of darkness, who still dreams of flying away with the sun.


24. The Painting


We met one night at an exhibition, in a gallery made as cold as a freezer,

sealed off from the punch-man, rumshop limes, doubles stands and stray dogs just a few streets away in St. James. The evening was all shoo-shoo and half-empty wine glasses, and hardly anyone really looked at the art. I stood in a corner pretending to study a painting, the first one I’d ever done—a lagahoo, shape-shifter, half wolf half man, red-toothed, clawed and grinning.


When I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned around, and there he was, walking toward me across the humming floor.


I learned later that he made love to her on the bed, changed the sheets, but did not move my overnight bag from behind the curtains. She kissed his nipples and behind his ears. He groaned. He whispered her name. He tasted her silky brown skin and thick black hair. He released her soft breasts from their satin bra. He put them in his mouth. She tasted like sea salt. She tasted like hot peppers and sweat. Years later and she’s still a guest in his home in Trinidad. A visitor. Whenever she asked if she

should bring more clothes, spend more than one night, he never told her “Yes.” He never told her “No.” With him, it was always “Tomorrow,” and she believed him, ate quarter truths. “I am your bright muse,” she emailed him once. He never told her otherwise. He never did tell her about the others.


This is what I learned too late. His habit of eating different women begins with a hunger and a gift. The hunger: a spirit that cannot keep still, a whirlwind trying to shake off its loneliness. The gift is more than his quick laughter, more than the power to make each woman feel special, like she is the only one. His gift is the sight. He can see into women’s hearts through their eyes, become what they think they want. He feeds them with hope. This is how he makes sure that he will never again be left alone by death, or any goodbye.


At first he is shocked by how easily their limbs bend open wide, how their

eyes grow limp as they clasp him between their thighs. It frightens him at first, but then he likes it—the smash, the salty aftertaste. Their cries become a thrill. They want the same thing, he tells himself. After all, they are the ones drawn to the smell of danger rising off his skin, drawn by the red glint behind his eyes.


Now they are something he must have. He searches the many corners of

women’s eyes, looking for the one who will float to him, unmoored, because she has found herself alone on this island and is hoping that someone will save her.


11. Lagahoo


The bare patch on my uncle’s head is hidden beneath a thin grey cloud. His lips are bald and probing, the taste of coins left in my mouth. There is no way out; no sight inside the cave of his chest, my face pressed up against the slimy points of his nipples. I hack for breath. One quick reprieve is all I get before I am pushed back under the line of his lap.


Someone is eating a little girl. Her head is impaled. Up and down and up

again. Now he is a lagahoo, coughing up rot-scented phlegm.


Who killed the chicken on the side of the road outside our house? Who

cracked its neck and left it there for all to see? He is a hunger, a trail of broken body parts nuzzled, gnawed, lured back for the pleasure of sucking life out of holes bit into bone.


I did not recognize him then. He was not my uncle. I thought I could feed him torn off pieces of myself and it would be enough. He dragged me out among the treeshadows releasing their rain in the night and storm. I fought but I could not cry out…. Come close, let me whisper this in your ear. There’s choking there, caressing out the air and stabbing lights out. A secret I alone could hear. A child. H-h-h-h-h-h-he said, h-h-h-h-h-h-he said….


I will try to tell you this. A wolf crept up to me at night, left me shredded,

bleeding into the ridges of the stone sink at the back of our house: the sink we bluesoaped clothes in, killed crabs in, black ink running out of their cracked skulls. The knife slid gently into their tiny spaces and pried up, while their legs strained frantically against the cords.


My insides leak out and the smell of a swamp rises up, brackish mud, taste of a metallic stream. I hear the break in his voice the snapping cord whipping up the air slaps of spit flying the switch curving up. The spit from his mouth slaps back and forth. The memory of sounds is enough. Krak! A bloody tongue wrapped in silence.


24. The Message


I wake up with the memory of him in my mouth, spit him out onto the sheets, stained. I bend down to pick up the covers from the floor. His phone falls out. I hesitate, then look through his missed calls. No numbers at all. I go to his email account, try several passwords with no success. I’m about to give up when I enter “blue crabs,” his favorite food, and it works. A stone sinks into my chest. The first message reads, “We need to talk. Katrina.” I type “Katrina,” click “Search” and read the messages one by one.


“I know about the others,” she writes. “The last one you were with called my house. She told me about your “friends,” gave me some numbers. I’m going to call them if you don’t come.”


I search the word “love” and their names appear.


This is what happens when a deep lie finds you: You are bent back; you are splintered open. You crawl on your belly trying to escape the salt trails left by his tongue. You run wall-eyed from side to side, the crooked leg, the cracked back, snap flap flack! Uururururururgghghghghg the slick gurgle slime twitch mutter utter utter nnno it’s not true. He has never lied to himself or to you. He has never encircled her waiting limbs and whispered sweet things into her wet, opening palms.


If I could have spoken I would have told him this: Before your hands felt like a lie; before the dome of your head came to rest between her longing bones; before you ate my soul and I tried to eat yours, only to find that it was gone; before I began to ask “What’s wrong?”; before you, I waited long.


14. The Gift


“Give me those last two bundles you have,” my uncle says. Points to the ones he wants. The boy selling them is dark chocolate and thin as a rod. His eyes meet mine. He is beautiful.


This boy hunts blue crabs under the full moon, when they creep cautiously out of their holes, cross the asphalt road, looking for sand, looking again for the sea. He gets the big ones after the rain, braves huge pinchers and cars bearing down in the dark. He dances around the crabs in silver light, knows just how to hover above them with the loop of string, gently lower it and snap! It tightens. He knows just how

to hold them. The jagged claw claps closed on empty air. He ties each crab and slips it quickly into his mother’s crocus bag. He lets all the little ones go free.


I squirm against the sticky vinyl seat: A forever car-ride. My uncle gets out and goes over to a little girl selling red and green plums across the street. He does not need to tell me to stay put. I am strapped in and burning in the heat. On the floor of the backseat crab eyes twitch from side to side, their joints flinch against tethers of green string. The boy smiles at me with amber eyes. He saunters over and drops a small cloth pouch into my lap. Then he flies away.


I open the pouch with wide eyes. It is full of folded bills—more than enough. My uncle is still haggling with the girl across the street. He is not looking at the car.


I clutch the money with one wet hand and with the other, crack open the door.


24. Swamp and Sea


I am in the mangrove swamp. Something that looks like a wild white dog has a crab on its back, splayed open. I hear the Krak!, feel the soft insides sucked out by that devouring spirit. My hands move over my stomach. The swamp smell clings like wet earth and blood. The air is dull. The dog looks up at me with clear red eyes and grins. At first I am afraid, then the rage boils up. A Sunday School verse comes unbidden to mind, up from the mud of fifteen years: You are not a child of the night or of the darkness. Walk as a child of light.


I call on the light and it comes down like a cutlass through the hanging

mangrove roots. The wild dog cringes back. I smell singed fur. It turns and slinks away slowly, red foam dripping from the corners of its mouth. I turn to go, still looking back, trip over a stone and fall. As soon as my face hits the black water, I wake up.


He is lying next to me, deaf to anything but the reverberation of his snoring. I take care to avoid his wineglass guarding dregs at the side of the bed. I step over his overflowing ashtray. I leave the room. I walk past the masks and statues, still watching me, even now. I gather up my rolls of canvas, brushes, paints, and take them down to my old car. I keep driving until the studio is out of sight.


On my way, I see a young man on the side of the road, selling crabs. His eyes look strangely familiar but I can’t be sure. I ask to buy all the bundles he has left. He says, “Take them,” and when he smiles, I know.


Minutes later, down by the sea, I cut each crab loose.


They crawl away one by one—their escape spilling sweet under my tongue.



Read next: "I Want to Kiss Myself, Good God" by Robert Lopez




Alake Pilgrim, the first place winner of our Summer Literary Seminars/Literarian Short Story Contest, is a Caribbean writer living in Trinidad & Tobago. She has an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from New York University. Her stories have twice been awarded the Commonwealth Short Story’s Regional Prize for Fiction. They have been shared on international radio by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and published in the Small Axe Journal. She was one of the emerging writers selected for a residency at the Cropper Foundation Writers Workshop and she was one of three New Talent readings at the Bocas Literary Festival. She is currently completing her first short-story collection, Blue Crabs and Other Stories.


This story was originally published in Issue 13 of The Literarian