Carry Your Own
by Jules Hogan
2019 Flash Contest Honorable Mention
My father raced hermit crabs at bars. Drunk men with nothing to spare bet one or two dollars on their favorite. Each crab had a painted shell with his number on the back—one through eleven. What the men didn't know was that my father had several different look-alikes of the same crab. He’d switch them out to keep the betters guessing.
“You don’t want to put too much of your luck into one horse,” he used to tell me. “Luckily, these crabs is cheaper than horses.” They scuttled along the racetrack, a painted piece of plywood. Sometimes a crab ran into a wall, and my father would pick it up and set it back on course. He spent hours doing this, in the scrap of grass between our trailer and the next.
I liked caring for the crabs, feeding them and cleaning the trays, soaking their little sponges in saltwater. They were charismatic, with spindly, black eyes and fat, red claws. I named them all, in secret. Neither my father’s training nor my care made a difference. If the hermit crabs noticed that they lived in a jerry-rigged coop in a trailer park in Cowpens, SC, they didn't make it known. Those crabs did all right, but they didn’t give a damn about racetracks.
When my mother found out that my father was one, sleeping with Nancy who worked at the Family Dollar, and two, in a serious amount of debt, she got into an outrage and burned down the crab cage.
That’s what my father called it, an outrage.
He wasn't home. My mother doused the whole thing with lighter fluid and tossed matches in, one by one until flames whipped at the sky. I didn't stop her. It was sad, sitting in the yard, listening to the snap and sizzle of all those little crab bodies, knowing there wasn’t a damn thing that could save them.
My mother left while the yard was still burning. She called someone and a few minutes later climbed into an old sedan. I stayed in the backyard. My father came home, smelling like cigarettes and perfume. I told him what happened. The fire had burned itself out.
“A damn outrage,” he said. He lit a cigarette and walked over to the pile of burnt metal and ashes. He kicked it a bit with his shoe. “Who gave her the right?” he asked.
“You did, Dad,” I said.
This was the first and last time my father hit me. He wrapped his arms around me, keening in loud sobs. “I’m sorry,” he kept saying, over and over. I rubbed his shoulder blades, where, if he were a hermit crab, he’d carry his home.
Published September 29th, 2019
Jules Hogan is a queer writer from the blue ridge mountains of South Carolina. Their stories and essays have been published in McSweeney's, the Sonora Review, the Raleigh Review, and other such wonderful publications. Currently, they live in the Arizona desert, where they're pursuing an MFA in fiction at ASU.
Ted Lott is an Artist, Designer and Craftsperson whose works reflect the history and relationships between Architecture, Material Culture and Contemporary Life. In the Migration Series, Lott explores the currency of citizenship and belonging in modern-day America. Building upon found suitcases, trunks, and luggage; he ruminates on how, as a nation of immigrants, our ancestors arrived on these shores, often with little more than they could carry, to create new lives, new homes, and new ways of belonging. His work can be seen at www.tedlott.com and @tedworks on Instagram.