“Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Toby was screaming and shaking his left leg as he stood in water up to his knees. I was bent over, digging in the sand where I saw air bubble up under the gentle lapping water’s edge, a sure sign of a clam below. I stood erect, clam fork in hand and looked at my friend and tried to figure out whether he was playing around or something really was hurting him. I mean, it was only a foot of water, it’s not like there could have been a shark or something. Not that we ever saw sharks in Long Island Sound. I’m sure there were sharks in the water –but they must have favored the deep water or had more of a taste for Long Islanders than we Connecticutters. “Aarrrgh!” he yelled and then took three hopping steps to the beach. There was a blue crab gripping his foot.
I ran over and grabbed the crab and tried to pull it off, but it wouldn’t let go and Toby just yelled louder about it. So I picked up a rock and started smacking the crab with it. I ended up crushing the crab, which even in death kept a tight grip on Toby’s foot. I tried to pry open the crab pincers, but my hands just weren’t strong enough. That thing had a heck of a grip. Our dingy was laying upside down up the beach a bit and I ran up to it and yanked one of the oar locks from the gunwale. It looked like a ‘U’ sitting on top of an ‘I.’ I ran back and shoved the ‘I’ part between the pincers and was finally able to prise them apart, freeing Toby from the nightmare grip. The bruise on his foot was immense and ugly purple. Toby sat down and we stared at the damage, admiring it as boys do. I took care not to notice the tear that rolled down Toby’s cheek. I mean, what are friends for?
After a couple minutes, Toby picked up the rock I had killed the crab with and smashed it into the mangled corpse of the crab until it could only be described as chum. This was one of those sleights that couldn’t go unpunished, so Toby and I decided that we’d go get some hamburger and our long poled crab nets and head over to Brackish Bridge to catch some of the offending crabs relatives. With malice aforethought, we would provide a seafood option for dinner. Toby limped and winced with each step so I had him ride my bike which he could pedal somewhat painlessly as I walked along beside him. About halfway to the bridge Toby said his foot hurt too much to go on, and said he wanted to go see if his mom could do something to make it feel better. I readily agreed after looking at his foot and seeing that it has swollen up rather dramatically.
Mrs. Hubner took one look at Toby’s foot and screamed, and then wrapped him in her arms and hugged him to her saying “my poor baby” over and over again. Toby finally pulled away and asked if she could do anything about how much it hurt. She led him down the steps to the driveway, put him in the car, and drove off, leaving me standing in the driveway. I guessed she was taking him to the clinic. My guess was correct, Toby explained, when he called on the phone a couple hours later. Turned out the stupid crab had actually broken a bone in his foot and he was the proud possessor of a cast on his foot. I was invited to come over and be the first to sign it. When I got there, Mrs. Hubner was wringing her hands and complaining to her husband how terribly dangerous the shoreline was. Mr. Hubner said “now Margaret, it’s just part of being a boy to get the occasional bruise,” and that seemed the end of that discussion. Mrs. Hubner was always sure that we kids were all going to succumb to some awful thing in the ocean, and while God knows we tried to accommodate her, we survived anyway. I took notice that from then on he wore his sneakers when we were mucking about the shoreline. I was giving him a hard time about it a few weeks later when I stepped on a piece of broken glass that caused me to get twelve stitches. After that we both wore shoes as we challenged fate in the shallows.