Dinner conversation among the various diners in the restaurant stopped rather abruptly when my sister looked at me across the table and announced loudly “I catch a lot more crabs than you do!”
The blood drained from my parents’ faces and they stole surreptitious glances to see if the faux pas had been overheard. Momentarily stunned by my good fortune, it took me a moment to gather my wits and reply “Yeah, that’s what your friends at school said too.” A gentle wave of tittering wafted across the tables nearby and my sister’s face reddened. My father stared at his plate as if he were waiting for it to explode and my mother smiled at the faces turned our way. She had the smile of someone who accidentally passed loud and odious flatulence in an elevator.
We were actually talking about blue crab and our relative abilities to catch them using a ball of hamburger suspended on a string for bait and a long handled net to scoop them up with. Most people wouln’t think it, but in the water crabs can move fairly quickly, especially when their lives depend on it. I had just commented that a friend and I had a pretty good haul earlier in the day. In fact, my friend’s family was dining on the proceeds even as we spoke.
My sister and I led competitive lives. We were forever arguing and always working to best one another in just about everything. In spite of the win-by-default from the previous night’s victory at the restaurant, the next day found me armed with a bucket, a half pound of purloined ground beef from the freezer, and my trusty crab net. I hiked the mile or so down to the bridge that connected the causeway to our island with the mainland. It wasn’t actually our island, we shared it with twenty other residents and a beach and tennis club. Peering over the railing, I saw four decent sized crabs right off the bat. I knew there were more than that hiding in the rocks and beneath the strings of kelp undulating in the tidal current. I made short work of the four crabs and kept on going. In the course of a couple of hours, I had filled the two gallon bucket to overflowing, having to defeat some escape attempts by my victims. I had sixteen crabs in the bucket and my arm was sore from carrying their weight back to the house.
I took the crabs upstairs to where my sister’s room and mine sat one beside the other, barging into her sanctum to gloat and show off my bounty. My sister wasn’t there unfortunately. So I set the bucket of crabs down just inside her door where she would see them and suffer immediate humiliation when she stepped in her room. I then went off to play with my boat, and perhaps find one or more of my friends to pass the summer day. I found my frined Doug and before long, we were off to go follow the oyster boats around. They hated it when we did that and we took delight in the insults and threats they would hurl at us as we buzzed them. It’s not like they could do anything about us. At noon we were fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by Doug’s mom and then found Toby. We spent the afternoon water skiing.
I got home and put the boat away properly around five thirty in the afternoon, plenty in time for the family’s seven pm supper. I was laying on my bed in my room reading a Superman comic book when I heard my sister thump her way up the stairs. A few seconds later she screamed and began to make a kind of wailing noise punctuated by gagging. I opened my door and peered out to see her in the doorway to her room, bent at the waist, one hand cupping her mouth as she made heaving noises. I had totally forgotten about the bucket of crabs I’d dropped off some seven hours prior. During that time, many of the crabs had escaped the confines of the bucket and had wandered under the bed, into the closet and bathroom where they expired. A warm summer day, the eighty-something heat of the day had done its work and the various crustacheon cadavers were emitting a stench so awful as to be indescribable.
I was horrified by my error and demonstrated my deep empathy for laughing so hard I fell over, tyears blurring my vision. The smell coming from her room may have had a little something to do with that blurry vision as well. My dad, having heard the plaintive keening of my sister had dashed up the stairs to see what was wrong. He mnaged to assimilate the facts rather quickly and was none too pleased with me. “Why, for God’s sake, would you do that to your sister?” he asked, showing a bit of awe as he spoke.
“I’m sorry!” I said, trying desperately to stop my chortling. “I forgot all about the crabs. I dropped them off so she could see how many I caught and I forgot about them.” He looked at me and then at my sister. He grabbed me by my collar and yanked me into my sister’s room and demanded that I find every last crab and dispose of them. I went right to work, admiring how the little bastards had been so creative in choosing places to die. I found one on a closet shelf that was two feet off the floor. It took me about ten minutes to locate them all and toss them off the cliff in front of the house, returning them to the sea that they might complete the cycle of life. Although both of my parents brought a plethora of cleaning solvents to bear, the pine scent of the cleansers were no match for the iodine and ammonia tinged odor of dead fish. For the next week, the poor girl smelled like ocean creatures causing her friends to start calling her “The Tuna.”
From the outset I had luck on my side when it came to crabs and my sister. From her blurted claim at the restaurant to her odiferous quarters to her friend’s chiding, I’d definitely won the skirmish. This was one of the very few times that ever happened. Eighteen months her junior, most of my life as a child was destined to follow in her honors garnering, cotillion filled popularity and accomplishments. Of course, in winning I lost, I was condemned to lawn and garden work so long as the slightest wiff of festering seafood was detectable in my sister’s room. It was in the third week of my indenture that my mother caught my sister waving a dead fish around in her room to maintain the odor of fish, and in turn, my sentence to chores. I was released from my bondage and got to look injured as my sister delivered the mom-enforced apology to me for her deviousness.
In that same year my sister sprouted, rising to the six foot height she would live with the rest of her life. The nickname ‘Tuna’ was forgotten in favor of a new moniker: due to her large size her friends started calling her ‘Horse’ and made whinnying noises on her approach. She took it all in stride, her friends meant nothing by it. That’s just the way of cliques and the good natured chiding they inflicted on one another. Of course, they didn’t see her when she was alone and her tears flowed from the caustic meaning of the taunts. Nor did they see me trying to cheer her up. Competition was one thing, but hey, this was my sister.
She took great delight as I told her of the mischief my friends and I wrecked on her name calling friends. She was cheered hearing that I’d managed to lock a number of crabs into the trunks of her high school chum’s cars. After all, everything must go full circle, just like the bucket of crabs I’d so proudly left in search of my sister’s approval on a hot summer day.