Soft Shell by Eric Bosse


Brad’s uncle shipped a crate of Maryland blue crabs overnight to Colorado for Brad’s graduation party. Brad, who did not host parties, brought the crate to George’s house, and six or eight of us sat around George’s kitchen table drinking cheap beer, dipping crab legs in butter, and rolling them in Old Bay Seasoning. As usual, Teri was the only woman. She wore a bikini top instead of a shirt. Her new navel piercing was the center of attention. She laughed a lot and dripped butter down her chin. The tanned skin on her sternum glistened as she shifted in my lap.
     George kept dancing from the table to the big pot of water on the stove, lip-synching “The More You Ignore Me (the Closer I Get)” with a crab leg for his microphone. He danced like Morrissey did in the video. It was beautiful. George’s ex-girlfriend lived in Ohio, and he kept a pompadour haircut with sideburns.
     “Again! Again!” Teri shouted, and George went to the stereo, clicked to the start of the song, and did it once more. And it was still beautiful.
     My friend Ian, from freshman year, sat on the counter and didn’t eat as much as the rest of us. He didn’t say much, either. I was the one he knew. His brown hair fell over his eyes, and he kept wrapping the loose strands behind his ears. He sat opposite of Teri and kept staring at her breasts. I didn’t mind this very much, but wondered if I should.
     “Hey, Ian,” I said. “You still living in that old queen’s house, rent-free?”
     Brad hooted as if I’d cut Ian with the blade of my wit, but it was true: Ian rented a room from an old gay dude, his former high school librarian. I had long suspected Ian gave the guy blowjobs for rent, but Brad couldn’t have known that.
     “His name’s Foster,” Ian said. “He’s a good guy.”
     “That’s right,” I said. “Foster.”
     And then Ian knew I was watching him watching Teri, so he opened another beer and went to the back yard. Three songs later, I grabbed two crab legs and a fresh beer and followed him. I found Ian sprawled on the sidewalk that cut through the yard, past the garage, to the alley. He was on his back, staring up at the sky. A bank of clouds swaddled the moon. Pearl Jam songs blasted from two different windows in the old houses nearby.
     “Sorry,” I said.
     “Don’t be,” he said. “You didn’t mean anything.”
     “How’s it feel to have a diploma?”
     “Don’t know,” he said. “They let me walk, but it turns out I didn’t fulfill the mathematics requirement.”
     “So you’re staying here this summer?”
     “Going to Alaska,” he said. “I think I hate Pearl Jam.”
     “What’s in Alaska?”
     “Moira from the computer lab.”
     “The stripper?”
     “Yup,” he said. “She reads Nietzsche.”
     I handed him one of the two crab legs I had brought from the kitchen. We tapped them together like wine glasses, twisted the shells, and sucked out the meat.
     “Better with butter,” he said.
     “Stay away from Teri,” I said. “She’s mine.”
     Ian bit his lip. I expected him to get pissed or promise he’d stay away from her. But he said nothing, and we drank our beers under the glow of the moon until the screen door banged open.
     “There you are!” Teri came over and straddled me. “It’s cold out here,” she said, and lit a cigarette. Her legs felt sweaty. “You guys are quiet. What’s up?”
     Ian reached for her cigarette, took a drag, and handed it back to her.
     “I want more crab legs,” he said.
     I tried to sort out how that might be a message to me. Or to Teri. Ian stood up and went inside. Teri told me she was done with crabmeat for the night. She pulled up my shirt and kissed my stomach and took me upstairs to her apartment, where she ordered me to hold still and bite her neck while she moaned beneath me and eventually came. When she finished, she told me I could do whatever I wanted to do to her. But I had no idea back then what “whatever” meant. I only knew it was my turn. I thought about Nietzsche. I imagined life on the ocean floor off the coast of Maryland. Teri had a four-post bed without a canopy. The posts were black and made of metal, but they weren’t smooth. The paint felt cold and gritty when I reached out to keep myself from falling.
     
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Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes, a story collection published by Ravenna Press in 2011. His work has also appeared in The Sun, Mississippi Review, Zoetrope, World Literature Today, Wigleaf, and The Collagist, with more coming from FRiGG and Fried Chicken & Coffee. He teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma, and he’s rolling out pieces of his next book–a humorous guide to college writing–on his new blog: Always Wear a Citation!