At Kenyon for a literary hybrid workshop, I wrote and created books to contain my work. The story below is around 250 words, and the first two lines come from the 20 “first lines” I submitted before arriving. The book (pictured) was a simple quarto, designed to demonstrate how formats change readers’ experience. In this case, turning one page into eight pages meant the first page inside was right side up and second upside down. The cover is outside and the two center pages. To read the book, you flip back and forth first to last pages—through the center—then turn over to read the second and fifth pages.
Don’t follow? Exactly. Some happy accidents occurred—the story talks about middles, for instance. However the account makes a little more sense (but only a little) in this version…
“WILL THE CRABS GET US?” she asks.
In any alphabetical list, I’m almost always in the middle—not keen enough for A nor bold enough for Z… and blending in.
You won’t find your way out of any list without meeting others as mild or anxious or lost.
“The crabs will not get us,” I say, “if your hand goes near them they pull into their shells… and they have no claws.”
But they do, narrow as straws and barbless, useful for lifting the sea’s leftovers to mouth.
Appendages as implements.
Shells put you a moment from solitude. Though I’ve seen only shells’ front halls, their walls are shiny eggshell with a blush of azure and iodine.
“I need a smoother, tighter sky,” I might say.
She won’t reach into the tank. The crabs amble into and out of cracks in the rocks. The exhibit burbles with pumps. Everyone else talks, and some grab a crab, call it, coax it to emerge. They name their prey, but, when nothing summons the resident, they drop it into the pool again.
I close my eyes against the splash and picture the crabs as they pendulum against water’s resistance—flat stones, bubbles rising as the last air in their homes escapes.
“They’re ugly anyway.” she says.
We’re no company to each another. The shadows of this space leave us alone, and voices nearby—but not here—pause for laughter. We leave together, neither first nor last, pushed and pulled by the current of another moment ebbing.