I slink into Petco in what I hope is an unobtrusive manner, but they spot me immediately. I see the checkers whisper between themselves, and exchange glances, “it's the crab killer lady.” I try hiding my plastic bag, full of ice and dead hermit crabs behind my back as I play for time so that I can practice my spiel again. [translation = string of lies] ‘I have no idea why they are dead,’ = true, ‘they have been showered with love,’ = too true, ‘they have been fed, watered and cleaned regularly,’ = true,
‘I accept the blame,’ = lie [translation = denial]
We start off badly.
“Why are they frozen?” she barks.
“Because I couldn’t get back here on the day that they died and I didn’t want them to smell.” [translation = the petrol consumption expended to return them in a timely manner was far to extravagant as it is my responsibility to save the "planet."]
“Well of course they’re dead if you froze them!”
“I only froze them when I was quite sure that they were already dead.”
“How did you know they were dead?”
“Because they smelled terribly and they’d fallen out of their shells.”
I shift from one foot to the other wondering if I should have attempted mouth to mouth resusitation?
“They can’t live without their shells!” She glares at me. [translation = I feel like a shell thief] Why is she being so beastly to me? Can’t she tell that I am already buried in a compost heap of guilt? [translation = for reasons too numerous to detail] I suddenly have an impulse to weep at my own ineptitude. I blink hugely, hoping the my dirty bifocals will bail me out.
“I can’t let you have any more if you keep killing them.” [translation = she said it much more politely than that]
“Perhaps you have some ideas about what we might be doing wrong?” I whisper, hoping that she doesn’t hit me with the bag of ice, shells and dead hermit crabs.
“Well,” she examines the bag, “have you been feeding them?”
“Gave them water, and salt water?”
“Clean out the tank?”
“Daily.” [translation – as if I haven’t already got enough to do]
“Are they in a draft?”
“No. They’re in the aquarium. I mean…..it’s not drafty where they are in the middle of the dining room table.”
She looks at me in the face for the first time, “on the dining room table did you say?”
“Yes. Well it’s the only table we have actually.” I have no idea why I say this. For some unaccountable reason her demeanour changes 100% Suddenly we are pals. She is a library of advice, tips and suggestions. She asks me many more questions, relevant ones, ones other than the feed/water/cleaning questions more suitable for a five year old, speech delayed or otherwise. The other checker comes over, the checker to whom I brought the first set of dead bodies to just a couple of days ago. The checkers convene and compare notes: ‘she’s the one who LOST the hermit crab last week!’ says the second checker as they both turn to look at me with stupification written all over their countenances.
“Lost! Repeats the first checker. I splutter to my own defence, “but it turned up, we found it,” I squeak in case they now both turn against me.
“Was it dead? Is it one of these ones?” she asks shaking the bag in front of her with a vice like grip.
“No, it’s the other one. It was alive, I mean, er, it still is alive, it’s called Horace.” Why did I say that out loud?
“Horace? Why Horace?”
“Er, Horace the Hermit Crab. It’s sort of goes together don’t you think?” Why did I say that out loud?
She tests my veracity. [translation = am I lying?] “What are these ones called?” she demands, shaking the bag.
“Oh, that’s Dotty, because of the dots on his shell of course and the other one is Infinity.”
“Did you say Infinity?”
“I did, rather unfortunate under the circumstances.”
“Er, well, that he’s sort of um .....dead, he didn’t live for ever.”
The checkers look at one another and then back at me.
“Hermit crabs don’t live for ever,” she says kindly, her hand brushing my forearm. I suddenly feel as if I have been transported into a parallel universe or possibly a dream, for some reason that I am unable to fathom. [translation = I expect "normal" when I am outside my own home]
The checkers get down to business. [translation = find the cause of the carnage]
“That’s gotta be it!” They concur.
“Really? Are you quite sure?” I ask incredulous.
“Yup. They need a heat pad and a heat light, they’re just too darned cold.”
“Cold? But this is California. The ambient temperature is over 80 degrees, nearer 90 degrees in our house.” I pull my ropey old cardigan closer in against the chill of the air in the store. They look furtively at one another and mutter something that sounds like ‘air conditioning?’
I am persuaded to purchase several additional appliances and devices as an investment in the future longevity of the Hermit crabs that they now permit me to buy. [translation = blackmail] The checker staples the receipts, refund duplicates and other relevant paper work together. [translation = dossier on deviants] I leave the shop with alacrity. [translation = a five minute purchase exchange has taken the best part of a hour]
A beat a hasty retreat, anxious to return home prior to my children, so that I can play the shell game and deceive them that no-one is dead. [translation = "OCD about mortality or the lack thereof"] This makes my other life, "here" seem oh so simple.