The Maiden Voyage
They turn her into Jean Seberg so many years later, but in fact, she has always been the King of the Hermit Crabs. See those ships? Those are her ships. She uses them to go crabbing along the eastern shore. But we don't care about your crabbing business, they protest. There is nothing ethereal, to us, about your black hair sulking under a fisherman's hat. There is something witchy about your naked shoulder, perhaps. Your naked shoulder under the stars. You can keep that. But the rest? Well, that troubles us. We understand only the fires we start ourselves.
Your fire is different. Your fire guides ships. We were told that was not what fires were for.
They call the Hierophant to deal with her. The Hierophant is a liquor-sodden lump dragging himself by the stomach onto the asphalt, tailed by his one faithful companion, that irrepressible twin. They have matching haircuts. The Hierophant likes to shout things like, "you're doing it all wrong!" and "I bet you didn't even read the links I sent you!" When he says these things, his companion can't help but nod in agreement, causing his monkish fringe to flap furiously in the salty breeze.
The people in the village worship a blue woman. Remarkably, the blue woman doesn't do anything but cry and talk about her son. She holds her son in her lap and looks absolutely miserable.
Her son is a 33-year-old social worker who never asked for any of this. He never asked to be the center of attention. All he did was try to help when help was needed. And what did he get for his kindness? A lot of weirdos following him around, and a bomb. His mother shakes a fist at The Hierophant, whom she believes is responsible for sending the unwanted gift. Stop using my poor son to justify your bad decisions, she pleads. He pretends not to hear, turning his attention instead to the AA brochure Miss Cathy gave him before he had her wheeled out. The King of the Hermit Crabs calls him a funny noodle. He tries to set her on fire.
Anne Hutchinson gets a restraining order against the Hierophant. When he tries to ask her why, she does not provide sufficient explanation. That is why the Hierophant is skeptical of her reasoning capabilities.
On Saturday, The Hierophant buys another bomb.
Why do you need a bomb, asks the King of the Hermit Crabs.
Respectfully, my dear, why do you think I need a bomb? Everyone else has one.
Where, she asks.
They are hidden bombs, says The Hierophant. Now leave me alone or I will press charges.
Why, what did I do, she asks.
Nothing yet, but I know you will say I did something fishy, and then I will have to explain my mysterious ways, says The Hierophant.
Well, you did set me on fire, she says.
That was ages ago, and it was because you were possessed, says the Hierophant.
I wasn't possessed, she says.
That is exactly what a possessed person would say, says the Hierophant.
With a long sigh as pointed as it is weighted with resignation, the King of the Hermit Crabs leaves the Hierophant alone to work on his sermon. The Hierophant watches her float away, through the wall of his study, past the cows grazing in the field. When he is sure she is gone, he gives a short and jolly hoot. He runs out to the Commons to put up a big sign that says THE KING OF THE HERMIT CRABS IS A LITTLE PUSSY BITCH! She says nothing, but chooses instead to get tacos with the blue woman. They pull up to Casa House Inc. in the blue woman's 1965 Pontiac GTO. The blue woman is real p.o.'d because The Hierophant won't stop talking about her son's death. The place where he died, a hundred miles south, is far away from any highway.
It's weird, she says.
It is, says the King of the Hermit Crabs, dipping a chip.
I'm not sure how to get him to stop, says the blue woman. He keeps tweeting it was my fault. It is highly distressing.
Yes, says the King of the Hermit Crabs. Perhaps you can ignore it. Go see a play, or maybe take up knitting. There is a lot of good TV on nowadays.
What about you, says the blue woman. What have you been up to lately.
Not much, says the King of the Hermit Crabs.
How are your subjects, asks the blue woman.
Rather aloof, says the young King. They like to keep to themselves.
I don't believe I've ever seen one.
No, she says. You wouldn't have.
The two women say goodbye in the parking lot of Casa House Inc. The King of the Hermit Crabs promises to send her ships down the way. I'm not expecting a storm, she adds, but you never know. The blue woman thanks her and goes home to her slipcovers and soda bread. She imagines the face of her child, sad, and her husband, confounded, sad. She wants to hold them both to her chest, sobbing. A tear hits the steering wheel; she pretends not to notice. She imagines herself afloat on a thin raft troubled by stormy waters, praying to see her son's face in the rearview one last time; imagines his guards humbled; imagines feeding him an orange slice; imagines his blameless body limp in her arms. It is hard to imagine things any other way. But then again, who knows? Who knows who else is on Interstate 10 tonight?
is a writer from Queens. Her work has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, The Airgonaut, Bridge Eight, McSweeney's Internet Tendency
and other places in print and online.