Fiction · 06/01/2016

Lobster

Eddie said to send the lobster first-class or whatever it took to get it to Wyoming alive and reasonably happy so they could boil it to death there. He made her smile, talking like that.

She’d fallen in with him yesterday afternoon at the fundraiser, on probably the largest private lawn on Cape Cod. He said he was crazy about her, she said why, and he said because you are endearingly geeky. Then he offered her a job with the campaign, though it wasn’t clear he had the power to do so.

The party went on into the night and at last they found a room, in the gable of a house, bumping heads on the slanted ceiling, first him on top then her, grappling in the single bed. Afterwards, Eddie dropped — more like imploded — into sleep, and she tried the same but was fitful. She groped her way down a dark hall to a bathroom feeling fraudulent because she’d pretended to know more than she really did about social media strategy. Really she was just a humble second-year law student. Eddie had been with the presidential campaign since June. He had already passed the bar.

In the morning when she woke, because he was bumping around getting dressed, he told her, Don’t get up, it’ll be so great if you can make it to Wyoming, but it’s hugely important to send the lobster. He bent over the covers but she shrank away. You might want to rethink me, she said. No, I will not rethink you, he said. Speaking from beneath the comforter she said, How do I send it? I’m maxed out on my credit card. He wrote instructions on a scrap of paper and was gone.

Two hours later she strode into town with her weekender bag and a headache trying to feel confident. The fisherman said yes, he had her lobster. She watched him put it in a battered grapefruit box, lined with a garbage bag and wet seaweed, Cape Cod’s best, he grinned. She understood this was going to burnish Eddie’s reputation for ingenuity in filling odd requests by presidential aides. Possibly it could help earn him a place in Washington after the election. She lugged the box and her bag across the road to a dark bar where men were downing shots and had coffee and a Danish then took the town’s only taxi to the airport.

On the way the Cape seemed empty, almost haunted — it was so crowded only a few days ago — now it was September, cool with a front coming in, winds gusting this way and that. She felt disconnected — literally because her phone was dead and she’d lost her charger. If only she could fly to Wyoming like Eddie said. Nancy Rossi had urged her to, her friend on the law review who invited her to the party, because it was history and exciting — how often did a presidential campaign happen? But Nancy wasn’t broke, she had money, it was easy for her.

Coming over the dunes in the taxi it became obvious — she could borrow the money. But not from Nancy, then who?

The airport terminal was a single-wide mobile home with two wooden steps to a passenger lounge with a small electric heater and half a dozen people seated in plastic chairs. A man behind the ticket counter was chatting to someone in his headset. She waved to get his attention and asked if she could charge her phone. She said she needed to send a lobster.

He said, You want a ticket for Bob?

She said, No, not Bob, a lobster, it has to go on the next flight.

Not unless you want to buy him a seat, he said.

His mic distracted him for a moment, then he said to her with a kind look, There’s no cargo space and almost no luggage space left. She followed his glance at the window — speckled a bit with rain — to the plane outside, parked on an irregular patch of asphalt. It looked tiny — a seven-seater. I can take him in the co-pilot seat, he said, but I’ll have to charge regular passenger fare.

He shrugged, as if to say people do this sometimes, then listened to his headset again.

That left so much to decide. Her parents would never loan her money to fly a lobster somewhere, they would want her to return to school. Auntie Lynne might back her — she was her childhood hero, a lawyer in Vermont who handled prenups, wills, trusts, divorces, all the most important things in people’s lives. Now she was more like a friend — usually harried like last summer, hair straying across her face as she talked a volunteer out of Dunkin Donuts to her office to witness a signing, then picked up the kids, and between other clients called the geek squad to come fix a computer disaster. Meanwhile Uncle Jack was off hiking. He thinks he’s Robert Redford, she said, and that’s okay.

The man behind the counter announced to the passenger lounge, We’ll start boarding in a few minutes.

People stirred. Damn, she thought, forcing herself to be calm, looking at the lobster in his box — she couldn’t help but think of him as Bob now — weighing options, (1) Send Bob in the co-pilot seat to Boston to connect to Wyoming and his eventual death, (2) Dump Bob, because it ran against her grain to buy a seat for a lobster instead of a human being, herself, and there were subsets, (2b) It was reasonable to return to law school but she dreaded it because as she admitted, now, she wasn’t the greatest student, (2c) Hurry up and call Aunt Lynne to charge both her and Bob’s flight all the way to Wyoming because Eddie did want to see her, she did want to be with him, she did know about social media strategy, anyway more than a lot of people… she would have to make the argument to Auntie Lynne in one sentence — she remembered her saying the law was full of impossible choices.

The man behind the counter stood and pulled on his pilot cap and jacket.

She looked out the window and realized the runway was like one of those long driveways through the dunes to cottages she saw coming up the Cape from Wellfleet almost lost in the coastal grass rolling in the breeze this way and that, and she realized all her choices were right and how beautiful it was, how beautiful it all was.

+++

Robert Shapard’s stories have appeared in Juked, Kenyon Review, 100-Word Story, Flaunt, New Flash Fiction Review, and New England Review. He’s an editor of a new anthology, Flash Fiction International, from W.W. Norton.