A Household Word: The Living Dead

This past summer,
we visited one of those touristy shops and I broke down and bought my son a hermit crab. For Lewis, part of the appeal was that the crab’s shell was painted with the logo of the Boston Red Sox, his favorite baseball team. For me, the hermit crab seemed like a good alternative to more complex life forms like geckos, guinea pigs and iguanas.

“His name is Bruce,” my son said lovingly as the crab clamped onto his finger and drew blood. “I think he likes me!”

On the ride home, Lewis sat in the backseat with a cardboard container on his lap and cooed to Bruce through the air holes.

“Why are you talking to that crab, you moron,” Lewis’ teenage sister said. “Crabs can’t hear you, and even if they could they don’t even have brains. They’re like lobsters. I think we should cook him.”

“Don’t listen to her, Brucey,” my son hissed into the box. “She’s just jealous.”

Home Sweet Home

At home we found an old 10-gallon aquarium – one that is haunted by the ghosts of deceased goldfish and long-dead gerbils – and  transferred Bruce to his permanent digs.

“Bruce needs a more interesting habitat,” my son said as he proceeded to arrange Lego® guys and plastic dinosaurs in the tank. The crab seemed unimpressed. At the store, he had been one of the more lively of his species, but here, amid a T-rex and sword-wielding pirates, he was rather lethargic.

“Maybe he’s just tired from the long drive,” I suggested.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">We went to our local pet shop to stock up on hermit crab food – even though I suspected that Bruce wouldn’t live to consume much of the fishy powder that was piled into his tiny seashell dish. We also bought a sea sponge, so Bruce wouldn’t become dehydrated, a bag of neon orange pebbles, to mimic his natural habitat, and blew $17 on a plaster castle that might have added a little more quality to the short life of the now-dead goldfish. This was one lucky crab.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Bruce is going to be soooo happy,” my son beamed as he festooned the tank with our new purchases. He also added a Spider-Man action figure, a handful of marbles and several Hot Wheels® cars. The environment in the tank was so rich, so stimulating, that it was hard to even locate the crab. When I did, he looked suspiciously … dead.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“I think that you might want to take a look at Bruce,” I said in a gentle tone.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Whadayya mean?” Lewis asked.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Well, he’s not really moving,” I said.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“That’s because he’s sleeping,” my son quipped.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Who was I to question his expertise? Maybe he was just sleeping. So I took a pair of tongs from the kitchen and moved Bruce into a realistic pose near the sponge. Maybe some water would perk him up.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“See, Mom, I told you he was just asleep,” my son said at bedtime as he diligently dumped more food into the seashell dish. “Bruce is drinking water now.”

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Did you see him walk there?” I asked.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“No, but he’s drinking; he’s fine,” my son assured me.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">The next morning, the crab’s thirst was apparently still not quenched. While Lewis brushed his teeth, I used the tongs to reposition Bruce at the door of the castle. He looked good there. In fact, he stayed in that position  for several days – until Lewis needed to retrieve the Spider-Man figure.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“Hey! Bruce is guarding the castle!” Lewis exclaimed when he noticed the crab’s new post.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">I pondered Bruce’s next move and wondered how long I should carry on the charade.

A Pretty Good Pet

I’ve thought about replacing  Bruce with a live crab, but our pet store only sells fish. Even if I could locate a suitable double, I’m not sure that I could lure a new crustacean  into Bruce’s Red Sox shell or that I could successfully evict the current (albeit deceased) occupant.

Turns out that a dead hermit crab is a pretty good pet. He doesn’t eat anything, his cage never needs cleaning and the faint stench of rotting shellfish emitted from Lewis’ room not only adds a waterfront ambience to the whole house, it has given our geriatric cat a renewed sense of purpose. The only maintenance required is periodically moving the shell to simulate lifelike activity.

The dead crab’s antics have kept my son amused now for over a month. Sometimes Bruce is atop the sponge “drinking.” Other days he’s positioned near his food dish, and sometimes he’s wedged  inside the Hot Wheels convertible, ready to race around the tank.

“I like Bruce,” my son said yesterday. “But when he dies, I’m going to make a necklace out of his shell.”

I can’t think of a more fitting memorial.

Carol Band’s freezer is filled with frozen waffles and Zip Lock™ bags containing dead goldfish, one gerbil and the carcass of a hermit crab  – all waiting for a proper burial. Write to her at