Fiction by Lydia Williams
Hermit crabs love Lays Potato Chips, you discover. Hermit crabs—small,
cute—oh, they look so easy to care for, right? After all, you think, every seven-
year-old has hermit crabs, and if they can survive that, surely they can survive
you. Packed fifty to a tank at the pet store and still going strong, right? You
sprinkle potato chips in their food bowl. At night, their little feeders come out
and scrape, scrape.
But after a week, two of your hermit crabs die. Well, it turns out hermit
crabs need more than chips and a pellet of hermit crab food; your husband tells
you they also need bits of fruit or vegetables and a source of protein like peanut
butter. Hermit crabs need to be misted with water every day. They need their
drinking water changed daily, too. You’re supposed to measure a saline
solution for them, check them for mites, check their aquarium thermometer, and
buy them bigger shells to move into . . . all of which you continue to forget to do,
but the remaining crabs somehow survive, and you find out why when you come
home late from work one night to find your husband misting them.
Your husband buys orchids, straight green stalks, arguably the most
difficult flowers to keep. You cannot keep a fern. You have enough trouble
But you have bouts of self-improvement. For instance, you begin reading
about hermit crabs and buy them a heat pad to keep one side of the aquarium
warm. You wake up early, lift weights, coordinate yourself perfectly, work
harder and smarter, spend your lunchtime productively, stay late at work, read
up on your investments. You come home and clean. You read. You do
responsible things like organize and volunteer and send thank you notes and
manage your investments and research and e-trade. You grow your wealth
and stature. You sleep two hours a night.
After work one evening you come home to find your husband’s orchids,
all spindly green stem, ungainly for their small pots—bare and ugly, really—
congesting all of the sinks and bathtubs, the faucets dripping over them. You
eye your husband checking the news, the weather, grumbling about politics.
There’s some kind of collider he’s interested in, but it’s really nothing new. This
is what he does every night, no matter what. He’s an every-night-no-matter-
what kind of guy. You drag him out with you for some volunteer work. You
talk about social issues to him; you think you’re developing rare ideas; you think
you must sound interesting.
You get a makeover and the checkout lady at Publix says you look like a
model. You give your husband a backrub every night, whatever he wants—oh,
you’re reading those relationship/sex articles and they pay off! You always try
to look great around him. You make a weekly set of goals and check them off,
one by one. Somehow you feel righteous but little else.
After two months, you miss one of your goals. You don’t get all the
laundry done on Saturday because you’re taking too long to read number 27
on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of the Century. In a funk,
you miss a few other goals. That thing bothering you grows, and a few days
later, you buy a six-pack of beer and drink it all, watching episodes of Penn &
Teller and House. Your husband watches with you. You fall asleep on his
You wake up to see him misting the orchids. He is learning more about
photography and reads books every night on aperture and distance.
The next day you down a bottle of Barefoot and a few beers, and this
pretty much continues until you wake up a few days later, and you resemble
something under the Target dumpster. You wake up to find your husband
changing the orchids’ soil, which resembles wood chips, much like your skin
feels. He positions the orchids strategically on the porch, checks the hermit
crabs and the aquarium. He feeds the fish and waters your fern. He gives you
a hug and offers to go get coffee, a triple shot of espresso for your nasty
While he’s gone to Starbucks, you write a vow of sobriety and
The next week, you work sixty hours, you earn accolades, you get
another makeover, you repeat for the next two weeks. You map out your five-
and ten-year goals and post them by your home office. You rearrange your
hermit crabs’ surroundings because you read they like that. You give your
husband backrubs and cook fancy dinners and you wonder, high on your wave
of personal growth, isn’t he a bit lackluster in comparison to you? He tells you
that his friends tell him how lucky he is to have you, and he agrees, and you
wonder how much you should agree. Where are his five-year and ten-year
goals? He’s not even forty, but he’s worked the same job for the same
employer almost twenty years. Even though he wasn’t fired when 94% of the
company was, he’s never been promoted, either, not technically, though he has
He knows which bees don’t sting, which snakes aren’t poisonous. He
likes one band, pretty much. He knows what you like in bed and what he
does works, every time, no real surprises from him. He knows the safest way
to drive in all circumstances; he’s never had an accident. But what does he
really know? You’re on your wave, he’s on his shore . . . what’s so great
about the shore?
This time on the way up, you’re better at moderating. You sleep an entire
four hours a night. You work harder on being happy, not just excited. You
get promoted and your investments pay off, as usual, and as usual your husband
celebrates every accomplishment with you, and you feel guilty for ever feeling
superior, but you still feel slightly superior. Or maybe it’s something else.
At work, a big proposal you spent weeks of late nights working on gets
rejected. You drink six beers and two glasses of tequila from a bottle your
brother-in-law left at the house because you don’t know any better—you only
drink for days or a week at a time every few months, and you only drink too
much then. You finally sleep longer than four hours for the first time in months
and wake up seven hours later feeling like you’re going to die. You stumble
around and vomit in the kitchen sink, but not before carefully removing the
orchids in it.
The next morning, a Starbucks drink is sitting on the kitchen island. Three
of your hermit crabs have moved in the night to bigger shells. You decide you
might try your goals again, but you’ll make yourself take a day off every single
week. You’ll check out the storm systems on Weather Underground with your
husband. Watch the ’80s videos he likes on YouTube. One glass of wine
every night like he does, two if it’s a good bottle. Relax. At least, you can try.
The orchids finally bloom, as they do every year, once a year. Your
husband says the blooms will last for a few months—an incredibly long time for
a flower, you think, and you stare at the complicated petals, so many shapes
and colors in such a small space, like soft and intricate origami, pure artistry,
while your husband takes pictures of them and fiddles with the color adjuster in
Photoshop. You stare and stare at the orchids on your day off. His are the most
gorgeous flowers in the world.
Lydia Williams’s fiction has appeared in Night Train, New South, A
Capella Zoo, The Dead Mule, The Armchair Aesthete, The Rose & Thorn,
SN Review, and Fresh Boiled Peanuts. She is a Contributing Editor for The
Chattahoochee Review and is working on her first novel.
Around the holidays last year as I waited in line at Barnes & Noble, I
noticed the woman in front of me toting a strange health fad book
(To Eat or Not to Eat, something like that). Self-help and diet books
surrounded the checkout line, all part of the New Year’s resolution
frenzy. What would happen, I wondered, if someone bought all of them?
I imagined a woman getting swept up in self-improvement and paired
her with a husband who would never get swept up in self-improvement
because opposites virtually write their own stories. The second-person
point of view was a natural choice because it has often helped me
realize contemporary themes like self-displacement.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 4, Number 1
Copyright © 2009
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors