On Friday afternoon, after our boss left early for the weekend, Rusty pretended to be a crab. He shuffled sideways throughout the office; head down, bowlegged, fingers stuck together into pinchy claws. A few of us chuckled behind our hands since it’s not acceptable behavior to have fun and make noise while people are on the phone. Rusty became a temporary hero the moment he scuttled behind Angie and inappropriately pantomimed grabbing her butt. We all choked when Angie seemed unaware Rusty was there. She must’ve known, though. Angie thought she was the Sun and we were the Asteroid Belt of rocks, dust, and gas.
By three o’clock Rusty had claimed the water cooler. If we tried to get a drink, he’d wave his imaginary spiny claws and hiss at us. Our Internet use is monitored and there’d be consequences if we looked up whether or not real crabs actually hiss. Scott, who always thought himself an awesome dude and undiscovered comedic genius, apparently had an idea he would mock Rusty by pushing past with a travel mug and slappy-swatting at him.
“Ewww, I went to the beach and got crabs,” Scott giggled. “Pinch me, I must be dreaming!”
We smirked until Rusty latched a claw onto Scott’s wrist. Scott dropped to his knees and his pleas pitched themselves about twenty octaves higher. In a blubbery squeaky-hinge voice Scott started confessing stuff none of us was aware of or cared he’d done. Some of it was gross. How could we have suspected scrawny, gingery Rusty was so strong?
“Stop it, Rusty, you’re hurting him!” Angie said, laughing, while her ex-boyfriend Scott writhed on the commercial grade low-pile carpet. Rusty’s mandibles waggled — his lips and tongue, you’d probably say — and he let go of his prey. Un-pinched at last, Scott lay there akin to a roadkilled snake. When he thought we weren’t watching (but we were) he slithered to the restroom and wouldn’t come out.
A low-lying fog of hushed innuendo infiltrated the workspace: just before leaving, our boss had given Rusty a final warning about chronic dandruff or stealing money from the swear jar or wearing dog-poopy sneakers; Rusty was caught using the office copier/printer to mass produce ransom notes for employee kidnappings he planned to commit; an examination of Rusty’s locker revealed an egg-and-tuna-salad sandwich carbon dated at least thirteen weeks old. Maybe all of the rumors were true. No one knew Rusty’s last name and Angie insisted he didn’t have one; she said he was like Cher and Prince but without the money or looks or talent.
An hour passed between each click of the wall clock’s minute hand. We pretended to be busy and do our jobs; if you made eye contact with Rusty, he was encouraged to scurry crosswise into your cubicle and hop up sweaty and crabby on a chair, or sweep your paperwork onto the floor. He tried that trick on Märta, who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She stood up so fast her keyboard flipped upside down on the desk.
“You go or I hit!” shouted Märta, hefting the lacrosse trophy she kept atop a file cabinet. “For sure, I crack your shell!”
She swung the trophy at Rusty — which also is unacceptable office behavior, obviously — but he crabbed himself out of range. Märta’s facial expression would’ve given a dead person nightmares.
Five o’clock finally crawled into the room, which meant we could crawl out. No crawling for Rusty, though, who left us behind as he headed for his car, laterally. Didn’t even swipe his time card. He zoomed away from the parking garage, shrouded by his four-door, five-color Pontiac hoopty’s crop dust of oily blue haze.
“It’s a good thing he scrammed,” said Scott, our red-faced purple-wristed lavatory hermit. “I was just about to kick his sorry ass.” If you met Scott you’d know in a nanosecond he was all bullshit.
A few of us decided to go to The Whiskey Barrel after work and drink draft beers. Five steps inside, we stopped. Rusty scooted up and down on top of the polished oak counter. He slid on spilled cocktails, he skidded into frosted mugs. Napkins snowed and peanuts rained. Rusty waved his claw-hands, hissed the way crabs might if they do, and snatched wine glasses from the overhead rack; he lobbed them at Butch the bartender, whose sobs punctuated the crab-speech and glass tinkles and jukebox music. Getting served was difficult.
The door opened behind us and Angie planted her not-sensible shoes on the walk-off mat. In the light of neon beer signs, her blouse’s ruffles glowed like clouds at sunset. Angie’s poofy hair was smoke lingering above a landfill gone afire. None of us were ready for her prison-gate smile.
“Rusty,” whispered Angie. “You’re so bad.”
The rest of us stared at each other and tried to read who’d call in sick this coming Monday.
Biography: Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing appears in elimae, The Airgonaut, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, New World Writing, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. For more Michael, please visit michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.