“It’s like husking corn,” he tells her. “See? Like this. Just rip, rip, rip, and it’s done.”
Does he mean shucking? He must mean shucking. But corn doesn’t have a head and eyes, a flippy tail, a cluster of legs to be yanked off. Corn wasn’t gliding through the ocean on Thursday, perching on submerged, barnacle-crusted boulders, diving into the sediment to escape a school of predatory salmon.
Isla’s vision dims, the shrimp in her hand an indistinct smear of pink.
“Rip, rip, rip,” he demonstrates, placing another denuded shrimp into the bowl, tossing the mess into a heap of legs and shredded shells. He’s a nice guy, this Walter: an estate lawyer, not-too-recently divorced, no kids. Isla is lucky to be here, assigned to peel shrimp with the expert and eligible Walter, while around them other guests emulsify vinaigrette and hack apart onions and skewer raw chunks of marinated beef and chicken, drinking and cackling and enjoying another of Shelly’s famous everyone-pitches-in dinner parties. It has been years since Isla has been invited. She’s lucky her friends think she’s salvageable after the other thing, which is how they refer to Kyle. No one says his name. Wake up and smell the coffee, they say, and back on the horse and rest of your life.
Shelly glides by with a sweating pitcher of bloody-pink punch. “Idle hands,” she chides, refilling their glasses with a concoction of ice and fruit juice and fruit slices and rum and god knows what else. Not courage. Not forgetting, or not yet, anyway. Isla sips, keeps sipping until her glass is empty again – how many is that now? She has lost count. Despite Walter’s heroic efforts, there’s still a shocking amount of shrimp yet to be peeled. She will never be done with this pile of pink, not if she doesn’t start peeling this one shrimp curled in her idle hand. Back on the seahorse. Other fish in the sea. Wake up and peel the shrimp.
“Give it a try.” Walter’s smile is patient, encouraging, but only to a point; she must do this, she must strip this shrimp from its shell right now, and then another and another, before he gets bored and replaces her with another girl, a better girl, a girl who can smile and flirt and forget while tearing through a pile of crustacean corpses.
“I’m – ” Isla tries to swallow. She can’t breathe. She drops her shrimp, her one tiny unpeeled failure of a shrimp, and steps back from the counter. “I just – ”
“Are you – ” but she doesn’t hear what he thinks she might be because she’s running, down the hall and around the corner and through the master bedroom to the bathroom, where she drops in front of the toilet and spews pink, all the pink Shelly has poured and she has gulped all night long and this is what happens and she flushes, but then she has to vomit again, more pink, so much pink, but lighter this time, maybe. Maybe. Another flush, away goes the pink. Is she finished? She spits – still pink. Barely. Is it done? Are you – what? What was he going to say? Are you allergic? Are you vegetarian? Are you insane? Are you ever going to peel these fucking shrimp?
She hovers over the bowl, waiting, empty.