I glide behind Philippa, supporting her midsection. She arranges her legs; her tail and flippers curled under. I now see what she sees; a young family approaching our tank.
“Now!” She commands, and propels herself upward. At times like this I feel I am merely scenery. Philippa spins and arches, her legs and claws graceful as she ascends.
A boy warily approaches the tank. He sees her. Philippa turns toward him and I don’t need her to whisper the word “tango” to know what’s next. She presses her thorax against mine, we join crusher claws and point our legs toward him.
The boy’s eyes grow wide and he raises a finger. But his father takes his hand and that extended finger is pointed away from us. At Cleo. Big, clumsy, Cleo. Arturo’s hand reaches in and pulls Cleo from the tank. The father steers the boy away.
All is silent as we wait for Cleo to return. Philippa’s face is pressed against the smoky tank glass.
“There she is!” Philippa cries, her voice breaking. “She’s ravishing.”
And she is. Her shell is no longer the tarnished copper color of ours, but gleams a ruby red. As Cleo passes the tank she does not wave or acknowledge us. She is resting for her big debut.
“Why, Prospero?” Philippa sighs. “Why is it never us?”
I stroke her antenna lightly. “It is not our time,” I say.
“But when, Prospero? They are big and ugly and uncoordinated, and yet, they are chosen to dance. If only people would notice our grace and style.”
I know she’s right. Our years of training have made us lithe and we without question the best dancers in the tank. But time and time again, the brute lobsters seem to be chosen over us.
Minutes later Cleo is carried past us again. She’s exhausted, lying belly-up on a shiny, white divan. At that moment I realize who can help us: Arturo’s daughter, Agnes.
We call Agnes “the artist.” After the show she takes our friends and paints them in beautiful colors to dance again elsewhere. Our home sits between where the people wait to be taken for the show and a room where Agnes plays, reads and paints.
It isn’t long before Agnes arrives. I swim to the top of the tank and stage-whisper her name, “Agnes!”
She looks around before she realizes where the sound is coming from.
“Why are you talking to me?” Agnes asks.
“Why wouldn’t I talk to you?” I counter.
“You’ve never spoken to me before,” she says. ”I’ve talked to you for years and you’ve never uttered a word.”
“For that, I am sorry. I am Prospero.”
“And I am…”
“Agnes, I know. Agnes, my dear friend Philippa and I need your help.”
“Do you want to escape? I can take you to my room and we can all live there.”
Philippa has joined me, but does not speak.
“We’ve seen how you’ve painted our friends and we’re hoping you will paint us, too.”
“Oh, I will. Someday.”
Philippa’s voice is clear and calm. “We wish to be painted now.”
Philippa rests her claws on top of the tank so Agnes can see her. “We must be as beautiful as our dance.”
Agnes looks at her kindly. “And so you shall be.”
Agnes spreads newspaper over the table and opens tiny pots of paint. She pulls me gently from the tank and wipes my shell dry with a towel. “And how shall I paint you, sir?” I look back at Philippa in the tank. “I want Philippa to glisten like a mermaid adorned in jewels.”
Agnes nods. “Then I shall make you Neptune, king of the sea.”
I relax in her hands as she begins her work; the paint warm upon my shell. Soon my claws are an iridescent green and my legs look like pearls circled in jade. Philippa joins me on the table, looking blissful as Agnes paints her shell.
After Agnes is finished, we recline together.
“Philippa, my love, you are breathtaking.”
The next day, we hide ourselves, preparing for our debut. The other lobsters are wary and jealous, moving slowly around us. Not only are we the best dancers; we are now, without a doubt, the most beautiful lobsters in the tank.
Arturo flips the light on over the tank and turns to walk away, but something catches his eye. It’s Philippa’s flippers, shimmering green and gold. Arturo flips the lid off the tank and reaches in, scattering lobsters as he searches for us. He picks me up, his eyes wild and his hand shaking.
“Agnes!” He bellows. “What have you done?”
He tosses me on the table and turns back to the tank. I see Philippa pirouetting in the center of the tank, spinning with her legs extended and her flippers out. I see the look of joy on her face as she spies Arturo’s hand and realizes she is being chosen.
Agnes peeks around the corner as her father plops Philippa next to me.
“Agnes, why? Why have you poisoned my tank?”
Agnes approaches him warily. “I painted them so they could be free. They’re dancers, Papa, not dinner.”
Arturo shakes his head and begins shouting commands to his staff. “Get buckets.” “Drain the tank.” “Let’s salvage what we can.” “Chef, prepare a bisque!”
Philippa and I are carried away into brightness and warmth.
“Showtime!” I say to Philippa.
“Our time,” she responds.
We are lowered into a dark place and the warm light above us disappears. We sense movement below and around us, and instead of briny water, we’re surrounded by stifling heat and smells.
We must be backstage.
I lay my claw upon Philippa’s, and together, we wait for our debut.
About Elizabeth Dornan
I’m a corporate PR pro by day, Mom and fledgling foodie by night. I try to eat and buy local and keep my carbon footprint as tiny as possible. I love to cook and try new foods and wines. I sing often but not well. I try to find the joy in every day and the good in everyone I encounter. I blog when the mood strikes me at http://hodgepodge.posterous.com.