Low, flat-roofed souvenir shops littered the sides of 98 like so many smudged white cartons. In one of those shops, amidst the garishly dyed coral and the shrink-wrapped tupperware containers filled with cowries, conches, and clamshells, I had noticed a small plastic cage on the top shelf lined with small pebbles. In the corner of the cage, a strange creature with the body of a whelk and the legs of a spider kept watch.
“We can catch hermit crabs ourselves.”
I expressed some doubt at my father’s words. Half the panhandle was already razed of palm trees and replaced with concrete and expensive hotels. Where, in these posh surroundings, would we find such a homely creature?
We stopped at the empty shoreline, where the 98 turned into a bridge. The beach here was less sandy, and where the water lapped at the land, the ground turned into small gray stones. It smelled of brine and car exhaust drifting down from the bridge. The sun was overly bright but failed to penetrate the pea-soup water.
I squinted, seeing nothing, not even my reflection. My father had waded in ankle-deep and reached into the water. He pulled out a turban shell, stained green from algae, and dropped it into a plastic container. I examined the shell, seemingly empty except for the frightened hermit crab that had retreated so far into its home that only the tips of its legs in the outer chamber were visible.