A TRUE SHORT STORY with coleslaw on the side.
For a few years I was lucky to live at the end of Cape Cod in a crazy and wonderful town called Provincetown.
After my divorce to a local girl, I rented apartments when they were cheaper in the winter and lived on that way for a couple of years, right on the edge of Cape Cod bay; it was beautiful.
Though all the common sense I possessed, (about a thimbleful), screamed, “pack it in you idiot there’s nothing here for you, go back to England and start over again, before it’s too late!” I took no notice, and in the end was glad because it was there at the end of March that I met a special lady who is now my wife.
I loved everything about her apart from two things; she started smoking soon after we met, (I think it must have been the stress of having me as her toy-geriatric), and she was heavily into lobsters. No, I don’t mean in a deviant crustacean sort of way- she liked eating lobsters, couldn’t get enough of them.
She lived in New York and used to do the six-hour drive up from the Big Apple to the end of the Cape on Friday evenings, alone and often late at night. By midnight I couldn’t wait any longer to see her. And by the time her trips had become weekly, we were heavily involved. So come Friday after a week of frustrated separation, I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms and uncork a bottle of red- not an easy thing to manage, (I held the bottle between my knees and she pulled out the cork with her teeth).
Anyway feeling full of myself as usual and wearing clean socks and fresh thermal vest, after we’d settled in on the sofa and the logs were crackling in the grate, I ventured to ask her, “So how was it you only took four and a half hours to get here tonight? Was it the thought of us being together, you know together together?”
“Together?” she said.
“Yes you know together.” I said cuddling up closer.
“Truth is,” she said, “I couldn’t wait to get here because I was desperate.”
“Desperate! For me?” I said licking my moustache enticingly.
“No, for lobster.” She said.
Great I thought, second fiddle to a flipping lobster, last time with my ex it was a lesbian.
“This weekend darling,” she said snaking up to me. “I have to have it.”
“Lobster. I promise I’ll make it up to you.” She said as she pulled a lobster claw cracker thing from her handbag and snapped it shut a couple of times in a suggestively painful manner.
“You know it upsets me.” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “but for me darling, I must have it.”
Oh well. In for a penny, in for a five-pounder.
There was this place in North Truro, the next village down, that sold live lobsters all year round. It was set back from the road on a little hill, outside there was a boat and lobster pots, it was the real deal.
It wasn’t a store, it was more a house with a lean-to and a great big red fluorescent lobster sign, which winked on and off all night long, driving the locals crazy.
So we went there together the next afternoon and bought one.
“One just enough?” I asked as she got back into the car with a brown paper bag which she put on the back seat.
“Yes one will be plenty, there’s more than enough for two, can’t wait to cook it.”
I looked at the bag on the back seat.
“Hey there’s something moving in the bag.” I said almost knocking over
a pile of lobster pots in the drive.
“Yes of course it is,” she said. “it’s that way sweetheart” pointing at the road, “turn right at the ocean remember?” she said.
“Why, isn’t it dead?” I said, looking back, feeling a peculiar numbness creep up my arms.
“Fresher alive.” she said inhaling through her teeth like Hannibal Lecter with a little wet hiss.
We were now on Shore Road with about six miles to go to our place, evening was drawing on. I drove slowly, funereally, I didn’t really know why; guess it was the lobster communicating on a psychic level.
“Get a move on darling, I’m hungry.” she said. I looked back, it wasn’t just moving in the bag the lobster was leaping about.
“Look!” I said.
“Keep your eyes on the road please.” she commanded with just a touch of fear in her voice. I reacted, after all this was the woman who’d noticed that if left entirely to my own devices, I’d drive on the left side of the road.
“Look, it’s not just alive, it’s doing tricks!” I said peering through the rear view mirror.
“Good. That means it’s really fresh. I like them fresh and fit.” She said squeezing my knee.
“Obviously it’s bloody fresh,” I said, “ it wants to make a dash for it.”
She asked. “Are the windows all closed and the doors locked?”
“Yes, what’s that got to do with it?” I said checking round.
“That’s alright then.” She said.
During the last two miles back I expected to be grabbed by the neck from behind by a giant pair of lobster claws, so I was glad when we pulled into the condo garage. Even though it was Saturday the weekenders hadn’t yet started to come up, out on the Cape it was still winter; we were alone.
“We’re going to have a lovely romantic dinner and then early to bed.” She said, as she got out.
I faced her over the top of the car.
She looked at me lustily, “You know what that lobster reminds me of” she said, “you!”
“Why?” I said.
“Because you’re both big boys!”
She dipped back in the car for her hand-bag, I was about to lock up when she said, “Bring it up will you darling.”
“Me?” I said.
“Yes, who else?” She said, as she strode hungrily for the steps and up to our place.
“But darling,” I shouted after her “it’s moving.”
“Don’t be a wimp,” she shouted back, “wimps don’t turn me on at all.”
“Bugger!” I said to myself as I reached for the top of the bag holding it out from each corner. I’d seen those Jacque Cousteau films where people are caught by the foot by giant clams until their air runs out, come to think of it I was getting short of breath.
“I think I’m having a panic attack.” I shouted; it was like a scream in space, with the same response.
“Bring the bag up here and get a move on.” She shouted down.
Once I’d bounded carefully up the steps like an action hero, I kicked the screen door open and closed it with my foot whilst holding the bag in front of me. Once inside full of a mysterious sense of dread I headed for the kitchen.
“Look at you!” she said laughing. “A full grown man scared of a little lobster.”
“Listen,” I wasn’t taking this, after all I wanted loving cuddling and sex, not verbal abuse, not when I was going to share my new packet of digestive biscuits with her later. “my Grandad came out in boils if he so much as looked at a crab. One nearly took his finger off when he was fishing.” I said feeling my face.
“This, “ she grabbed the bag from me and put it on the table, “is not a crab, it’s a LOBSTER.”
“Well” I put my hands on my hips for extra emphasis before I gesticulated, “it’s got a shell and bloody great big pincers! I’ve seen them in the tank.”
“It can’t hurt you.” she said, adding “and whilst you’re standing there reach me down that large saucepan with the lid. Thank-you, you, you are so kind.”
“Why can’t it?” I asked. “Why can’t it bite your nose off?”
“Because” she said, “ it has big thick strong rubber bands around its’ claws to keep them closed.” as she put the saucepan into the sink and swung the tap round and turned on the cold water.
Suddenly, my attention was focused on the large saucepan in the sink.
“What’s that for?” I said pointing at it.
“What do you think?” she said.
“It’s for the lobster! ” she said by the sink, “It’s heavy, do something useful, lift it out and put in on the stove and turn on the gas.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s what we’re going to put the lobster in it to cook.” she said exasperated, like I was some dumb intransigent child.
“Oh is it?” I said calmly, lifting the pan out of the sink, “ I don’t know if you have noticed darling my darling, but the lobster in the bag there on the table is ALIVE.” I said banging down the saucepan so water slopped out for dramatic effect.
“Ok,” she said, “you’re English, you don’t get out much; you have grown up eating chips cooked in lard made from sheep toenails, Mars bars, fetid over-ripe cheese and turnip sandwiches- correct?”
“More or less, you missed the onion rings” I said.
“I will spell it out for you then, over here in the civilized world,” she said in an instructive manner, “we take the lobster out of the bag, from here see, and then over here,” indicating the saucepan, “the lobster comes out of the bag and goes into the water, see nice deep clean water.”
“What, so it can have a swim,” I asked looking in. “a last swim?”
“No, darling so it boils, it dies and cooks and then we eat it.”
I took a pace backwards towards the table with the bag on it, “I am missing something here” I said “ look at the bag, the contents are moving, it’s still alive and kicking with- how ever many feet it has.”
“Yes, darling, live lobsters are dropped into boiling water, that is how they have been cooked since time in memorium.”
Well I don’t mind telling you I was stunned; stunned and flabbergasted.
“But it’s a living thing, I don’t care what they do in Memorium or wherever” I said, now feeling very protective of the poor defenseless creature “it has nerves and things, Kath, it probably even likes the same music as you.”
“John” she said, “what’s it to be, a lobster dinner or sex?”
“Neither probably.” I mumbled. But I had to make a stand for the crustaceans of the world; and swiftly putting a worthwhile cause together in my head, I thought I’ll fight for turkeys next; they need a champion too!
I changed my tone so she’d know that the joking was over now; I had to get tactical if my lobster buddy was to be saved.
“There is no way that a living complex creature which has taken billions of years to evolve so it can be a lobster, is going to boil to death in this rented kitchen tonight, it’s inhumane to lobsters; what’s the bloody point of being in Greenpeace and eating tofu all the f’ing time if you’re going to send it to an agonizing death? Try it yourself, look the water’s coming to the boil, stick your finger in.”
“Ok.” She said, lifting a large knife of the rack. I backed off a bit, she was very hungry and had a weird glint in her eyes, I was just the thing standing in front of her lobster dinner. This could get nasty all round. Still, I didn’t get a prefects’ badge at school for nothing.
“Oh, so that’s how desperate you are? “ I said, “a homicidal lobster killer
with a taste for human blood as well. Come on then.” I grabbed the dustpan and brush and crooked my finger at her. “For God, for Harry and for Larry.” I shouted.
“Who’s Larry?” she said.
“My buddy in the bag.” I said.
Then she said, “OK tough guy, if we’re all chivalrous now, you kill it and then we’ll put it into the pan together, dead. How are you with that?”
Women, they’re so damn clever.
I sat down at the table; she’d got me. She sat opposite and put the knife down near the bag.
“Isn’t there someone we could ring?” I asked.
“What, a therapist, or someone to come round and dispatch the lobster for you; I thought you were a Man, what’s all that hair on your chest for?”
“Insulation and disguise.” I said, I could see she had me by my other short and curlies; there was no other way, I had to face up to it and do the nasty act, or I might lose her, as well as a weekends’ slap and tickle.
She poured us out a full glass of red each. We stared at undulating bag.
“Here darling,’ she said, reaching across with it, “liquid courage.”
A minute or so after as the alcohol had reached my sensitive spots and numbed them sufficiently I reached for the knife and said,
“OK I’ll do it. It’s the least I can do, but I have no appetite for it. I’ll put all of us out of our collective misery,” adding, “ but darling, how do you kill something that’s wearing armour?”
She got up and went to a shelf came swiftly back and placed a large book on the table and thumbed through it.
“Here,” she said pointing to a line drawing of the profile of a lobster with the knife, just behind the head there’s a chink in it’s armour.”
“A chink, its’ Achilles neck.” I said.
“You put the knife in there and give it a quick stab, that kills it in a moment.” she said, making a little stabbing movement in the air with the knife.
“How do you know this?” I asked.
“Because I used to be squeamish too.”
“Really, so why do you boil them to death now.”
“I was no good with a knife,” she said stabbing it into the table-top. “now” she screamed, “will you kill the lousy lobster!!! Or shall I?”
“But you said you were no good at it?”
“Ok,” I said, “ stand back and don’t watch. You know I can’t do it when you watch.”
“What are you putting the oven gloves on for?” she asked.
“Protection.” I said trying them for thickness.
“Oh God, I give up,” she said, “I’m just going to go over here, get drunk and starve to death. I thought you were the man who could give me the one small pleasure I desire, I don’t want much.” she said coiffing from her renewed glass and twiddling her hair manically.
“Ok, Ok, “ I said, “I am going to do it, just don’t watch me.”
I approached the bag.
“Behind the neck? “ I said, pointing to my own neck.”
“Yes,” she shouted from the sofa, “ just there darling my darling, you can do it; I know you can! Now open the bag and pick up the knife.”
I braced myself, opened the top of the bag and looked in.
There followed a pause, whilst I stared down and froze.
“What’s wrong now? “ she said.
“I can’t do it.” I said.
“It’s looking at me.” I said.
“How can it, it hasn’t got eyes.” she said.
“Oh yes it can they’re on those wiggly things.”
“John, for God’s sake, seriously I have had enough, kill the lobster or
let me do it, this is beyond a joke.” she said, standing up.
“It’s alive and it’s looking at me pleading for its’ life and freedom.” I said looking down into the brownness of the bag.
“Ok this is ridiculous!” she said exasperated, “ where do you think that burger we had last weekend came from? And that lovely salmon we had, and the ham in your picnic sandwich? They were all living creatures once, we’re carnivores last time I looked.”
“Yes I know,” I said, “but those things weren’t alive in a bag on the table waving at me for mercy and the sea’s just out there! Poor Larry can probably hear its’ brothers and sisters.” I said looking out from the apartment window to the moonlight on the bay. “Kath, “ I said, “I love you and I love this lobster, let’s let it go, for us!”
“Where?” she said wearily.
“Back to the ocean.”
“You gotta be joking.” she said plumping down again on the sofa and picking up her glass.
“There’s loads of stuff in the fridge to eat.” I said opening the fridge door, where there was a packet of digestive biscuits, half eaten banana and a small lump of elderly Cheddar cheese. “And I will pay you back double, no treble what you paid for it.”
“Yes you will,” she said, “because I ‘m sending out for a lobster dinner with all the trimmings.”
I went to my wallet and got out a pile of notes.
“Here.” I said putting them in her hand. “You are a good soul and the Universe will reward you in unsuspected ways.” I said pushing my luck.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Like what? I need you to be specific.” she said, (she’s detail orientated by nature).
“You’ll not get piles.” I said, “The Universe will make it so. I am sure of it! Now, I am going out of the room and onto the deck with Larry, then down the steps to the beach and I’m going to open the bag and let him return to the vastness of the North Atlantic Ocean where he may live a long and happy lobsterfull life.”
“Ok,” she said sipping from the rim of her glass. “and what are you going to do with its’ claws. The rubber bands remember. Let him and me starve to death.”
“Oh right.” I said.
Well, truth is, my darling Kath is a wonderful person and as if to prove it, she opened the bag and with the kitchen scissors snipped the rubber-bands off.
“Now be careful, it has its’ claws back,” she said snapping at me with the scissors, “it might grab you and drag you in with it.”
“Funny.” I said attempting and failing a sarcastic tone as I pulled the oven gloves back on. Then I got the bag. “Say goodbye to Larry.”
“Don’t push it.” Said my girl.
Holding the bag out from me once again I went out onto the deck and down the steps to the beach.
It was a lovely night, cold and clear, the bay played with a reflection of the full moon over the bay. On the beach there were only little ripple waves and the water was clear as crystal. Kath had come out glass and cigarette in hand and leaned on the railing and watched me from the deck.
“Oh dear,” I heard her tired sigh, “what have I got myself into?”
I knelt down on the cold wet sand and carefully peeled back the top of the bag just over the edge of the water. Out came the lobster and plopped in.
“There you go my boy,” I said, “freedom, and I promise it’s not hot.”
The lobster dipped a toe in and took a few tentative steps and then turned round and came back out again.
“Not exactly making a run for it is he?” said a voice from above.
As I’d put my wellies on I was able to steer it back in again. I spoke up to Kath behind me,
“It must be confused.” she smiled and shook her head towards Boston over the water.
“Maybe the water’s too cold.” she said.
“No, it’s confused obviously, it must be all the excitement.” I said just as he came out again this time making a run for it up the beach towards the steps.
I caught it again with my boot,
“There you are Larry old boy,” I bent down closer to him, “the ocean’s that way.” This time however I used a firmer tone in my voice.
With my boot I steered him deeper into the water but he came back out again.
Kath was enjoying this- too much I’d say.
“I’ll put the saucepan on again shall I?” she said mockingly.” You know you’ll have to pick it up, hold him by his back and throw it in so it won’t know how to get back to the beach.”
She was right, she usually is. I knew I had to do this, so I lifted up my boot under which I had him pinned down.
“Ok Larry this is it now.” I said, as he waved his legs and claws around. “You’ve seen those white things with the beak overhead that eat fish,” I flapped with my free arm, “well for a couple of seconds you’re going to be like one, you’ll be able to tell your mates, then there’ll be a plop and you’ll be back in lobster world with all of them. So stay there!”
I tossed him about twenty feet into the dark water beyond the light from the condo.
“There, he’s gone darling.” I said dashing the sand off my hands, “By bye Larry, don’t forget to write, send me a post-card.”
“He won’t have to.” Said the voice from above. “He can tell you himself -he’s coming back!”
She was right, he was, and this time he was running
I tried again and again, further and further out until I was at Olympic Lobster Hurling level.
“Ok Larry, you dumb lobster, “ I said, ‘this is it, no returney compadre!” (I had a sudden sneaking doubt that perhaps he didn’t speak English).
I must have thrown him thirty or forty feet this time. Now it seemed the problem was, he was starting to enjoy it.
This time we waited and waited. It was tense. Nothing.
“There,” I turned round with a note of triumphant finality in my voice and shouted up to Kath, “ problem was he’d just got fond of me we’d bonded see, I’m like that with vertibrates.”
Then she spluttered wine all over me from above, and started to laugh pointing to the water. She laughed so much she couldn’t speak.
I turned and looked.
Then I shouted over my bag.
“Ok, I want you to get a hold of yourself, go inside, put the pan on and throw me down my hammer!”
Suprisingly, I never did break out in boils.