CLAWS - part one of three

Lady Rose sank from the top of a swell into its following trough, helping him to gain a couple more turns. Blue polyester fishing line vibrated under the strain, jumping off droplets of seawater, biting into the fleshy heel and the fingers of his right hand. He peered down over the side. It wasn't what he'd thought; not just a bunch of weed. Some long lost, barnacle crusted anchor? He stood up, straight as he could on the wet deck of the pitching, rolling little crabber.


"Come on, Jamie." His father had stacked the last of the latest chain of re-baited pots. "Cut that line away now, we've enough bait. Only this lot to shoot then we're done for today." He looked up at the dark bellied cloud then down to the violence of white water at the foot of the cliff. "And that's just as well, so I'm thinking," he muttered.


Jamie gained another metre or two, leaned out again over the gunwhale, knife in his free hand. The thing on the end of his line didn't seem to be moving but …yes …he sucked in his breath, suddenly quite sure. "Hey Dad, it's a damn great lobster! Look at it: just huge he is."


His father was alongside him now. "Right enough, it bloody is, so. Easy now; very careful, son. He's the line wrapped around his claw. If you panic him and he starts to move about he'll likely shake himself free." He bent lower to see more clearly. "My God … must be the biggest one I've ever seen."


Jamie steadily gained line, ignoring the salty line cuts to his hands. With the giant on the surface his father leaned overboard, grasped the massive shell in both orange gloved hands, heaved it up and over the gunwhale and down on to the deck. They stood there looking at it for a long moment in an awed silence, wondering at the creature's bulk, at the beauty of its indigo blue, barnacled-studded form, motionless but for the twitching of its antennae. A wheel of seagulls called to each other with the news, screaming it out over the thunder of waves on rock and the contented pfut-pfut of Lady Rose's idling diesel.


"He'll go seven kilos if an ounce; maybe eight," James' father said. "Biggest I ever heard of, anyway." He crouched down, with care relieving one giant claw of a turn of line and some strands of seaweed. "Once they get to half this size they don't usually get themselves caught. Much too bloody big to get themselves into a trap." As if concurring, their captive flexed its carapace, slapped its great tail to the deck, levering upwards. It crashed down, legs moving in futile unison, its claws, thick as a man's calf, opening slowly, snapping shut. "Keep yourself well clear. This one'll have your fingers off if he gets the chance." He unsheathed his knife, again looked around at the cliff. "We've drifted well over; we'd best get her underway now, OK?"
Jamie said, "What you going to do with him, Dad?"


"Cut his claw muscles first, what else? In the tank he'll kill the others and all the crabs, unless."


"But we could let the crabs go and take this one back on his own. Couldn't you fix up an aquarium, charge the visitors to come and have a look?" He tried hard to think about it even though he wouldn't be around: Jamie Alexander tried his best to care.


"There's best part of fifty kilo of crab in that tank. Let them go? No way, boy. But that's not a bad idea of yours. Sure, he'll be too tough for the table, I'm thinking." He made up his mind.


"Yes, I reckon there's the old water tank on the pier for him while we think about a proper aquarium. OK. Use some of that netting to wrap him so he can't do any damage then put him in the tank with the others while I clear the cliff. But, hey, remember; be careful now."


He disappeared into the wheel house and the Lady Rose jolted into gear, stern settling, bows lifting as she picked up speed on the turn away from the cliff. Splats of saltwater flew back, showering the deck. The monster moved a little, as if in appreciation. Jamie draped the netting across it, rolled up and tied fast the bundle then dropped the whole thing into the deck tank.


"Good luck, old fellow," he whispered. He watched as the mass of crabs and the few small lobsters in there scuttled clear, scrambling over each other to get out of the way of this master carnivore.


Inside the wheelhouse, out of the wind and the spray Jamie towelled off his face. His father didn't seem so big these days. He was himself as tall. But the old man still looked good in that rugged way of his, with the face under the salt-stained baseball cap tanned and creased by time and all the trouble, by the sea and all the weather. Jamie thought about how, whilst he'd been at the feathering for bait-fish there'd been his father's fake-casual questions. Questions about school and what he might want to do with his schooling and/or with himself, questions he'd answered as briefly and as indirectly as possible and never in the way that he'd wanted to, like; 'Art, Dad, art; that's what I would have wanted to do.' But there would never have been any understanding about that, and all academic now, anyway. He thought about how he'd tried to steer the talk around to the forbidden subject, to talk to his father about his mother. But his father would never talk about that one, the she in whose dark recess his son had been formed, would he. Jamie lit the gas ring, put on the kettle, swilled out two mugs. "That lobster, you said he was old, Dad. How old do you think - and why the 'he', anyway? Couldn't it be a female?"


"I've told you before, all the really big ones are male. How old? No-one knows what age a lobster can get to. Some say more than sixty." He chuckled, his eyes moving automatically from around the horizon to the compass and back again. "He's one hell of a lot older than you, boy, anyway. Me too, probably. Look, there's the ceilidh on tonight. Let's the both of us go, OK? Celebrate, spread the good word, give the girls a treat, what do you say?"


Jamie thought about Kurt sitting in front of his PC in suburban Seattle waiting for him to come on line, and then came the lurch to his stomach. "Not tonight, Dad," he said. "I'm not feeling so good. Anyway, I've got stuff to do." He thought about the ancient lobster, about how it had seemed to watch him with those bright, stalk-swivel eyes. He wanted to go back on deck to lift the tank cover, say something to him; something stupid like, 'I'm sorry'. But that would be stupid and this was another, and a different kind of sadness.


Jamie typed in the words without looking at the keyboard; Well what do you reckon happens Kurt if we do it?


With barely a pause, the reply in white letters, rolling out across the black screen. WHATS THIS PAL? NOTHING!!! JUST YOU AND ME JUST STOP BEING WHERE WE ARE. WERE JUST IN CYBER SPACE U AND ME OK. LOOK YOU'RE NOT GOING TO CHIKKEN ON ME??
No, then on an impulse, Kurt, hows your mother going to take it?


This time there was a pause and then OK I GUESS SHE'LL MAYBE TAKE TIME OUT FOR THE FUNERAL!!! JAMES - YOU SAD YOU DON’T HAVE ONE ONLY YOUR DADDY?


He knew Kurt had meant 'said', not 'sad'. Right. I never knew my mother - she went away. He thought about the hoary old village talk of police interviews, about all the innuendos overheard down the years concerning fruitless searches for his mother's body. On an impulse he added, but I think she just jumped out the window!


GREAT!! YOU THINK??? Hey wE SAID IT THIS IS ALL JUST CRAP OK. TAKE ANOTHER LOOK OUT AT THE SESSPIT tell me if iTS NOT NOTHING BUT CRAP.


He looked up, stared out of the window at the two groups of yellow pinpricks in all the blackness. The smaller group would be the coastguard boat anchored out on the loch, the other, the more distant cluster of Glendonnell village. His fingers moved on the keys; Right, just crap, he typed, there's the usual traffic backed up Fifth all the way to Central Park.


RIGHT THE PARK! THAT'S FOR WHERE GUYS LIKE ME AND U GO IN YOUR GOOD OLD NYC. THEY COME FOR US IN THERE THE BASTARDS!!


He typed, Right - good old little old New York City. hows it with Seattle and you Kurt.


A few seconds ticked by then; same old SAME OLD SHIT.


The shout from downstairs; "Jamie, come on now. My pint's getting cold."


James yelled back, as difficult as it was to sound unwell whilst yelling, "I don't think so, Dad. I told you. I'm not feeling so good." He stared at Kurt's words, hearing his father's footsteps on the stairs, typed in, Tomorrow OK - then after that bye bye.


The knock on his door, hard and insistent. With his finger on the mouse, the cursor on 'exit' Jamie read Kurt's final contribution; RIGHT TOMOROW SAME TIME were GONNA JOIN UP GET THE FUCK OUT OF This. He tapped at the mouse, watched the screen blank out.

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