Joe brung the langoustines. He’d asked me the other day down at the harbour if I wanted some and even though I never knew what they were I said:
—Aye bring me some round.
—They’re great with a chilli sauce, he said.
About a week or so after that I heard the drill of a diesel engine outside. The door went, the dogs barked and the cats jumped onto the kitchen units. It was Joe and he was in a hurry. His driver’s door was flung open. Had to go up to Troon. Deliver the lobsters, pick up his bait. I’d forgot all about the langoustine conversation and wondered why he was handing me this bright red bucket. It was half-filled with water and all these wee orange fellahs. At first I thought they were baby lobsters because that’s what they look like, langoustines. I took the bucket, said cheers and he shouted chilli sauce as he was driving up the street.
Connie puzzled when she seen the bucket.
—Joe’s brung us these, I said and sat the bucket on the floor. She bent down looking in. So did I.
—Langoustines? she said.
They were a bright orange that’s hard to explain. Maybe it was the red of the bucket reflecting on them but they looked like cartoons. There was at least fifty going every way possible in that confined space. You could see they weren’t used to moving about in hardly any water. Some swam frantically crashing into the sides. Others sat on the bottom looking up. Others were still and might’ve been dead.
—He said they’re good with chilli sauce.
—Some of them.
—Most of them, she said, and swirled the water. The agitation caused the still ones to move their limbs. We watched them in silence with water slipping off her hand back into the bucket. She’d been spending a lot of time in the garden with the other three cats since we buried Floyd and the tan on her face was burnished by the red glow from the bucket.
—I think ye just drop them in boiling water like lobsters.
As soon as I said it I knew it was the wrong thing. Still crouched down she put one hand on her thigh and looked up.
—Ye can’t drop them in boiling water – have ye ever heard the noise a lobster makes?
She stood up.
—They scream when you kill them, she said.
—No they don’t, I said.
She pointed to our dogs, a collie and a lurcher.
—How would you like it if somebody dropped one of them into a pot of boiling water?
—Okay then, I said. —Let them die. They’ll die naturally. Then we’ll cook them.
She looked at me and went out into the garden. I heard her walk across the grass and I knew where she was going. I sat for a while in the quiet cool of the kitchen watching the langoustines. I don’t know how long it was but they moved less and less until they were all still. When they were all dead I crept closer. But they exploded, their claws and feet rattling on the sides of the bucket. They weren’t going to die easy. I made a pot of tea. The sun was coming in sheets through the half-shut blinds. I knew Connie was staying in the garden out of the way so I took her tea out. She was sitting beneath the cherry trees beside Floyd’s grave. Connor, our collie, was watching her every move. She looked up and I could tell even from halfway down the path that she’d been crying again.
—Not yet, is all I said, and put the tea on a stone.
When I got back to the kitchen our big lurcher had his head in the bucket like a giraffe. Fishing.
His hairy head popped out, water pouring off. A langoustine struggled in his front teeth. He was holding it delicately and staring at me.
No way, was the look on his face. He slunk down and his tail curled under. He let out a growl.
—Leave it Bailey!
I moved to get the langoustine and crunch. It fell on the floor in two halves. The head part was running away on these long spindly legs. For a moment I could see it all from the langoustine’s point of view and it was horrific. Bailey warned me away with a snarl, scooped the tail up and ate it. Then, as he grabbed the head, I noticed Connie in the doorway. Bailey pushed past her growling and into the garden to nibble away at his catch.
—Did you give him one of them?
—Ye gave him one didn’t ye?
—I came in and he had his head in the bucket. I couldn’t get it off him.
She shook her head.
—He was like that (snarl) going to fuckin bite me. Ye know what he’s like—he’s a thieving bastard.
Connor hated tension in the house. He came to me then Connie nuzzling and kissing and asking us please be pals. Please be good. Please stop arguing. And he won’t stop until you truly are calmed down. So we did. It’s the only way to stop him. If you’ve got a collie you’ll know what I mean. Once we were calm he took to wagging his tail fascinated by the things in the bucket. Connie hadn’t looked since she came in from the garden.
—Are they dead yet?
I swirled the bucket and they weren’t. The water was getting warm. She wasn’t for waiting out in the garden while I let a bunch of wee animals die in the house. I suggested to put them in the freezer, see if that would kill them quicker but that’s not where she wanted the conversation to go. She stared at me. I knew what she was going to say and was searching for answers before she said it.
—We’ll have to put them back.
—He catches them way out at sea. What d’you want me to do—swim out with the fuckin bucket in my teeth?
—The sea’s the sea. Put them in on the beach. I’m not letting them die.
And she looked for the first time since she came in. So did I and guilt flooded me. I’d try to tell myself it was okay. I wasn’t killing them. They were dying themselves. As if that’s what they were choosing to do. But she was spot on. It just felt wrong us letting them die right there on that kitchen floor.
So, we put Bailey and Connor in their room. Threw two trays of ice into the bucket. Covered it with a black bin liner. Connie went out to open the boot and check for people. The signal was three knocks and out I came holding the bucket to my chest. The langoustines were sloshing about. I placed it carefully in the boot and clicked it shut. The sun was blazing.
—Joe better never find out about this, I said.
We drove ultra slow down South Street, so slow that a caravan driver was agitated behind us. I made some kind of joke about the irony of that but she was focused on releasing these wee fellahs. We wound our windows down but the heat was still unbearable. We drove round past the harbour onto the shingle beach that faced England. It was almost impossible to be seen from there. Almost. Just as I opened the boot Tin Tin came out of nowhere with Floss.
—Aye! he said.
I snapped the boot shut.
—Some day Tin Tin, I said, —Hot.
He sensed my agitation and nodded at the boot.
—What’s in there – a body?
—No, just wasn’t shut right.
Connie started throwing stones into the sea for his dog. Tin Tin watched Floss swimming for ages then walked away talking to himself. Floss followed, shaking rainbows off her fur. But by then four holidaymakers had arrived with a picnic basket. We got back into the car and reversed off the beach.
—Go round the other end, Connie said.
The village is on a horseshoe bay a half a mile or more across. At the other end a long line of yellow sand comes to a point at the trees. We couldn’t see anybody..
When we got there it was empty. We opened the boot but I started to get paranoid. The whole village with its painted houses stood across the bay looking at us. It was like trying to get rid of a body. The bucket sat there ominous and none of us could lift it. Connie felt the water.
—It’s getting warmer. I don’t want them to die!
—Fuck it, I said and lifted the bucket. But she heard something and pushed it back in. We scanned the bay. The noise had come from the trees. It could be cattle or there might be somebody in there watching. Truth was, there was nowhere secluded on that whole bay. No matter where you went someone spotted you. The only secrets were the ones you kept inside your head.
We were beat. The langoustines were dying and the tide was on the ebb. I tried to think of other points where you could get down to the sea with a car but I couldn’t. The only ones I could suggest were so far away that they would all be dead before we got there. Then I noticed Connie was crying.
—Ye shouldn’t’ve took them in the first place, she said.
—Oh aye, blame me cos a guy does us a favour.
—Ye should’ve said no.
—How the fuck could I say no – I didn’t even know what they were at the time.
—So ye told him to bring things ye didn’t have a clue about?
—No – I didn’t tell him anything. He asked me and rather than offend him I said aye.
—What if they were big fuckin things like alligators?
I thought of a bucket of alligator heads snapping at me and burst out laughing. So did she. We gave each other a hug and I suppose from across the bay we looked like a couple making up after an argument. Then I had an idea.
—The stream, I said.
—The stream. Drive along the stream and when we’re far enough out of the village dump them in there. They’ll make their way back to the sea no problem.
She thought it was a great idea. We rushed off at ten miles an hour. Both our windows were down with the heat. The stream runs for two miles alongside the road into the village. We waved to a few passing villagers who were probably talking about the argument we’d just had at the end of the bay.
When we got far enough out I stopped. A car went past and flashed its lights. I waved. Then it was all clear. Connie got out, opened the boot, grabbed the bucket, disappeared through the trees and down the slope. I heard her mashing about in the mud then a pour and a splash—like somebody being sick. There was nothing for a few moments and I was beginning to think she’d fell in when up she came through the bushes with a big smile. There was mud halfway up her shins with a perfect line at the top. She got in and put the bucket at her feet.
—Lost my shoes. Stuck in the muck.
She was breathing hard with elation and relief. The bad feeling was gone. I leaned across and kissed her. Told her she was a lifesaver.
—Did they swim away? I asked.
—Some of them were dead. I think. They washed away with their arms hanging down like this. But the rest of them turned and faced the sea and swam. Should’ve seen them. They were like wee orange compasses. And they say animals are daft.
—At least we’ve saved most of them, I said.
She kissed me and said —Next time just say no.
I nodded and we drove off down that long straight road passing the langoustines. Then a thought came to me. An urge to go to the bridge and see them coming under it. I know it’s daft but I wanted to see if there was any change in their expressions when they sensed a trace of salt water in their nostrils—if they’ve got nostrils. It had been some day for the wee guys. From the lobster creels to a bucket—the big lurcher monster fishing for them, the journey in the boot of the car and the slosh into a freshwater stream. It would be just magic to see their faces when they surged into that ocean and freedom. Connie thought I was mad.
When we got to the bridge, I was about to swing the door open and jump out when a car came round. It was Joe.
—Shit, said Connie and tried to hide the bucket under her legs.
—Awright, he said.
—That was quick – Troon.
—Roads were empty, he said. —Did ye eat the langoustines?
—Aye! We both said at the same time. Joe was a bit taken aback with the ferocity of our answer. The langoustines were probably passing underneath us at that point. Then I let fly.
—Had them with chilli sauce right enough. Aw they were great. A wee bit of lemon an all they were great weren’t they Connie? Weren’t they great eh?
—Right, Joe said.
I think he could see the bucket. But he never said anything. He just said he’d bring us some more next week.
© Des Dillon
This electronic versions of "They Scream When You Kill Them” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author. It appears in the author's collection They Scream When You Kill Them, published by Luath Press Ltd, Scotland, Sept. 2006. Book ordering available through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk
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