Softening Shell

He had improvised a method, a system of entrapment I’d called it, from a red synthetic mesh bag that had originally contained nectarines but was now baited with scraps of bread.  It lay submerged between the blocks of a shattered concrete jetty that provided the perfect, if man-made ecological environment, to support the bio-systems of his prized decapods.

The boy was catching crabs.

He sat flat-footed on his haunches under a shock of blond hair bleached ever whiter by the Istrian summer waiting for the outcome of his deceit.  Jenny and I were provided with ceaseless commentary, a millimetre-by-millimetre account of a crab’s journey towards incarceration.  His mother grumbled about the peace and quiet being ruined but it wasn’t as if he was disturbing anyone else.  The rocky cove was otherwise deserted, the Adriatic to the front and pine forest rising steeply behind.

When we’d examined the map in the coolness of the chalet our unspoken goal had been to find somewhere away from the crowds attracted by the convenience of the campsite pool.  We agreed that it would be worth the effort of preparing a picnic and a shortish car journey if we found the real Croatia.

The walk down to the sea had started easily enough but the flinty path through the trees became progressively steeper.  In places we’d had to face inwards and scramble down using hands and feet.  The boy shrieked from somewhere far below that he could see the sea.  I’d have shouted back that he should be careful but I didn’t have the wind for it.  Yet another winter spent correcting a fundamentally flawed thesis on the life-cycle of oceanic crustaceans belonging to a ridiculously wealthy PhD student from Saudi Arabia.  The Dean had intimated at the disaster that might befall if Yusuf’s defence proved unsuccessful.  I’d spent the rest of the semester knocking out a paper for the Journal of Life Sciences exhorting the need to consider the confounding effects of heteroscedastic error in meta-analysis.

‘What’s it all for Mike’ Jenny had asked when I’d returned home too late for dinner again one evening at the end of January.  I just didn’t have an answer, at least not one that made any sense.  When I got into bed I knew that she was still awake but neither of us had the humility or the compassion to say goodnight.  The thought that I should reach out and touch the hollow between her shoulder blades seemed utterly ludicrous.

And it had been worth it.  The cove was secluded, the sea safe and accessible.

Jenny insisted that she put sun-block on little Mike, it looked like he thought the sea might disappear if she made him wait a second longer.  When she was done he bolted across the shingle without waiting for an answer to his question about how big I thought they’d be.  Massive.  Really hugely massive Mike – claws like gigantic secateurs I shouted after him, his response inaudible.  I asked Jenny if I’d heard correctly that he’d said yeah whatever dad.  She giggled and said that he was growing up.  I shaded my eyes against the sun and looked at him.  She was right.

I said to Jenny that she should mind the sun too.  I expected her to say that she was going to stay covered up but instead she asked me if I’d put some sun-block on her back.  I sat on a rock behind her and rubbed the cream into her shoulders and then down between them.  I said I was finished and that she was fully sun-proofed but she asked quietly if I’d keep rubbing.

Mike squealed that he’d caught a crab with a soft shell.  Jenny asked me if that was normal and I told her that some of the rarer species’ shells become soft when they wanted to reproduce.  I continued to rub, her back slowly softened. She whispered that she hoped the one Mike had caught was in a loving relationship.


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