Author: Mark Smith
A crab and a small fish found themselves imprisoned in a bucket of tepid sea water, balanced precariously on a rock which jutted over a pool. The water teemed with sea creatures ready to be captured by sunblock-smeared children, and unceremoniously dumped in brightly coloured plastic castles.
The small fish was ill-tempered.
The crab not so.
“Did you hear what that boy said?” asked the crab.
“No.” snapped the fish
The crab, seemingly unaware of the hostile water he now occupied, continued.
“The boy asked his father if the sea smells of crabs, or if crabs smell of the sea?”
A pause. A moment. Not long.
“What did the father say?” asked the fish, curiosity getting the better of his increasingly bad mood.
Sensing that he now had a literally captive audience, the crab took his time to respond. An upturned rowing boat was half blocking the bucket from the mid-afternoon sunlight, so he scuttled into the shade. The boats hull was splintered, casting a jagged shadow across the pristine white sand. A little girl traced the shadows edge with meticulous pigeon steps, with each one an adventure unfolding in her mind.
“He said crabs smell of the sea” said the crab, staring at the little girl through the clear plastic bucket. “And his dad laughed at him.’’
The fish followed the crab’s line of vision until all four beady black eyes were placed on the girl, playing in a World of her own. At home in Harlow her hair was the colour of coca cola. But here, the light imbued each hair with colour so that it shone like liquid sunshine. In summer, she was the girl with a flaming head of shimmering auburn.
The crab began to speak, but paused. A Long pause. Perhaps just 30 seconds for us, but for a crab and a small fish a tide or more.
“He’s wrong, of course” said the crab, eventually
“What do you mean, he’s WRONG?!” spat the fish
“The sea smells of crabs”
“You crabs really are stupid aren’t you?!”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But here we both are.”
The fish looked around the bucket, hoping there was a secret passage he hadn’t noticed leading back to the sanctuary of the pool.
“The sea does not smell of crabs, my poor deluded fellow” scoffed the fish, tiny bubbles rising, but too tiny to even penetrate the surface “the sea…..smells…..of….the….sea”
“That’s what they want you to think”
A magnum wrapper landed on the surface of the water, before five chubby little digits plunged in and grabbed it. The crab looked into the fish’s eyes.
“Of course” said the fish, sarcastically “The humans”
“Not much of a stretch is it?” replied the crab.
“The humans don’t determine what things smell like”
“But they do determine what we THINK they smell like”
“Ridiculous” Said the fish, his back now to the crab and staring out at the Atlantic, which seemed to be staging a rescue operation with every desperate wave clawing at the beach. He wondered if his mother would be worried that he was late home.
“Maybe I don’t want to live in their castles anymore” said the crab, following the myriad of scratches on the inside of the bucket with his claw, running along each groove until he came to a dead end, then picking up another groove.
“Well, that we can agree on”
“Maybe……maybe this…..this could change things”
“This?” questioned the fish
“The sea. Smelling of crabs”
“Right” the fish sighed. “That.”
The crab’s sunny disposition had now darkened. He looked at his claws, slowly opening and closing them. “The sea smells of crabs” he said, pensively
“Ok. The sea smells of crabs. Sharks smell of crabs. Limpets smell of crabs. FISH smell of crabs. SO WHAT?! WHAT DOES IT CHANGE?! I’m stuck in a bucket, you’re stuck in a bucket, and that mass of water over there positively reeks of crabs!! It doesn’t change a thing!!”
In a flash the crab had the fish by its tail, panic spread across the fish’s eyes as he desperately tried to set himself free, a slick of blood trickled up to the surface where bubbles full of silent screams were popping.
The crab pulled the fish close to his jet black eyes. “Do you know how many crabs there are in the sea, little fish?” Said the crab, calmly, as the fish thrashed about in his grasp.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not too sure myself. But there are a lot. The sea bed is littered with my brethren’s, scavenging, fighting, clawing their way through a meaningless existence. We eat each other, little fish, we eat our own kind. But this information could change everything, this information could unite the biggest army in the World. We will pull their ships down to the oceans floor, we’ll drag them kicking and screaming from the land and lock them in OUR castles”
“YOU SOUND LIKE THEM!!”Screamed the fish, still desperately trying to wriggle free
Just then, a bright green fishing net was thrust into the bucket, scooping the fish out of the crabs clutches, and depositing him back into the pool.
Unfortunately for the crab it wouldn’t be so straightforward.
This small boy was fascinated and disgusted in equal measures by the mechanics of how crabs walked. He had always loved watching them scuttling like a drunken old man across the sand. The boy tipped the crab onto the sand, to watch his homeward journey back to the sea. He liked imagining, as the crab made tiny imprints in the wet sand, that millions of crabs over millions of years had similarly left their mark on the beaches.
Back in the pool, the most curious of things happened; the fish slapped with morse code precision onto the surface of the water with his tail. From the crevices in the rocks beady eyes looked on, with grave realisation of what was unfolding.
The little girl, who had been imagining fantastical stories shrieked as the crab scurried across her little world, throwing askance the tiny lands and inhabitants she had created. Shortly afterwards a seagull flew overhead, blurring the shadow of the boat’s hull to her immense annoyance.
The seagull honed in on the crab, coordinates already locked in, and in a few seconds had expertly landed beside the crab.
It was pointless for him to run.
“The fish?” the crab asked the bird, staring at the water’s edge which was tantalisingly close. He already knew the answer.
“In the back or through the head?” replied the seagull with no regard to the crab’s question and with the world-weariness of a creature that had performed this routine many times before.
“The back please” sighed the crab, in gloomy resignation.
It was over quickly; the seagull plunged its spear-like beak through the crab’s back, sandy water spilling out his body onto the sand. The gull violently shook the limp body from side to side, before eating its fill and flying off, leaving the tide to wash away the remains.
As the first plop of the tiny crustacean’s corpse hit the water, a dozen of his kind were waiting to feast. They finished what was left of the crab with brutal efficiency.
As waves engulfed the rockpool, the little fish swam as fast as he could all the way back home; and what exciting news he had!
His family gathered at his arrival, and his wide-eyed expression told them that he had an exciting announcement to share.
“THE SEA” shouted the fish triumphantly “IT SMELLS OF FISH!!”