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Fiction: The Bionic Lobster

Illustration of a lobster hugging a sign that reads "Hal's Chowder House."

Illustration by Karen Donley-Hayes. © SEPS 2014

Big Hal’s 9-year-old twin boys named the one-clawed crustacean as soon as it came out of the lobster pot on the deck of their dad’s boat. The lobster snapped at them with his remaining claw, and the kids instantly dubbed him Ahab and invented his life story. By the time Big Hal returned to port with the morning’s haul, Ahab not only had a name but a life history, reputedly having lost his claw to a hammerhead shark during a sea-floor battle so fierce coral reefs shattered and barnacles dropped dead from nearby whales. When the sand settled, the battle-worn lobster straddled the body of the hammerhead, the little fishes already dodging in, zipping nibbles from the tattered shark’s remains.

And so the twins saved the gladiator. They reasoned with their father that Ahab should not join the other lobsters in the restaurant’s tank, but rather they should keep the wounded warrior–he could convalesce in the aquarium in their bedroom, where they would tend him–that Ahab’s valor had earned him no less.

Big Hal acquiesced. He would have pitched the clawless lobster back into the Atlantic anyway, because such a specimen didn’t belong in the tank at Big Hal’s Chowder House. But all morning, as he’d worked the boat’s rolling deck, he’d been overhearing the crustacean’s story, listening as his sons pieced together Ahab’s evolution and re-evolution. So Hal let the kids keep Ahab, justifying his unfisherman-and-restaurateur-like decision to his wife by insisting Ahab serve as a specimen for the twins’ grade-school STEM class project. The project was simple: observe and record all aspects of Ahab’s life in the aquarium. Which they did.

By the time Ahab had shed his shell a couple times, he’d also regrown an impressive new claw–as lobsters are wont to do–and the kids decided Ahab was only his gladiator pseudonym, and with those days behind him, so too was the pseudonym. After careful assessment and thought, and no small amount of 1970s TV-watching, the twins christened the crustacean with his real name: Steve Austin, lobstronaut, a crustacean barely alive…but he could be better than he was before–better, faster, stronger. Steve, the Bionic Lobster.

Beyond observing him for their STEM project in school, the kids also strove to make a passable pet out of Steve; they enjoyed feeding him, tending to his needs. They provided him a stimulating environment, complete with an elaborate plastic underwater castle, into which they wedged their sister’s Townhouse Barbie (appropriately attired in a sensible one-piece bathing suit, a scuba mask, and the one flipper they could find). Steve expressed his gratitude by steadfastly rebuffing them, focusing rather on eating, staring at the aquarium’s corners, growing, nurturing his inner curmudgeon, and snapping his claws onto any human body part that came within range.

Time passed. Steve grew, and his belligerence deepened. The twins grew, and their insight deepened. By the time the boys were college-bound high school seniors, they had acknowledged Steve not only was not a cuddly pet, he was in fact surly. Unfriendly, even. Downright hostile, to put a finer point on it.

“He’s not a lap lobster,” they liked to tell friends and visitors, “unless you want to be a soprano.”

Years passed, and Steve rivaled even the most seasoned housecat in serving no discernible purpose, lazing at the bottom of his tank, eating what the twins fed him, shedding his shells and growing. When the twins left for college, Big Hal transferred the lobster to the tank at the restaurant, in no small part because he’d outgrown the tank at home. Before they took off the bands holding Steve’s monster claws shut and lowered him into the restaurant’s tank, the twins emblazoned “NFS” on his shell with orange buoy-paint.

Steve hulked around in the huge restaurant tank, outweighing every other lobster (transients, all) two or three times over. It didn’t take long for the crustacean to gain fame, and some folks patronized Big Hal’s Chowder House just to get a table near the tank with the monster lobster. Steve’s burgeoning fame guaranteed him life-long menu immunity, and the twins stopped repainting his new shell every time he shed. This spared them what had become a sodden exercise in cunning, agility, and brute strength. The twins had long ago learned to work as a team, one distracting the crustacean while the other darted in to grab the lobster’s body, then both wrestling to heft his nearly 40 pounds out of the tank, band his catcher’s mitt-sized claws, paint his shell, un-band, and release him. None of them would miss this ritual.

As a business man, Hal was not unaware of the growing attention and patronage Steve attracted to his restaurant. Although historically not one prone to befriending menu items, Hal nonetheless held a growing respect and appreciation for Steve, whose reputation he bolstered when he added an addendum to the restaurant’s front sign: “Big Hal’s Chowder House. Home of the Bionic Lobster.”

Hal picked up where the twins had left off narrating the crustacean’s life story, extolling his bad attitude (honestly earned and universally accepted as fact) and proclaiming him the Chowder House’s “guard lobster” and in-store security system (sound in theory if unproven in practice). Hal’s ruddy fisherman’s face beamed with pride when patrons gaped pop-eyed at the lobster’s enormous claws, or when people reflexively stepped back from the tank on the rare occasions Steve deigned to exhibit his extraordinary physique, cruising along the tank’s floor, the other lobsters scuttling out of his way like minnows.

The legend of the Bionic Lobster found its way, as legends do, into local lore and furthermore into sundry bits of tourist-oriented material. People traveled from out-of-state to see the famous monster lobster. Folks declared Steve a record-setting monster lobster – a claim Big Hal would neither admit nor deny – and many record-coveters desired the crustacean, some offering obscene amounts of money to buy him. But Steve the Bionic Lobster hadn’t been for sale back when the twins painted NFS on his shell with orange buoy-paint, and he certainly wasn’t a transaction consideration now. Big Hal always rejected the offers, to the wishful-buyers’ broken-heartedness, indignation, and occasional acrimony. But he didn’t care. Steve was appreciated enough right where he was, which Big Hal firmly believed was also right where he belonged. No one asked for Steve’s input on the matter, though the lobster’s historical belligerence strongly indicated he would have responded to any such inquiry with principled truculence.

The legend of the Bionic Lobster might have kept expanding right along with the crustacean, but sometimes legends outgrow themselves before their time.

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  • Kim Ghaphry

    Karen is a delightful storyteller with a Mark Twain flair!

  • Kim Ghaphery

    Karen’s story is a delightful testimony to the art of story telling with a Mark Twain flair!

  • What a great read! Totally engaging, well written, and just plain fun. I love the artwork that accompanies!

  • Janeen

    Do I really have to wait a week??? Love, J