Ray – a short story by Max Olijnyk
Max was in the middle of a decent sentence when he heard a knock at the door followed by an unfamiliar 'Sarah?'.
His mum had not mentioned any impending visitors before she went shopping or whatever the hell it was she did in town.
He was writing a letter to Kirsty, who had called him on Tuesday and twice more since. Their long, elbow-cramping conversations mainly revolved around Kirsty’s terrible boyfriend, but they were wonderful. Max liked making Kirsty laugh and hoped she was starting to think about him as more than a confidant. He knew that revealing his besotted feelings in a letter was a bad move, but he was trying not to think about that. Writing it down felt exciting.
The man was standing in the kitchen, filling the house with the smell of bait and beer. He had something big and alive in his hand.
'Is your mum here mate?' he asked through a beard that seemed to be growing over his whole face. It was a talking beard with a Makita hat.
Max shook his head and told him she had gone to town, and straight away wished he had made something else up. He didn’t want this big lump stinking up the house for any longer than necessary.
'I’m not sure when she’ll be back,' he added, looking at the cupboard.
The creature was writhing around in slow motion, trying to escape the man’s big dumb hand.
'Brought this for her. Should I leave it in the sink?'
Max nodded as if he knew for sure that was a good idea.
'She’ll be gone for a while then?'
He nodded again as the man deposited the creature in the sink and shuffled off towards the door.
'I’ll leave you to it then mate.'
The creature’s little black eyes regarded him grimly. Max wondered if it was dying. He held his hand up and it scuttled around like a massive spider.
'What should I do?' he wondered. The beady eyes stared at him; the bony antennas waved around.
He tried saying it out loud. 'What should I do?'
He considered calling Kirsty, but she wouldn’t know what to do, either. He could call one of his friends from school, but the shame would be too much. This was one of those things you were expected to know how to do in the southeast, like riding a motorbike or building a campfire or whistling with two fingers held in your mouth.
Max took a glass of water from the bench and approached the sink again. The claws rose up in defence, the undercarriage of the creature working away unseen, scratching away on the metal. He slowly poured some of the water over its back. The cray remained still, though the huge feelers stayed pointing up, on guard. Max backed away and watched for a few moments as they slowly lowered.
He thought about the worst thing that could happen. The cray would fall out from the sink, crack its shell, and attack Max as its final act. He went into the bathroom and filled up the glass with water. Gently, he poured it over the cray. It looked up at him sadly. Max had never eaten crayfish and he swore then he never would. This thing was intelligent, like an alien dog. An alien dog warrior.
He thought of how his dad used to tell him the story of Ray the Cray when they were driving to Adelaide. Ray was a crayfish who grew to an incredible size and learned to walk on land, where he would eat cows, sheep and occasionally little boys. His dad would always finish the story just as the huge fibreglass lobster came into view on the highway, 'and there he is! It’s Ray!' and Max would squeal in delight. They never stopped at the restaurant Ray sat in front of, but drove by honking the horn and waving.
'Poor Ray,' he said to the creature. Its feelers waved around like grass in the breeze.
Max touched the shell. It was cool and knobbly. He could feel the life worming around underneath. He stroked it slowly, careful to keep his distance from the big horns, which were still held up in defiance, making a clicking sound. Ray smelt fresh and alive, of the ocean.
'Poor, poor Ray.'
Max poured the rest of the water over Ray’s shell and went back to his room. He began writing the letter again, but instead of his feelings, he wrote about the fisherman’s beard and Ray and his little black eyes and his dad. He became engrossed in the story, only coming back to reality when he heard the sound of tyres rolling up the driveway.
Ray was still in the sink, but he was now facing toward the wall and leaning up on his tail, as if he was reaching for the window. Max went to retrieve the glass from beside the sink. Ray didn’t move this time.
Ray’s eyes moved almost imperceptibly, the glassy beads shining back at Max with dull recognition. The feelers twitched as he stroked his back.
Max Olijnyk is a freelance writer and photographer, and the man behind Melbourne denim label Note to Self.
© Max Olijnyk 2012