Alas, Poor Larry!

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This week, my original content is a very short story. I originally wrote this for the 52-week short story challenge that I only got about 4 weeks into before stopping. So I guess I didn’t technically write it this week, but I did do a lot of editing to it. It’s mostly based on true events that happened when I was 5, though some details are maybe exaggerated and chronologically it’s probably not accurate. But it is a weird series of events that, in retrospect, make me realize I was kind of a weird kid.

 

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To be fair, I never killed her myself. Froze her? Sure. Cut her open? Most definitely. But I was never responsible for her death. No, we never really found out exactly what killed her. Alas, poor Larry! I knew her, dear reader.

I was five when she came to me as a surprise present. At the time I was already diligently keeping a small fresh water fish tank – kissing guppies, neon tetras, a plecostomus. I suppose my parents felt that a crayfish was the next logical step in my budding marine biology career. In a small plastic bag she entered the world of my aquarium, ready to change the lives of the poor unsuspecting fish within.

Larry seemed like a great addition to the team at first. I called her Larry because at the time the idea of finding the gender of a crayfish seemed irrelevant however this later proved to be part of her demise. As far as I knew, Larry and the fish were getting along swimmingly. Then one day I found my mother and brother wrestling with poor Larry and a pile of dull purple rubberbands, trying to slip them over her dull brick-colored claws.

“Just a precaution!” my mother explained, dropping Larry unceremoniously back into the tank.

Being five, I accepted the answer. In retrospect I should have realized the significance of the event. Years later I discovered that there was a more sinister reason behind the neutralization of Larry’s claws: that day while at school, Larry had seen fit to slice one of the kissing guppies in half. A very clean, precise cut, I’ve been told. Luckily for my mother kissing guppies all look alike, at least to the untrained eye of a five year old. She replaced the unfortunate victim with a new friend and I never noticed the switch.

This was just the beginning of Larry’s troubles unfortunately.

Even while restrained, those amazingly precise pincers made my mother nervous. While I can’t say for sure, I imagine they made the other fish nervous as well. The solution was to get Larry her own tank. I reasoned that city life just wasn’t for her – she wanted a nice quiet tank in the country. It was a more pleasant thought than the alternatives – that she was going to fish jail, that she was being shunned, that she was being excommunicated from the fish community.

Finally Larry had her own place where she could snip and snap her precious claws all she wanted. It was more Spartan living, of course – sandy floor, no fake plants, no tiny ceramic bamboo hut. But she was free!

One night she decided to further express her freedom and left the safety of the tank. We will never know what her journey was like, but I imagine that she crawled with beady black eyes full of wonder as she made her way to the living room. However there were beings far larger and greater than she anticipated.

My mother (always the lucky one in this story) had fallen asleep on the couch that night. She was dragged from her sleep by the sounds of our two dogs snarling and growling somewhere near her feet. Wearily she began to tell them off for fighting. When she looked over at them though she found a confusing source of the fighting: Larry. Pincers upraised, she deigned to fight off these enormous beasts. Instead my mother picked her up by the tail and plopped her, claws snapping, back into the tank.

It wasn’t long after this bid for freedom that we noticed something strange happening to Larry. Underneath her tail where usually there was just fibrous tendrils were hundreds of small black dots. Was it mold? Some kind of disease? We didn’t have to wait long to find out. One morning I woke up to hundreds of baby Larrys, none of them much bigger than the head of a pin. Tiny and grey with little whizzing limbs, fluttering around the tank. It was like Christmas had come early for my young marine biologist heart! That was when we found out Larry was a female crayfish.

My father somehow managed to get a rough count of the tiny things and figured we now had about 200 baby crayfish.

This is the part where the story begins to darken.

I was fascinated by this whole event and would spend hours transfixed, watching the near-transparent shellfish floating around the tank. I remember thinking how fairy-like they were, using their near-invisible legs and tails to fly through the water. I wished I could be as graceful as these tiny beings.

Because I was watching so closely, I soon realized that they were eating each other. One by one their numbers dwindled. We tried feeding them more crayfish food but it didn’t stop their cannibalistic appetites. Rather than be upset by this turn of events, I was even more enthralled. Baby crayfish were better than television could ever hope to be.

Eventually the numbers reduced down to about ten. At this point they had grown to about the size of a quarter. The deaths stopped. Things were looking up for Larry and her young ones. At least that’s what it seemed from the outside.

Until one day we discovered Larry, alone, in her tank. Small remnants of her last children strewn about the tank, mixing with the sand. In some last act of desperation, Larry had eaten them.

A few hours later, Larry was dead.

Being the good young marine biologist that I was, I did the only thing I could do with poor Larry’s corpse – I froze it. After a suitable mourning period of about three days, I decided it was time to perform an autopsy. At this point I had successfully dissected fish and chipmunks, but a shellfish was a new experience. The exoskeleton proved difficult to manage, and the vastly different organ structure because of it was also tricky.

As I said, we never really found out what it was that killed her in the end. The autopsy proved fruitless in my unskilled hands. Perhaps my parents did know the cause and never had the heart to tell me. I suppose that a few cursory Google searches could deliver me the information of why a crayfish might eat its spawn and die, but I prefer the mystery.

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