Billy the Grub | The New Engagement

Billy the Grub: Page 4 of 4

By Jon Berger
Billy The Grub story art

Mike’s sister’s house was tall and brick with pillars on the front porch. It was old with a big green lawn. Trucks and motorcycles lined the street around the driveway. I walked into the back where the music and voices were coming from. Mike was standing at the smoker with a beer. Men were sitting around a long glass-top table drinking. Empties of the same beer I brought covered most of the table. He introduced me to his friends with handshakes. They all had tattoos, some with beards and ponytails too. I set my case of beer on the grass by the table. I drank a few beers and talked to his army buddies before Mike asked why I brought a lobster.

“Oh,” I looked at the fishbowl as if just noticing it. “This is Steve. I have to cook him for my class. I figured we could eat him here.”

“Jesus Christ, Bill. Don’t say it like that, man.” Mike and some of his buddies laughed a little.

“Say it like what?”

“Like we’re cannibals or something.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Tiff is inside. She’ll help you. She wants to meet you anyways, remember.”

“Is it okay if I just go in?”

“Of course, she’s expecting you.” He nodded at the sliding glass door of the back patio.

I grabbed a handful of beers and took Steve inside. It was a nice house with piano music playing, I was nervous. I was standing in the kitchen and it was all tile and marble and bright. The ceiling was high so I didn’t have to worry about bumping my head. A slender woman walked in. She was dressed nice and I wouldn’t have known she knew Mike.

“Billy,” she said approaching and extending her hand, “It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Tiffany.”  

I set Steve on the counter and carefully shook her hand. “Sorry about the lobster. I have to cook him for my class before Monday. Mike said you could help.”

She looked at me, her mouth dropped a bit, as if preparing for something, but I didn’t know what. “Well, lucky for you, I was a cook at a seafood joint when I went to law school.”

“Cool.” I didn’t know what seafood or law school was.

“Here,” she motioned me and opened a cupboard, pulling out a pot. She placed it in the sink and turned on the faucet. She added some salt to the pot. “I don’t have the kids this weekend, so it works out well for Mike’s cookout. They’re not bad guys. I just don’t want my kids around all the alcohol.”

“My teacher says alcohol is bad.” I thought about how I shouldn’t have brought beer.

Tiffany laughed and turned off the water. “Well, your teacher is wrong. It’s not bad, what’s bad is the way Mike and some of his friends drink it.” She set the pot on the red spot on the stove. She dug into her pocket and pulled out some folded up money. “Here, for the iFad,” she said handing it to me.

I took the money and counted it. “This is too much. Mike said he’d give me a hundred.” I handed back two hundred and she slapped my hand, but not in a mean way.

“Mike told me what happened. We’re happy to help anyway we can.”

“But you don’t have to.”

“Really, it’s not a bother. Just take the money. I’ve appointed someone at the firm to look into the incident at the store, so just pay it back for now. It’ll look better on paper that way.”

“Um, okay. Thanks. I don’t know what to say.”  

“You don’t have to say anything, Billy.”

The water was starting to boil. Tiffany motioned at Steve. I plucked him out of the fishbowl full of spare change and dead minnows and just stared at him in my claws for the last time and then handed him to her.

“Won’t the hot water hurt him?” I was getting the bowling ball feeling again.

She looked curiously at Steve in her hands. His legs moved slowly. “I’m not sure actually, but its better to boil them when they’re still alive. It makes them fresher to eat.” She dropped Steve in and he disappeared into the mess of steaming and boiling water.

She turned back to me and folded her arms, leaning on the counter. “What happened at the electronics store wasn’t your fault. The Sub-Terra Dragon Status Legislation has some huge holes in it.” She grabbed some big metal tongs hanging on a hook on the wall. “Some of the laws and requirements that apply to your acclimation process are contradictory. You’re basically being ghettoized.” She slipped on a padded mitten. “There’ve been potential landmark cases piling up,” she paused and held up her free hand. “You know what, don’t think about it. Just have fun and relax. My people will get a hold of you and we will talk about all of this at a later time.”

She dipped the tongs into the water and pulled out Steve.  He was beat red and his tail was curled up. “You know, we didn’t grow up in a place like this.” She placed him on a plate and he didn’t move. She took off the big mitten and waved away the steam floating off of Steve.

“Where’d you and Mike grow up at?” I was trying to act normal. The red looked like it did  hurt. “Is he dead?” I asked before she could answer.

“Who?” She said confused.

I pointed at Steve. “The lobster,” I knew not to call him Steve even though I wanted to then more than ever. I didn’t want her to know that I bought him for a pet.

“Yup, he is, is that okay?”

I nodded, “Yeah, I just didn’t know.” This was not okay, but this is what lobsters were for.

She put some butter in a bowl and put it in the microwave. She turned back to Steve, “Mike and I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” she smiled and picked him up and with a crunch twisted off his claws. Tiffany reminded me of some colorful bird with a craned neck alone ad quiet in the water. It was weird to see her spring into action and do something she looked like she’d never done before, but yet did it so easily. She pulled open a drawer and took out nutcrackers and crunched the claws open. She grabbed Steve by both ends and with a twist and another crunch tore him in half. “Mike took the worst of it. He always made sure he did.”  Tiffany then ripped open his tail and pulled out the meat. The microwave beeped and she took out the bowl of butter and placed it by the plate.

“I grew up in a giant cave.”

She smiled. “I know you did, Billy. But what’s important now is that you keep growing. Now enjoy. I hope you get an A in lobster class.”  

I opened a beer and sat down at the table. I poked a part of Steve with the fork, he didn’t move.  I took the fork and dipped and swirled some meat into the bowl and took a bite. Steve tasted great with butter.

Jon Berger lives and writes in Saginaw, Michigan, where he works as a library clerk.His work has recently appeared in Five 2 One Magazine and is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and The Bitchin’ Kitsch.

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, The New Engagement in print.

Order Today!

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.