Excerpt of Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
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The audience laughed with him, appalled, and he shook his head now, suggesting
that in hindsight he couldn't believe what he had done. And, the truth was, he
couldn't. He remembered those evenings well, especially the nights when there
would be those sightseeing tours. As soon as the bus would coast into the
dirt-and-gravel parking lot, he would retrieve the wooden coop with the torpid
crustaceans from the walk-in refrigerator so that the creatures were right there
beside him on the floor. Then, like an automaton, he would bend over and grab
one from the container that reeked of low tide and pin the writhing,
asphyxiating decapod (five pairs of appendages on the thorax, a word he'd found
in the entry on lobsters in the dusty encyclopedia from the Coolidge
administration he'd discovered in a spare bedroom in Catherine's mother's house)
on its back. He would uncoil the springy ribbon of tail and hold down the
bulbous crusher claw with his fingers for the split second it took him to line
up the cleaver on the lobster's carapace (an unbuttoned sports jacket, he
thought at the time) so that the animal's abdomen was exposed. Then he would
press the metal blade straight down as it breathed.
But not, alas, breathed its last.
The point was to get the creature into the 450-degree oven while it was still
Andwhether he was cooking five or six lobsters on a given night or five or
six dozenafter he had sliced the animal lengthwise down to the exoskeleton,
he would pack the open cavity with rouxlike gobs of Ritz cracker crumbs and
margarine, sprinkle paprika on the stuffing, and slide him off the cutting board
and onto a baking sheet. Rarely did the animal have an aluminum leaf to itself,
usually it would be one of three or four lobsters pressed together, the claws of
one beside the tail of another, Y to Y to Y. Then he would deposit the creatures
into the oven on whichever rack was not at that moment occupied by swirls of
sole (wrapped around ice-cream-scoop dollops of the same Ritz cracker crumb and
margarine paste), slabs of bluefish, or chicken breasts buried beneath bubbling
puddles of tomato sauce.
"The animal would cook for ten to twelve minutes. I presumed it finished
dying within the very first, but that probably wasn't the case," he said,
his voice softening both for effect and because he knew this was true and it
First it's the whales, then it's the dolphins. Next it will be the tuna.
It'll never stop, you know, until someone's protecting the bloody lobsters!
The words of a whaleran otherwise charismatic old bird with a furrowed,
hard-bitten facespoken to Spencer the year before last at a gathering of the
International Whaling Commission he'd attended in Japan. He remembered their
discussion now, as he did often when he talked about lobsters. Well, yes, he'd
told the whaler. That's exactly the point.
In addition to being Lobster BoySpencer's title was actually second chef, but
the grown men who were waiters all called him Lobster Boyhe also prepared the
sole and the bluefish and the chicken Parmesan at the restaurant. The first
chef, a burly guy who'd cooked on an aircraft carrier before enrolling in
culinary school when he was done with the navy, worked behind a grill the length
of a shuffleboard court in the dining room itself, searing the steaks and the
chops before any customers who wanted to watch.
When Spencer would return to his girlfriend's mother's house, he knew he was
sweaty from his hours beside the hot ovens and from his exertionshe moved
quickly and he always pressed the cleaver down hard, convinced even then that it
hurt the animal less if the evisceration was fastbut he knew he smelled
mostly of fish. Consequently, in late June and July and early August, when the
nights were still warm, he kept a bathing suit in the car and sometimes he would
detour to Echo Lake before going home. There he would dive into the water and
swim along the surface until he felt free of the smell of dead lobsters and
sole, and the skin on his fingers no longer had an oily film from the bluefish.
Excerpted from Before
You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian Bestselling author of Midwives
Copyright© 2004 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart
Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the