(after a Japanese folk tale)
Once there were two friends, a monkey and a crab. One day, walking together in the park, the crab saw an apple on the ground. He was about to eat it, but the monkey stopped him.
“Hold on, my friend!” he said, picking at his scalp with blunt wrinkled fingers. “There are seeds in there. You could grow a whole tree full of apples, instead of just eating one.”
The crab waggled his beady eyes. The flat bits of his mandibles blew frothy bubbles. ‘Really? But how do I get the seeds?’
The monkey grinned at his friend. He opened his mouth and bared his teeth, then bent down to bite at something itchy on his chest. ‘Don’t worry, I can easily get the seeds for you with my fingers. I’ll have to eat the apple to get at them, of course.’
The crab stepped to one side, then the other, and waved its claws in the air. His feet clattered excitedly against each other. The monkey took that as a yes, and ate the apple, chewing then spitting out one or two seeds. The crab waved its claws a bit more. The monkey placed the seeds on the crab’s back. Then the two of them walked home together.
The crab planted the seed carefully in his front garden, amongst the sea weed and anemones. The same day his wife announced that he would soon be a father. His son was born, tiny and translucent, on the same day the sapling first pushed through the soil, and grew to adulthood as the tree rose in height.
One day, the first apples started appearing, and the crab said to his son, as they scavenged for rotting fish, ‘Look - your brother the tree is bearing fruit, just as you yourself are starting to become an adult.’
Soon after, when many of the apples were glowing bright with ripeness, the crab was scuttling in the garden with his old friend the monkey. The monkey had a shit, sniffed at it, then said, ‘Didn’t I give you good advice? Look at how big those apples are!’
‘Yes they are, aren’t they,’ replied the crab, frothing complacently.
‘But how are you going to reach them?’ asked the monkey.
The crab was struck suddenly with panic. He raised and lowered his legs and frothed a bit more. ‘I don’t know! Oh dear! They will rot on the tree, and the birds will steal them.’
The monkey, grinning manically, comforted his friend. ‘Don’t worry, old friend, I can easily climb the tree and fetch the fruit for you.’ The crab gratefully thanked him, and he darted up the tree straight away.
The crab watched his friend’s backside, swollen in permanent sexual display, disappear up into the leaves. Soon, the monkey was high in the branches while the crab stood waiting at the foot of the tree. The crab watched as his friend ate one, then another, and soon a third of the ripest fruit. He waved his antennae and clacked his claws. ‘My dear monkey,’ he called, ‘You are welcome to some of my apples, but please pass them to me too, so that I can enjoy them with you. I am so hungry!’
The monkey, astounded by the juicy aroma and amazing taste of the apples, boiled with anger at the stupidity and greed of the crab. The tree should belong to the person who had the wit to think of planting it, not to a dull creature who couldn’t even pick the fruit. His lips flipped back and he bared his long teeth and chattered angrily. He grabbed the hardest, most unripe apple and hurled it at his friend. With a horrendous crack, it split the shell of the crab and he cried out in agony. The monkey, horrified at what he had done, but more terrified of what the crab would do to him when he descended, chattered and hooted. He pulled more unripe apples off the branches and threw them in a fury at the poor crab, who was soon killed.
The monkey swung down from the tree. He jumped up and down by the crab’s body, then he ran to the house and cried out to the crab’s wife and son, ‘Hurry, come quick, my dear friend the crab is dead! He was impatient for the apples, and shook the tree, only to be killed by the unripe fruit falling on him!’
The crab’s son rushed madly out to find his father. When he saw the scene his eye-stalks rolled and the froth from his mouth blew into huge bubbles. He brought the apple tree crashing to the ground with a stroke of his claws. One single ripe red apple rolled to his feet. He looked at it, bursting with scarlet juices, and picked it up tenderly. He held it to the light, and as he did so the skin was pierced by his sharp claws and a drop of juice fell to his mouth. In the bitterness of it he knew the truth about the evil the monkey had done.
He raced back to where the monkey was comforting his mother and cut off the head of his father’s killer with a clack of his claws like a thunderclap. Before he could say a word to his horrified mother, the honey-bee, an old comrade in arms of the crab and the monkey in days gone by, flew up and thrust his sting into soft membrane surrounding the eye-stalk of the crab’s son, killing him instantly.
The crab’s mother squatted in stunned silence next to the writhing body of the honey-bee, whose sting had embedded itself in the crab, dragging the guts of the honey-bee out in a long, twitching string. Then she absent-mindedly began to eat her son.