Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The crawfish boil

By Alvin G. Burstein

The sultry south Louisiana afternoon was buffered by the shade of tall pines and oaks that dominated the lot. Scattered under the trees were rough-hewn tables, eight foot long plywood panels supported by sawhorses that elevated them waist high. Clipped to the two holes in the center of each table, and hanging down from it, were black thirty gallon trash bags. Some kind of feast had been carefully anticipated.

People began trickling in, at first in twos and threes, then in larger crowds. The guests were varied: men and women, young and old, some bare-legged in shorts, some in chinos, some in gaily flowered dresses, some bare-headed and some in floppy sun hats. As the crowd increased, the clamor of talk, punctuated by bursts of laughter, got louder and louder. The humid atmosphere got warmer and warmer.

The food arrived, cascade upon cascade of hot boiled crawfish, their mottled red bodies setting off steaming paler red new potatoes, three inch cobs of shiny yellow corn and speckles of gray-green bay leaf, darker allspice and fire alarm red cayenne, all puddled in liquid boil. Bellying up to the tables, the crowd began to grab for the shellfish, twisting off and sucking heads, peeling open the armored bellies, squeezing out gleaming, moist tails, and, ignoring the black dorsal blood lines, fingering the white meat into their mouths. The laughter and talk didn't subside. It became a cacophony, a jangle, punctuated by the sound of fingers sucked, smacking lips and exclamations of approval: "Man, these mudbugs are some good!"

Mounds of spiny, multi-legged shellfish disappeared to be replenished by new cascades, welcomed by gleaming eyes and grasping hands. Mastication clotted, but did not diminish, the increasing clamor. Ejaculations of pleasure, shouted words and eruptions of laughter spiraled into the muggy atmosphere. Liquid boil and fish juices coated snatching fingers, and slathered hands and forearms. Oily stains splashed clothes and besmeared chins.

Suddenly the ground began to rock. Tables spilled their contents. Feasters staggered and fell, screaming. A monstrous basket of metal netting broke through the ground. Scooping up a squirming mass of people and broken debris, it dumped the collection into a huge steaming caldron watched by gigantic crustaceans looking on with expressionless ebony eyes.

Copyright ©2011 Alvin G. Burstein. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form, including electronic, without the author’s express permission.


This story was originally published in Dark Valentine magazine in June 2011.



Burstein is a retired psychology professor and psychoanalyst. He currently volunteers at the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center where he teaches and serves as librarian. He is a member of the Inklings, a group that meets weekly at the local public library to read and critique its members’ writings. He is a committed Francophile, unsurprisingly, a lover of fine cheese and wine, and an unrepentant cruciverbalist.


  1. Creepy. But then, I've always found "mudbugs" creepy too. Nice turning of the tables!

  2. Love this. In turn it's both creepy and hilarious. Plus, it sure makes me hungry for some crawfish. Too bad they are out of season right now!

  3. Great poetic justice in the turning of the tables at the end. But right from the beginning, I was loving the description of a typical crawfish boil. I'm a northern transplant and was incredulous at the first one I attended in Louisiana. Burstein nails it! He captures the details as well as the overall atmosphere perfectly.