Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Through the murky green water of the marsh, the one-eyed toad cruised lazily along, as if he had nowhere in particular to go and all the time in the world. This was not really the case, but an illusion.
This golden-eyed toad was on a mission. His name was Franklin, Frank to his family, and Frankie-baby to his toad buddies who sat around on the thicker, older pads at the south end of the bog. Frank’s wife, Moira, hated the nick name, for it conjured up images of when they’d first met, and still had a little tail left- the days when Frank was easily influenced by his buddies.
They were known as “The Cattail Toad Gang” and they jousted with cattails for the admiration of the pretty slender green girl-frogs that batted their eyes while goading the pompous toads into violent competition. Winners were showered with girl-frog kisses and sweet blue forget-me-knots, the most romantic flower of all. Competition was often fierce, as the randy toads charged each other with the fat brown ends of reeds, at the end of each was an inch long barb.
The rules were simple: each gang member started from opposite sides of a log with cattail in hand. Sally-the-Pip, the toughest mockingbird bird in the bog, was also the oldest and had the best song repertoire. She picked a song from her list, or often took requests, and commenced her tune. At any point in the song’s duration, whenever she chose, she’d let out her call of the Jaybird- an entirely obnoxious, unmusical, “SQUAAAACK!” Then it was on! The toads charged each other with cattails lowered to gut level, the first one rammed into the water was the loser.
Frank’s wife had forbidden Frank from competing the day he lost his eye in a joust with Lucky Lefty. (They said he was lucky because he had an extra finger on his left hand.) Frank was ok with that because his peripheral vision was shot now, and he valued his one remaining eyeball as much as he valued his patient wife. He allowed Moira to believe he was obeying her. At least he still saw some of the old gang now and then down by the gnarled roots of Horsefly Tree. It was really an old willow tree, but its brittle yellowed leaves attracted an unusually large population of fat, oh so crunchy, black horseflies.
On this day in the bog, the water smelled particularly fetid. Like the slimy, rotten, underbelly of a bloated dead carp, combined with the sulforous stink of overflowing septic. This was like wonderful fragrant incense to a toad. When the water was this stinky and the leaves were falling from the trees, Frank knew it was time for him and Moira to find a place where they could hibernate for the winter.
Frank’s mission took him on a circuit once around the oval shaped green bog. After finding a suitable spot, where he and his beloved could burrow into the soft mud by the shore, deep enough to keep them warm all winter, he fetched the toad of his dreams. Moira had prepared a nice supper of fermented spider eggs. In the Shakespearean moonlight, hey toasted their good fortune with the sweet nectar of star jasmine, the reflection of the snowy white blooms in Moira’s beautiful golden eyes. They said goodnight, then burrowed as deep as they could. It was the fourteenth of October and their last meal together.
On March 30th, Frank dug his way out from his burrow. He thought he must be dreaming still, as he scanned his surroundings with his eye. Yes, he decided- definitely dreaming. Not a good dream either. It was, in fact, one doozey of a nightmare! He was no longer in a bog at all. He was in a sea of grass! In the startling and blinding sunlight, bright green stalks bristled like cricket’s wings in the cool spring air all around. And, dismally, as far as the eye could see.
Frank hopped quite a distance, across this suburban yard, until he came to a huge metal tower with four steel legs at the bottom and a ladder up one side.
WHUMP!!! The earth around him trembled! He dove under the slide and hid fearfully in the shadows.
WHUMP!!! Again, the sound like the thud of a giant’s heart! Only this time came another sound- a voice, shrill with anger, “Hey! You Dummox! You nearly landed on me!”
“So what, Idjut? What if I meant to?”
“You’re such an A-hole!” (Only it wasn’t that word the little boy said, but actually the real bad word!)
“Ooooh, I’m telling Mom!” threatened the big brat.
Then a barrage of softer thumps, punctuated with “Ugh!” and “Oof!”
“No fair, you’re bigger than me!” Sniffle…sniffle. “Heeeeyyyyy…what’s that under the slide?”
A large round face peered under the slide. A young boy’s face- pale as white corn chowder, but freckled, with large blue marble eyes agog with wonder, and a slick runnel of snot from his nose. To Frank, it looked like a slug had escaped from the boy’s brain. This small and tear-stained boy suddenly grabbed Frank and pulled him out from under the sled with fierce determination. His sticky hands smelled of peanut butter and the strong plastic stink of an old crusty band aid.
“You’ll get warts!” the bigger boy taunted. This was obviously the older brother and accomplished sadist. This one looked like the smaller one, but his eyes squinted like Clint Eastwood’s, and they were full of malice instead of righteousness. They had the same freckles too, though this boy’s nose was dry.
“Will not! I’ve caught plenty of toads before. The whole warts thing is a M-I-T-H!” he said triumphantly.
The bigger boy didn’t give a flying fudge for spelling lessons- not in school, and certainly not from his runt little brother. A sly look came over his face. A very decidedly Grinch look. The younger boy had seen this look plenty-o-times alright, and his shoulders slumped slightly as if waiting for the blow.
“Give me the toad and I won’t tell mom about the A word.”
Their mom was extremely keen to keep her boys from sounding like the ‘trashy hoodlums’ who hung out down by the river at the east end of town. Punishment would probably be no desert. Or, even worse, no Disney Channel! Gads, the horror of the thought! No use trying to deny he’d dropped the A-bomb. Mom was a class A mind-reader, she always knew the truth.
“Awww crap. Okay.” Then the boy with the peanut butter hands let out a barrage of language that made the ears water! The likes of which he could have only picked up from his Father.
The bigger boy said, “Very impressive! I especially like how you threw that P word in there!”
“Yeah, well, if I gotta give up my toad, I figure to make it worth it.”
“Maybe there’s hope for you yet, you snot nosed little worm eater.” He said as he extended his grimy mitts out to the younger.
A horrendous clatter arose from the other side of the yard! Both the boys’ bikes had been knocked over! The sound was like an army of giant tin solders falling from a cliff! The younger boy jumped, spun around, and tangled his feet in a dog’s leash that had snuck up and wrapped itself around his ankles like a sinewy boa constrictor. Down he went! And as he did so, Frank was catapulted into the air! Head over long toed foot he tumbled! Oof! And into a flower bed freshly planted with spring flowers. The earth was rich and soft and smelled of manure. (Nice.) The slightly bruised toad wasted no time burrowing completely out of sight…except for one eye. The two boys raced to the flower bed and searched frantically, with puffs of pink and yellow petals in their wake.
“What in god’s name are you DOO-ING?!” screeched a woman’s voice. Into the yard, this indignant whirlwind flew, her worn and comfy blue bathrobe flapping like a jay’s wings aside her! Her matching blue slippers slapping the paved walkway like people clapping with oven mitts on.
The boys became statues.
Mom grabbed each one by the elbow and yanked them to their senses. “Look at that mess! I just spent all day yesterday planting and weeding that garden! What’s gotten into you!?”
“Bobby said the A word.” Skip said peevishly, kind of sounding like a loser. No one likes a snitch.
“I don’t want to hear any more squabbling from you two! I’ve had enough for one day! Go do your homework! And stay OUT of my garden! Oh, Jeez Loieeeeez! If you two just give me 2 hours of quiet and peace, I may forget the garden incident and you can watch The Lion King tonight.”
Only the one eye still peeked out from the loamy earth to observe this whole scene. He was horrified yet amused by these humans. Most of his life, he’d avoided them. For good reason. Now he had no choice but to live amongst them it seemed, since his bog had been filled in with concrete and covered with dwellings for humans, while he had slept.
Frank had been concentrating so hard on the humans that he had failed to notice a scruffy grey Toto-mutt looking right at him. The dog still had a leash on, though it now resembled more of a dead snake. The dog panted happily and grinned with a look of complete satisfaction on its furry face. Its deep brown eyes reflected understanding and a sort of comradery. Before turning away from the toad, it winked at him.
Frank had thought he would miss the bog. And though he did miss Moira and his friends, he knew he’d made a new one. After exploring the beautiful spring flower bed, he saw how the vibrant scarlet blossoms attracted big, sweet tasting bees. Big, humming, fat green flies were drawn to the purple ones. The daffodils were full of earwigs, the tulips were crawling with aphids! He loved aphids and earwigs so much more than horseflies! The sweet nectar of the viney star jasmine was his desert and at last the old wise toad smiled. As long as he made his home amongst the fragrant white petals, he would always have his Moira.