by K. W. Holland
As far as frogs go, it’s pretty big. Like the size of my fist if I used it to punch a brick wall. Swollen.
“Jimmy?” it croaks. Jimmy is my name. It wants me to pick it up. “Jimmy?”
From its mouth, my name sounds like something bubbling out of a swamp.
I’ve never been in a swamp. I live in the suburbs. There’s a line of bamboo between my house and my neighbor’s house, but it’s not like a swampy Vietnam kind of bamboo. It’s a privacy fence kind of bamboo, growing between the lots like organic prison bars.
It helps us pretend that we are alone out here.
Bamboo, I have discovered, never stops spreading.
I can smell the neighbor’s grill, but can’t see him standing over it.
Tom used to say that the neighbor he imagined was a lot better looking than the one we waved to at the mailbox.
Tom used to take a machete to new bamboo stalks as soon as they broke through the grass in the backyard. “We gotta stay on top of this shit,” he’d say.
When it gets warm, like it has this week, I keep the windows open. Bugs fly in, bump against the walls like apologetic drunks, then fly back out.
So three nights ago, when this frog showed up on the windowsill, I assumed it was after those bugs. But this frog doesn’t chase insects. It sits on the windowsill and watches me every night until I go to bed.
Something else I noticed, not quite right away, that seemed askew. Took me a while to figure out what it was, and it’s the eyes: there’s a white. Inside that, an iris, moist and brown. Inside that, a pupil.
These human eyes move slowly in their sockets, their gaze following my movements through the living room. I pace a lot, to and fro, these days. Turn lights on and off. Check the locks on the doors. Double-check them.
Tom used to be in charge of the lights and doors and locks.
No, this frog doesn’t chase bugs. It sits on the windowsill and watches me every night until I shoo it away so I can shut the window, twist the lock and go to bed.
I have lived an entire life without paying much attention to what constitutes normal frog behavior, but this doesn’t seem like it.
Also, I mentioned that it talks, right?
“Jimmy?” it croaks.
I don’t reply, because what sort of crazy person talks to frogs?
I mean, I don’t reply anymore.
I don’t reply this time.
It keeps repeating my name.
Finally, I sigh loud and long. “Listen, frog,” I say. “I’m not picking you up.”
I know what it wants. It wants me to pick it up and, you know: give it a kiss.
It can’t just be a peck, either, the sort of kiss an old woman leaves on the forehead of a grandson she suspects may not actually be her son’s child, or the sort of kiss Tom offered me at the end.
No, it needs to be a full-on, passionate kiss: tongues mashed against each other the way you might press a butterscotch candy against the roof of your mouth to siphon all the flavor out of it.
“I’m not kissing you, frog,” I say, even though I can’t help but wonder what kind of prince the frog would turn into. Would he be the sort of prince who wears a crown and a white suit, and rides a horse, and takes me away to live in his castle? Or the tanned sort who posts shirtless, grinning pictures of himself on his Instagram account?
I mean, I assume that’s why it wants a kiss, because a kiss will turn it into a prince, or something.
“Jimmy?” it croaks.
There’s pleading in those brown eyes, I think.
So I turn away from them, and back to the living room, but then feel overwhelmed by the clutter. This weekend, I promise myself again, I will finally clean everything out: those boxes of books perched on top of each other, the rusted machete leaned against the wall, the pile of clean but unfolded underwear taking up half of the sofa.
I don’t even read books anymore. Or wear boxers.
“Listen, frog,” I say, and the frog looks at me, narrows its eyes, and I know that it is listening, listening intently. “I have to know what’s in it for me, you know? Are we talking castle here? Are we talking fairy tale ending? Or is it just going to be some kind of cheap thrill, a squeeze and a rush, like you’re turning my living room into the dark corner of some club?”
The frog’s throat expands. “Jimmy?”
I pace around the room again. Run my fingers through my hair, flick a light switch off, pick up a blue-striped pair of boxers and hold them against my face, caress the tip of the machete’s handle, consider carrying it into the backyard and putting it back to work.
Instead, I leave it where it leans and pivot back to the window, pluck the frog up in my hand and wince at its limp wetness, its slippery weight, its guttural squawk: “Jimmy?”
I squeeze my eyes tight and push my mouth against its mouth. It tastes like lapping boggy mud. I remember watching nature specials on TV that showed frogs sticking out their tongues to catch a fly, usually presented in slow motion so that you can see how far the appendages extend, twice the length of its body or more, and I wonder how far the frog’s tongue will reach inside me. I wonder if it will find what it seeks.
Afterwards, the frog is back on the windowsill — still a frog — and I vomit clear, stinky fluid onto the living room floor. “Sorry,” I say, then: “Wait. What am I apologizing for?” He’s the one who tricked me, who promised me, promised me, well, promised me something.
I lash out. I strike at the frog, aim to knock it and its smug human eyes back into the night, but it avoids my touch and leaps back of its own accord. It hops away from my house and into the bamboo.
I close and lock the window and go to bed, where I sleep with the machete. I keep it close to me throughout the next day, running my fingertips lightly across its dull blade while we wait for the evening, when I open the window like I always do when it’s warm.
“It’ll come back,” I say to the machete, which I have named Tom, because it reminds me of him.
And it does, the frog; it returns, and rests on the windowsill in the yawning dusk. “Jimmy?” it croaks, carefully watching the machete in my lap.
Then, with a plop, a second frog joins the first. Just as squat and fat and wistful-eyed. “Jimmy?” Sounds exactly like the other one.
Then there’s a third, and a fourth, and beyond them a jumping battalion of frogs slap out of the bamboo and bounce across the lawn toward my window, chanting my name in a raspy chorus. “Jimmy?” they croak. “Jimmy? Jimmy? Jimmy?”
There is wetness on my cheeks to match the slime on theirs. I let the machete drop onto the floor and kneel beside it, arms outstretched. “Okay,” I say. “Okay. I’m yours.”
K. W. Holland writes from Virginia, where he lives with his husband and a couple of lovely mutts. He grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and graduated from Washington College. Find him online at kwholland.net.
Photo: Samuel Giacomelli/Unsplash