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Realistic Fiction

Frogs Go Leaping

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My father peered ahead towards the moonlit backroad, his hands firm on the beaten leather of the steering wheel. He raised one to scratch the dark stubble on his cheek, then to brush the stray hairs out of his line of sight, before finally locking it back in place at the two o’clock position. I didn’t know our destination to offer directions, so I made myself busy by squeaking my red galoshes together. Then, I jingled the metal clasps of my denim overalls. It created a silly rhythm of sorts. This continued until I saw my father silently scratch his face for an extended duration, which I took as a sign to quiet my noise.

Our drive went on for another twenty minutes, the silence occasionally broken by a bump in the road to jostle the truck or a cough to clear a throat. We rolled to a stop in front of an opening in the trees. It was identical to the previous five openings we shambled past along this lonely stretch of dirt. My father took his keys from the ignition, creaked open his door, and stretched his sinewy legs out of the truck with a groan. He was never really one to spare many words for me. I was the opposite.

“Daddy, should I grab the fishing poles?” I straightened my back and folded my hands while I awaited his yes. At the age of seven, I thought myself just mighty enough to carry two fishing poles all on my own. I was small for my age – my teachers told my mother so – but I would be strong.

“Won’t need ‘em,” he responded. He brushed the dust off the back of his painter’s pants and clapped his palms clean.

“But how are we going to fish without our poles?”

“We won’t need them.” He gave one last look at me through the smudged window of the driver’s seat and motioned his head back towards his shoulder. It was time to get going.

I turned around to the fishing poles dangling off the back seat. Next to them sat a lockbox full of bait, a bucket in need of scrubbing, and a large net for catch and release. We had been to the lakes and the rivers several times before, but always when the sun was up. Up until this point, I thought tonight was just an extra special night for fishing. My father had practically burst the front door off its hinges after supper to tell my mother how perfect the night air felt. This weather was made for men and their boys. He and I simply needed to go that instant. I was just as perplexed as my mother while he hurried me out the door with eager but persistent nudges.

It took all my weight to push open the truck door. My lower lip curled into a frown when I noticed I was now by my lonesome. My father had already ventured into the woods through the opening, and I did not want to lag too far behind. The humidity in the air clung to my skin like an undersized shirt. With just enough natural light to see, I used the trees around me as guides. My fingers met soaking moss with every touch. I peeled off patches to leave a makeshift breadcrumb trail in case I became lost in there forever.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to my stubby legs, I found my father. He stood motionless at the banks of a shallow body of water. He was tall, and his long arms were clasped together behind his back. I eked my way closer to him before tugging at the back pocket of his pants.

“Are we lost?”

“No, I know where we are.”

“Where are we?”

“We’re at the pond.”

That much I had already gathered on my own. The moonlight beamed in full right onto the service to have us appreciate this little oasis of the woods. An occasional splash or shake would disrupt the stillness, sending ripples to our feet. The leaves, branches, and vines of the surrounding trees drooped down to the water, and a few broken logs reached back up to greet them. Everything looked as though it wanted to join with one another. I sniffed several times, expecting the swampy smell of sulfur or rotten eggs, but I noticed only the scent of mud and bark.

“Have you been here before?” I asked, looking up at my father.

“Grandpop brought me here when I was a kid. He found it accidentally while he was wandering home one night.” He looked back down at me with a thin smile. His long black hair was once again covering his deep green eyes. I had already inherited his eyes, but it would be many years before my hair would match his.

“Why did we come here?”

“Well, you’ll have to listen.” He extended his arm out over the pond to further encourage his instructions.

I heard the low yodels of loons, the cooing of an owl, the scuttering of chipmunks. Gnats buzzing. Crickets playing. Plants swaying. Wood cracking. I was just about to ask my father if there was a specific sound to look for when I heard it. A quick croak. A second and third joined it. Then a fourth, more drawn out and at a higher pitch, almost like a scream. A chatter began all around the pond. We had interrupted a community conversation amidst the frogs, and now they felt comfortable enough to resume.

Focusing on the ground, I began to see the critters sitting all around the pond. So many frogs, perched on their folded legs. They seemed very peaceful and content. On the closer ones, I could see throats inflate and gyrate to make their sounds. Some had spots, others had stripes. Not much bigger than a baseball. Apart from their croaks, they were almost like the little stone statues my mother kept on display on the kitchen windowsill.

“When it’s so muggy outside, all the bugs come out. Like tonight. That brings all the frogs out, too.” My father’s thing smile had grown into a full grin. His normally yellowed teeth shined brightly here.

“Are we gonna catch frogs instead of fish?” A huge smile sat on my face now, too.

“No. No, no, no. We gotta keep the frogs here. Don’t want to ruin the magic.”

He then took a few steps into the pond. The water barely came halfway up his boot. He nodded his head as if to acknowledge and agree with whatever the frogs were discussing. I thought he might start croaking along with them.

Ignoring my father’s wishes, I tried to catch a frog anyway. I felt a bit sad that my mother could not be here to see them with us, and I thought one might make for a nice roommate. I splashed my galoshes into the water after my father and ran to the closest frog. It leapt out of the way long before I could grab it and disappeared into the shrubbery. Undeterred, I darted to another poking its head out of the water. It swam underneath at the first sign of danger. My efforts continued until I ran out of breath, my father paying me no mind the entire time.

I took a seat on a nearby rock to rest. That is when I discovered a peculiarly large frog next to me in the mud. I bent down to look at it and saw it smothered by hundreds of squirming tadpoles. The frog freed itself from its young and hopped up next to them. It kicked its back feet to begin a path in the thick mud from the young pile towards the pond.

This must have been their father since it was so much bigger like my own. Soon, the pond water rushed in like Noah’s great flood and the tadpoles made their way home. While the father frog sat tired, admiring his own handiwork, I reached down to grab him. I put him in the oversized front pocket of my overalls and gave him a reassuring pat through the denim.

I ran over to my father to show him my catch of the day, but I found him sitting directly in the water. His eyes were closed, and his face looked toward the sky. I thought he might have fallen asleep. I often overheard him telling my mother how tiring work was. He spent so much of his free time stretched out on the couch. I never understood why painting houses took so much out of him.

I stood by him for a moment, then scrunched myself down between his legs while facing the same way. He took my hand in his own and gave me a short squeeze. He was awake after all. I could not concentrate long enough to close my own eyes, so I observed the wilderness once more.

“Daddy, what kind of trees are those?”

“Those are weeping willows.”

“Why are they called that?”

“Because when it rains it looks like they’re crying.”

“Ooooooh, ok.”

“Grandpop used to say they’d weep for everyone who couldn’t cry on their own.”

“That’s silly,” I said with a smirk.

“Maybe.” A short pause followed. I could feel the steady breathing of the frog against my chest.

“Daddy, are you sad?”

I heard him rustle in place, and then felt his grip on my shoulder.

“How could I be sad?” he asked. “I’m here with you.”

We stayed like this until the moon fell behind the weeping willows. All the while, the frogs continued their jibber-jabber. We listened, and I could almost make out what they were saying. Something about the weather or about how the flies tasted better than a fresh plate of steak. They were having a good time.

I yawned, and my father took that as a sign to head home. He picked me up underneath my armpits and spun me around to get one last look at the pond. After he put me down, he shook himself like a dog coming in from the rain. I giggled at this and did the same.

“Hey,” he said. “Let’s just tell mommy that we didn’t catch any fish tonight.”

“Were we not allowed to be in the pond?”

“No, we can come here whenever we want. But let’s just keep it as our pond, ok?”

“Ok, daddy. This is our pond now.”

We held hands while we trotted back towards his old truck. I kicked my moss breadcrumb trail out of our way, my wet boots squishing with every step. My father opened the passenger door for me, lifted me up, and reached across to buckle me in. His chest touched mine, and I suddenly remembered that I still had the hardworking frog in my overalls.

I reached down to the crank at my feet to lower the window. My father started the ignition and the engine belted itself awake. As we were rolling away, I opened up my pocket to let the frog loose. He was already prepared and sprung himself right onto the windowpane. Our eyes met one another. I gave my best rendition of a croak, and he did the same. The truck was picking up speed now. The frog blinked, readied himself, and leapt from the door. Back to his own life and his own responsibilities.


Image by Elisa from Pixabay

James Hutchinson (USA)

James Hutchinson is a writer based out of Springfield, Pennsylvania. He primarily focuses on works of short fiction, and he has been published in The Avenue literary magazine. Currently, he is pursuing his graduate degree in Writing and Rhetoric from Saint Joseph's University.

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