New story at Cutthroat: “The Frog”

Many thanks to the editors at Cutthroat (Pamela Uschuk, and fiction editor Bill Luvaas) for publishing my story “The Frog” in their spring issue.

It is only available in print (I’ve pasted the first two pages below), and you can subscribe the journal here.

The story is part of a larger collection of poetry and fiction called School of Night. Other pieces from the book that have been published so far include the story “Isis in Old Age,” which you can read online here, at Bold+Italic. A handful of poems from the book are forthcoming soon, from Southword and Amethyst.

 

for those who might considering buying the issue, here are the first two pages of “The Frog”:

He had already chased one reporter from the porch, but they kept coming, ridiculously dressed young women and their slobby cameramen who looked no better than plumbers. Hughes just didn’t answer the door now, and anyhow his neighbors were more obliging and were glad at the chance of being on TV. He of course didn’t refuse to speak with the police, but they had only come around once. His statement had been brief: he had only known Allen in passing, a wave if they saw each other driving down the street, that was it. He added that their wives had known each other better, and when the police asked to speak with Carol, he mentioned her passing.

            “Only the other month,” Hughes said. He wanted to go on and say that, dying in May, she’d had a last sense of spring in her garden, but he knew the police wouldn’t care about that. It wouldn’t mean anything to them, or help them. Compared to a man whose death required days of police attention at his house, an old woman who had died slowly and predictably—but who had nurtured her marigolds and her herbs, or who had watched from the window as he had done up the trellis for her tomatoes—was nothing to these men. The only time he’d ever had the police’s attention was with his daughter Frieda, and he didn’t want to mention that either, or that the entire street seemed unlucky.

 

Three days later, with the police and the news vans still arriving down the street at all hours, Hughes snuck out the side door to get some air. It had been raining all morning, and it still drizzled now, and this made him happy. While he despised the TV people but had nothing against the police, he silently loathed them both for conspiring to ignore Carol. When the ambulance showed up at their house that afternoon, no one had come out onto their lawns to gawk or stand in the street and stare. As he made his way to the backyard, Hughes was annoyed at his own contradictions: he would have hated the attention, yet was jealous that the mere violence of a murder down the street got all of it instead. Apparently his neighbor had been tied to his bed for a week, starved, and a gasoline-soaked rag shoved in his mouth and lit.

            “Awful, yes,” he said aloud, “but I’m still glad they’re getting rained on.”

            He lifted the latch and entered the fenced-in garden, and immediately remembered putting the crossing path of stepping stones down on the soil, some fifty years ago. The path had never been level or straight, no matter what they did, and Carol had always spoken of the garden’s strange moods. Certain vegetables would never grow there, or only would once every few years, and while some flowers never took to the ground, others sprang up and seemed to never die. Carol had loved tending to these idiosyncrasies, but it had also clearly bothered her. Looking towards the corner flowerbed which sat in the lowest ground, Hughes strayed from the stepping stones when he saw something moving there. As always, rainwater had gathered around that bed in a sloggy mush, and peering out from one of the puddles was a frog. Its eyes blinked away the drizzle. Balancing himself with one hand on the fence, Hughes stepped forward and leaned down, and as if he were tugging at a good-sized potato, he grabbed the frog up a little more harshly that he had intended. It seemed shocked to be in his squeezed palm, and seeing its reaction gave him an idea. Taking the frog away from the flooded part of the garden, he knelt down in front of a flowerbed that, while soggy, was still tough with clay-thick earth. With his free hand he dug a good-sized hole, placed the frog inside, covered it over, and stood up as quickly as he could and stamped the ground flat. After another moment, he used both hands to drag some more dirt from another bed, smacked it on top, and packed it tight again with his feet. He found a heavy stone nearby and dropped it, mashing it in again. The thing was buried good.

            He had no idea why he was doing this. It had been groundhogs that had always gotten into the garden and been an annoyance, either them or the smallest rabbits that could slip through the bent lip in the gate. Frogs had never been a problem. But he did it anyway, and went back inside.

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