by Andrew Maynard
YOU WATCH THE BATHTUB FILL WITH WATER. Bud and Weiser, namesakes of the 1995 Super Bowl commercials, wait inside a shoebox at your sneakered feet. You are careful not to step on them. You reach for your little friends. They’ve anticipated your potentially dangerous seven-year-old grip and leap away from your clumsy grasp. You catch them and smile; you’re doing what your parents thought you couldn’t─ taking responsibility. You’ll bath your frogs the way your mother used to bath you in the kitchen sink, gently pouring warm water over your head, her hands shielding your eyes from the tear-free shampoo. You’ll toss them into the tub and let them splash around, just as your father did on those hot afternoons in the pool when he threw you impossibly high into the air.
You hold the frogs over the water, your stiffened arms parallel to the floor, then let it go.
It is difficult to gauge the emotions of frogs (they don’t smile or squeal) but you can tell that something’s wrong. They thrash against the tub sides, clawing at the slick surface with their webbed feet, trying to escape.
You’re paralyzed by their urgency.
You don’t react with the swiftness your parents discovered in themselves when you split your lip on the bleachers at your sisters’ volleyball game or shredded your shins into something unrecognizable on the studded pedals of your new bicycle. You stand still, watching, stupidly.
Their panic intensifies, urging you back into the moment. You plunge your hands into the water to see what’s wrong, then jerk them out and rip a towel from the wall, collapsing the dated rack that had dangled from stripped screws. You wrap the towel around your hands to ease the sting of the near-boiling water. You can hear Bud’s and Weiser’s struggles, the frantic splashing.
You bite your lower lip the way you always do when you’re angry or need to be brave. You take several deep breaths and throw your hands back into the water, wincing, clamping your teeth down so violently that you worry your incisors will slice straight through the flesh. You splash the water toward yourself (now your legs burn, too) as you fling the despairing frogs over the edge and onto the tile floor. You shake your hands so aggressively that they threaten to detach from your arms. You think about dipping them into the toilet, but then the pain and madness are gone.
Bud and Weiser tear across the bathroom floor, ricocheting off the walls like air hockey pucks; their only sense of direction is to get away from you. You want the chaos to end. You corner Bud and snatch him up. He fights to escape. You grip him tighter, holding him to your chest, wanting to soothe. You make shush noises as calmly as you can. Maybe it’s because you’re both soaking wet, but Bud slips from your grip, kicks off your chest, and hurtles backwards onto the floor, landing with a smack that can only be duplicated by a well-executed high-five.
THAT EVENING YOU ARE CALM in your pajamas. Your parents have convinced you that accidents happen. Bud and Weiser rest safely in a glass terrarium in the living room, sitting still on the mossy floor. They have water and shelter. You grab a bag of live crickets from the pantry shelf and dump them into the cage. You watch through the glass, waiting for them to feed. Bud becomes alert, ready to pounce. The cricket is in his range, but he lunges to the side, nose-first into the glass. Again. Then again. And then. No control. He will starve. Weiser is barely moving. Normally alert and feisty in the presence of crickets, his complacency makes you queasy. You stare confused as crickets crawl onto his legs and back and face.
“Aw shit,” your dad says, stooping to brush away the crickets. Unlike you, he knows that when a frog won’t eat the crickets, the crickets will eat the frog.
Your parents watch their skinny, long-limbed son crouching on the floor, watching helplessly as his frogs wait for death in the world he has carefully constructed. They watch, hoping this will never become a useable metaphor.