For the love of frogs

As the rain falls, the ground squelches and dams overflow, I thought of a very short story (fiction) I wrote a few years ago…

The raw orange scar of the new dam was ugly. Wherever she stood, it leapt out from the subtle shades of the surrounding unskinned bush to catch in the corners of her eyes and accuse her of its injury. Scalped, disembowelled, the shape of the slope forever broken to make this awkwardly perched dish for catching raindrops.

‘It’s for bushfires,’ he boasted to the local blokes.

‘It’s for bushfires,’ she apologised to those rare visitors with an eye for beauty marred. More often she was apologising silently — to the land itself.

The scar would never heal, since the exposed bedrock clay did not belong to the realm of sunlight, could not grow softening plants. As the dam filled, she planted waterlilies, but their beauty only called attention to the glare of the eroding clay above.

‘It needs some life,’ she said.

‘I could put yabbies in,’ he offered, forgetting that she wouldn’t let him eat them anyway. For peace, and from laziness, he ate her vegetarian food, but he was a carnivore at heart. When they went to town, he secretly indulged — a hasty meat pie or a sneaky steak sandwich.

As he told his mates, she had some weird ideas, but he was on a good wicket here — and he’d always been a sucker for long legs like hers, especially in tight faded jeans, like now.

‘Or I could get some tadpoles from the big dam?’

The big dam was a gentle scoop in the land, its edges well-grassed. Deepened years ago from a natural depression, it had never seemed an interference.

From its shallows they filled a jar with tadpoles, bulging, brownish grey, semi-transparent. She carried them on their brief adventure through the world, tipped them into their new home, then forgot them.

Until the first thundery summer, when it sounded as if the dam had been taken over by a flock of demented sheep.

The big dam being far from the house, they’d never heard its frog chorus. She laughed when she checked the frog book — the tadpoles had to be baby Bleating Tree Frogs.

She began to hear other frog voices taking bass and tenor roles amongst the sheep. There seemed to be at least four types, she thought. How wonderful! ‘Go, frogs!’

But the noise drove him crazy. He usually played guitar on the verandah in the evenings. Now he could barely hear the notes over the din.

‘Play louder,’ she suggested. ‘Maybe they’ll sing along.’

He did not construe this as a sympathetic response.

She liked his guitar-playing, but she loved hearing the frogs.

This was a particularly electrical summer, with thunder growling across the hills and crashing low over the house, lightning searing the skies and rain tattooing on the roof like hail. The Bleating Tree Frogs were in frog heaven.

He gave up outdoor guitar.

Every night they dined on the verandah to an accompaniment as insistent as the beating of jungle drums. One evening he banged his fist on the table. ‘Shut up!’ he bellowed to the frogs; to her he said, ‘I can’t stand this any longer; I’ll have to drain that dam.’

‘But you can’t. You’d never catch all the frogs. They’ll die!’

‘So? That’s the whole point! It’s not as if they’re in short supply.’

She stared at him. He wasn’t joking. The frogs didn’t count as living creatures to him. The rose tint slid off her glasses. Who was this yobbo sitting there eating her spinach and ricotta lasagne?

‘No,’ he said, putting the last forkful into his mouth. ‘They have to go.’

Oh no, she wanted to say, you do. This was her place — but could she manage on her own? She’d been so lonely after Mara left that she’d leapt into this relationship, brain disconnected, judgement suspended.

It was nearly a year since Mara had run off with a Nigerian drummer she met at the markets. Faithless and fickle, yes, but she wouldn’t have hurt a fly, let alone hundreds of frogs!

‘No’, she said, ‘We are not draining the dam.’

‘Well, I can’t live with those bloody frogs. You’ll have to choose between them and me!’

She thought of the harmless brown frogs bleating their little hearts out down there; she looked at him, redfaced and blustering, with mass murder on his mind.

Quickly, while she had the courage, she stood up and said, ‘OK, then. You’d better leave. Tomorrow. And I mean it.’

On a drum roll of thunder, she whirled inside, her spirits lifting like a party balloon. Go girl!

The first drops of rain fell as the frogs belted out their approval. Yeah, I know, she silently agreed, I should have done that months ago!

Photo of Bleating Tree Frog (Litoria dentata) from Australian Reptiles and Frogs by Raymond T. Hoser.