A Good Frog-Man Is Hard to Find
The witch grew up in a time of fascism. There was an old blond man who was always telling everyone what to do. It was a dangerous time to be a witch, but then, it was a dangerous time to be anyone.
When she was twelve, she went down to the lake one day to practice turning frogs into boys and vice versa. The first boy she messed up and he turned into confetti. The first frog turned into a frog-man with wide green lips and webbed hands he was always trying to touch her with. Eventually, the police came looking for the boy. He had been a drug addict, though, and they were satisfied when she said she’d seen him the day of his disappearance, swimming with all his clothes on out into the lake.
“Don’t swim and do heroin,” the cops said seriously. “Seriously, do not swim and do heroin.” They said it in unison, one one octave above the other.
The boy’s name had been Brian, so she named the frog-man Brian after him. The frog-man Brian came home with her and she had to teach him to do everything. He had a lot of angst about who he was and where he fit and what it meant that he was the only one of his kind. She taught him to drive so he could take her to parties. His freakish frog-face looked old enough to buy her cigarettes. At night he slept in a sleeping bag on the floor beside her bed and she made him be quiet so that her parents would not find out about him. He had night terrors and she told him stories to help him fall asleep.
One time, she said, there was a man who lived in a land of red, where everything was red. The trees were red, and the skies were red and the soup was red and the monks were red and the frogs were red, and the frog-men were red.
“But if everything was the same color,” the frog-man said, wide-eyed, “how could he see?”
“He couldn’t,” Charlemagne said—for that was the girl’s name. “He was blind.”
It was a stormy night and gusts of wind pushed at the trees, casting leaning shadows in through her bedroom window. She could feel the frog-man drawing into himself, pulling his sleeping bag up to his chin, his big frog-eyes growing even bigger. He was afraid of everything. He was like a baby. Everything was new to him.
On the wall pawed by reaching shadows hung a picture of the leader. It was the law that his picture must hang in every room of every house. He had started out being violent and oppressive, but then he went insane and his tyranny became more whimsical. First, he demanded his picture be hung in every house. Then he demanded his picture be hung in every room of every house. Then he demanded that every picture of any other person ever taken or painted have its head scratched off and his own blonde head glued on in its place.
Much great art was destroyed, but many people felt bad for him. It was hard enough for the citizens of the country, trapped in a madman’s dream. But what must it be like to be that madman, who looked out at a country of hundreds of millions and saw, turned back at him, only his own orange face? He had trapped himself inside himself. They were not so much living in his country now as they were living in his brain.
Lying in the darkened room, Charlemagne reached down and took the sticky pads of the frog-man’s fingers into her own small hands. In ten years, they were married. Shortly thereafter the dictator died and they headed out onto the parched and blackened plains. After fifteen years the mules faltered and fell. They would have fallen too, had the frog-man not developed a keen skill for digging grubs out of the dirt and collecting in sacks hidden inside his throat a cache of water—warm and bilious—anytime it rained.
Finally, they came to a land of endless marshes. The bugs were bad, but they didn’t care. They built themselves a house out of mud and sticks. They made a living killing packs of roaming soldiers and trading their armor in town. They never reproduced, because their genitals were incompatible, but when the frog-man died and the witch turned 90 years old she found that she cried every time she said his name. “Brian,” she said, late at night, staring at the stars.
Some men would lie and cheat and cuss you out right to your face. Some men would molest you and take over your country. The frog-man wasn’t like that. He was kind, he was steady—with flashes of brilliance behind his amphibian eyes. The fear never quite went out of those eyes, but eventually he had accepted his place.
There is nothing quite like the love of the created for the creator. There is nothing quite like the disdain.
She lived to be one hundred and eight. She never made another frog-man. Sometimes at night, she would wade out into the marsh, bare-chested, listening to the bullfrogs in the reeds. Above, the moon was a shard of glass. Cattails leaned in lustily. The night gathered itself like the hem of a pitch-black skirt, the sound of a million croaking voices engulfing her, reeds filled with glowing eyes.
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