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FROG POND by Chad Redden

After you open the door lying on the bottom of the pond it can go two ways.

The door will open to deeper water that shimmers in an unusual way. The water behind the door connects to another pond, in another world. To get there, you will swim downward, through the doorway. You will force every bit of air from your lungs, to keep you from floating upward, remaining in your world. When this doesn’t help you will grab onto the door frame, pull yourself through the doorway to the other side.

Or

The door will open the door to mud, grime, more of the pond floor. You will close the door, return to the surface before your lungs give out. Before your lungs give way to the water trying to force a way into your body.

🡒

IF YOU RETURN TO THE SURFACE you look for your daughter, the spot she stood before you dove into the water. She is not there. You look to the other edges of the pond. Your sense of direction bobbles around inside of you.

You call out, “Daughter, Daughter, Daughter.”

Then, “The door didn’t open to anywhere.”

Then, “The door opened, but there was no place to go beyond it.”

You wait. You worry. You wait for her to call back. You worry she ran away again. You wait for her to reveal herself, from the darkness surrounding the pond, from the deep wall of trees, of underbrush. You worry. You wait. You call out, “Daughter, Daughter, Daughter,” again.

Branches bend, snap. Leaves shuffle, shiver against each other. Your daughter hides up in a tree. You watch for one of the trees to move, like you could see such a thing in the darkness. You watch for your daughter to reveal herself. She says to you, “My dream wasn’t wrong. Maybe your heart wasn’t full of intention, the right kind of intention.”

You consider the intention of your heart. As it is now. As it was under water. You recall kicking a turtle as you swam toward the door. What you thought might have been a turtle. You apologized with your heart. You call out to the daughter, “Maybe tonight, you’ll have another dream. Maybe it takes us someplace else. Maybe gives a bit more guidance.

Your daughter does not reply. You watch the trees. Wait for one to move, for your daughter to climb down to the grass. Clouds gather. The trees remain still, quiet.

🡖

IF YOU WATCH THE CLOUDS AS THEY COVER THE STARS you remember the constellations you made up for yourself when you were a child. Their shapes. Their names. ‘The disastrous egg.’ ‘The reminder mouse.’ ‘The many mixed up skeletons lost out in space.’

You remember the constellation you made up in the shape of your favorite professional wrestler. The one who used gardening shears to cut the hair of the other wrestlers. After a wrestler’s hair was cut, they were destroyed. Without power. Weak. Crumpled down to the mat of the wrestling ring. Career ruined. Crying on television. Like Samson after the loss of his hair.

You consider the powerless of your entire life because you have spent your entire life without long hair. You remember a time when you wanted to grow your hair long, to your knees. But the process made you feel awkward. Your hair grew upward, outward, heavy. It barely went below your chin. You gave up, cut your hair short.

You say to your daughter, “I’m walking home now.”

🡗

IF YOU DO NOT THINK ABOUT THE STARS you instead think about the mud drying to your feet, your hands. The coldness of the water in your clothes. The heaviness in them as well. You want to walk home. You call out to your daughter, “I want to go home.”

She calls back to you, “You should go back in.”

You say, “I don’t have the lungs for it. I don’t think I’d come back up.”

Your daughter says, “If you don’t come back up that will mean you made it to the other side.”

🡓

IF YOU WALK HOME WITHOUT YOUR DAUGHTER you take a path that leads you to a road. A road congested with an encampment of people living out of their cars. People who decided one day to go driving until they ran out of gas. Then began living out of their cars. How so many people ran out of gas in the same place is a mystery. Some living among the cars theorize a divine influence wanted them to live in the road, to be fruitful, to multiply. Some government agencies theorize possible solutions to clear the road of people.

A lookout for the camp sees you. When he slaps on the trunk of his car you say to yourself, this man has studied woodpeckers. He continues to slap on the trunk of his car until you look at him.

🡒

IF YOU LOOK AT THE MAN SLAPPING THE TRUNK OF HIS CAR he calls out to you, says “Are you interested in a tumbleweed?”

“Interested how?” You ask, unsure if this man wants to show or sell you a tumbleweed. “I don’t have money to waste.” You say. Which is true. Dollars are in short supply.

“Not trying to sell you anything, trying to give it a better home.” The mans says. He opens the trunk of his car, shines a flashlight inside to a narrow, small tumbleweed. It looks nothing at all like the tumbleweeds you’ve seen in movies. Small leaves are still attached to it.

You say, “It looks like a small shrub.”

The man replies, “That’s how tumbleweeds start out. You’ve got to let it dry up, change into a tumbleweed. Like one of those zen trees.”

“Bonsai tree?”

“Yeah, bonsai tree. Like that. But you don’t water it, you pull off the leaves.”

“I always thought tumbleweeds just looked like tumbleweeds.”

The man nods like he his sympathetic to your confusion. “It’s like this, I drove out west to find a tumbleweed for a girl. I was going to ask her out with the tumbleweed. If you were the girl you’d think it was a cute idea. But when I got to Missouri I got a bit nervous, being so far from home. So I turned around, bought this one from a store. So I could be truthful when said I drove all the way out west to get one. But it’s too late now, I’ve been out here for weeks. I’d just like to give this tumbleweed to someone who could use it.”

“I’m not sure that I could use it.”

“Maybe you know someone that might be then, someone who needs to calm down. Like a child or a boss? Someone with a lot of stress or energy?”

One side of the tumbleweed was already picked clean. When you point this out to the guy he says, “Yeah, I started pulling off the leaves. It made me feel calm, but not calm enough.”

You say, “Thanks though, I’m not that interested. What about the kids around here? One of them might like it, to have something to do.”

“The kids all ran off.” The guy says.

“The kids ran off?”

“Yeah, one day they were on the side of the road playing, then like a wind came. Blew them away. Not really the wind, it was their feet that carried them away. Into those trees over there.” The man points to a line of trees, hills. The kind of place that would hold a forgotten plane crash.

“Is anyone looking for the kids? The parents? The police?”

“Yeah of course. No one just lets kids run off to live on their own in the woods. Why else do you think so many of these cars are empty?”

It was true. Most of the cars on the road were empty. You think of how much effort it would take to get everyone back into their cars. Or to push the driverless cars to the edge of the road to make a path through them.

The man says, “Not everyone went looking for the kids. Some people have too many payments left to abandon their car. Which, I can understand, but they’re in denial. These cars aren’t moving again.”

The man pulls the tumbleweed from the trunk, sets it on the ground beside the car. You both stand over it, watching for a wind to come help the tumbleweed tumble away. Wind does blow. Rocks the plant a little.

You ask the man, “Why do you want to get rid of the tumbleweed now?”

“I saw all of this playing out a bit differently.”

🡔

IF YOU IGNORE THE MAN SLAPPING THE TRUNK OF HIS CAR you walk around the camp, continue home. You find your daughter is already there. This confuses you as you are unsure of which path she could have taken to arrive home before you.

Once you are home she tells you she wants to go back out to which you say, “It’s a little too late already.”

Your daughter says, “It’s a night for dressing up in order to be scarier than anything you might meet in the night. I’m going to go around wearing my insides on the outside.”

You look at the calendar. It’s true. It is a night for dressing up in order to be scarier than anything else in the night. You know you can’t argue with her. You say, “There is a box of old bed sheets I’ve meant to donate out in the garage. You could turn one of them into a ghost by cutting some holes for eyes.”

Your daughter asks, “Have you even seen anything scary in your life?”

You say, “I have, but don’t want to talk about it.”

Then you say. “Ghosts still scare plenty of people.”

Your daughter holds out to a book on human anatomy. She shows you pictures of lungs, hearts, organs, intestines. She says, “Look at all of this stuff. Sitting around inside of us. You’d never know it by looking at a person. All of it is just waiting to pop out, scare you. That’s what I think is scary.”

🡗

IF YOU WALK HOME FROM THE POND WITH YOUR DAUGHTER you see searchlights shine upon the clouds in the sky. The kind of searchlights only people would think to use on the sky. The clouds above hang thick, plastered in place. It feels like a ceiling about to come down at any moment. Searchlights shine upward from many locations. Some whirl. Some swirl. All move without organization, or any purpose you can determine. You ask, “What are they looking for?”

Your daughter replies, “Probably a way out.”

When you arrive home you find your searchlight, then shine it toward the sky. You guide your light to meet the others already shining upon the clouds. Many lights move to meet your light. Swirl around then glide away. Your light follows them. This makes you feel like a fish, swimming among other fish in a school. At least what you think it would be like to be a fish, swimming among other fish in a school.

🡕

IF YOU TAKE A MOMENT TO PRETEND YOU ARE A FISH you make your light chase the other lights. You move your mouth like you breathe water. You think a few fish thoughts. Then stop. You remember you didn’t like being in the water all that much tonight.

🡓

IF YOU FOCUS ON YOUR LIGHT IN THE CLOUDS FOR HOURS WAITING FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN you move your light along with slow passes, not wanting to miss any movement, or opening. When your neck begins to hurt, you rotate it in circles to release the tension.

You think you could trick something into poking out of the clouds by turning off your light for a moment, only to turn it back on again a second or two later. Thinking something was in the clouds that could be tricked into making an appearance, making it think it was safe enough to come out. Other spotlights get the same idea, flash their lights. You feel proud for having some influence on the night. Even after spectacle turns hard on the eyes.

Somewhere south of you someone lets out a shout, “There!” The searchlights converge, find their way to the ‘there’, to the object. Your light follows the others. You see it. A small twin-engine airplane. Free from the clouds, its silver fuselage in the searchlight reflects the light back at your eyes with a harsh speed. As you are blinded, it seems the pilot is blinded as well. The plane wobbles. Loses control. Dives to the ground. You realize there is too much light shining on the plane. You yell out, “We’ve blinded the pilot.”

The searchlights do not hear you. They follow the plane to the ground as it falls into a tailspin. Then faster than the searchlights can follow. The plane crashes into some faraway hills. The wreckage burns in them in a way that makes you realize you missed the sunset this evening. That you miss the sunset many evenings.

🡕

IF YOU DO NOT SPEND THE REST OF YOUR EVENING TRYING TO ORGANIZE YOUR FAVORITE SUNSETS INTO A TOP TEN LIST you search the sky with your searchlight. You look for a parachute, the pilot. You see them falling slow like a paper tissue to the ground. You know how paper tissues fall to the ground. Once you pulled all of the tissues from a cube of tissues to make it snow upon your sister. It was summer, one of those July nights when the heat made it impossible to sleep. Your sister wanted to feel cool. Both of you tried to think cool, as a way to handle the heat. You both imagined sleeping upon things like icebergs, avalanches.

Your mother became upset that you wasted the tissues. She was more mad about the money it took to buy tissues. It didn’t make sense to you at the time. How could anything so soft cost money? You asked your mother to make more money to buy more tissues. This made her cry. You apologized. Swore to her you’d make enough money one day to make it snow tissues all over the world. It would be the softest day for everyone.

🡐

IF YOU SWAM THROUGH THE DOOR ON THE BOTTOM OF THE POND you find yourself on the bottom of another pond. A pond in another world. You swim to the surface. The air in this world smells like mint. Fresh, growing from the ground mint. Not the mint of candy, ice cream. You try to think of what your world will smell like when you return to it. That maybe you will be able to notice its smell after an absence. You hope it smells as good as the mint of this world. But remembering the state of the place you came from, it may very well smell like burnt popcorn.

You wade out of the pond, your ears clear of water. Frogs begin to croak, sing. A few at first until it becomes a chorus of frogs until it sounds like every frog in the world sits around the pond. All calling out at once. A wall. A storm of sound that makes it hard for you to remember what you’re doing in the night, walking out of a pond in another world.

You call out to them, and say “                         .”

But the volume of the frogs overwhelms your voice. You cannot hear what you say, cannot be sure you have said anything. You call out again, “                                              .”

And again, “                                              !“

And again, “                                               .”

Until you shout out random words, hoping that one of them can break through the frog sound, “

.”

🡑

IF YOU DECIDE TO JUMP BACK INTO THE POND you lose the sound of the frogs under the water. You swim down to the door lying on the bottom. It’s closed. You reach for the handle, but find a blank wooden space where a handle should be. You feel around the surface of the door for a way to open it. You find nothing. You try to pry your fingers into the jam, to open it that way. Your fingers slip. Your lungs knock at the undersides of your ribs.

You return to the surface. Cough up a little pond water. Feel not all of it left you, that you swallowed a little. Recover. When you can’t stand the chorus of all of the frogs at the frog pond, you dive down again to the door.

This time you knock on the door. No one answers. Then you slap at it. Kick at it. Scream out the last bit of air you have. Then return to the surface.

Cough up a little more pond water. Knowing more is inside you, you think of yourself as an expensive container for pond water. Your tongue feels dead, overwhelmed with the bitter flavor of the pond. An over brewed tea, except not a tea made from tea leaves. A tea made from dirt, rot, rain.

When the sound of all of the frogs at the frog pond overwhelms you, you dive back down to the door. You don’t have a plan this time. You stare at the door until pond water forces itself into your mouth.

🡗

IF YOU WALK AWAY FROM THE FROG POND you consider taking off your clothes. They are heavy with water, mud, the filth of the water. Their weight forces your back into a slight, uncomfortable hunch. You feel like a creature made of scales, gills, slime. You make creature sounds you cannot hear. The frog song overwhelms your voice.

You walk until the sun rises, walk toward the sunrise. This burns your eyes, because of the brightness of the sun. Also your eyes feel tired, worn. Your clothes feel lighter. They have dried. The mud on your hands turned pale. Flakes off. You feel like less of a creature now. Someone coming upon you might think you were a ghost.. You make ghost sounds. You can hear them. You walked far enough away from the frogs to hear yourself again.

Ahead of you someone yells out, “Here comes something. Something not from the road.” People gather in the road, around cars, an encampment. You wave to them. They wave back with tire irons, boards.

You say to the people, “I fell into a pond. The mud.”

A woman wearing a hubcap as a sun visor asks, “Were there fish? Something to eat in the pond?”

You tell the people you didn’t see any fish. You tell them about the frogs. A man wearing duct tape sandals claims to know how to catch, cook frogs. A group gathers, runs off in the direction of the pond. Some children follow behind, dragging along amateur spears, nets.

The people among the cars offer the back seat of a car to you as a place to rest. You accept the seat, lay down. Before sleeping you think about the frogs, the expedition headed to the pond. You feel guilty about the fate of the frogs. But remember you only heard them, you didn’t see any frogs around the frog pond. Maybe things would work out for the frogs.

🡓

IF YOU STAY AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE CARS you witness frogs become currency among the people of the cars within a day. The people capture them alive. Find or create makeshift buckets. Fill the bucket with water. Some people leave their cars to go to live by the pond full time. To catch frogs. Then trade them for parts of cars they use to build shelters. Then a fence around the pond. So they may keep control of the frog supply. The pond water.

At night the frogs continue to sing. No one sleeps. Not the people among the cars. Not the people living near the pond. People take to yelling at each other, the frogs, the cars, the water. Some people go about eating the frogs as soon as they trade or capture them. Just to make the world a bit quieter.

You find a windshield sun visor to trade for a frog. You would eat the frog, but have no way to clean the frog or to cook it. You keep it as a companion. You lie in the backseat, watch over the frog. The frog lives in a shallow pan of water you placed on the floor board. You sleep during the heat of the day, stay up with the frog at night. You let the frog sing all it wants. You reach down in the dark with a finger, try to pet the frog. Sometimes all you do is dip your finger in water.

You tell the frog, “This is all my fault. I should have never said anything about the pond.”

The frog does not change their singing in any way that would let you know if the frog forgives you.

You consider releasing the frog. Opening the back door, letting the frog hop away. But then in this economy. You’re sure someone would scoop up the frog and eat them. Or trade the frog for something from someone who would eat the frog.

But you also don’t wish for the frog to starve to death. You are unsure how long a frog can go without eating. You have been unable to capture any bugs to feed the frog. You had hoped it was a vegetarian, that the frog might eat the leaves, seeds, grass you found near the road. The frog pushed the vegetation down into the water of the shallow pan.

🡐

IF YOU DO NOT RELEASE THE FROG you wait until the part of the morning when frogs stop singing, when the people fall asleep. You leave the camp knowing it is the only way to keep the frog safe. From the people, the economy of frogs. You hide the frog in your shirt pocket. You carry a bottle of water to sprinkle water on the frog. To keep them wet. You look up at the sky. There are clouds. You do not understand what the clouds mean.

You tell the frog, while sitting among grass, “If it were raining I’d let you go here, among this tall grass. You’d have water. Also, I bet you could find a lot to eat out here.”

You tell the frog, “I wish I would have studied clouds. To know which ones mean rain or storms. Where I’m from, there are people who have jobs were all they do is look at clouds, then report to others what’s coming.”

You tell the frog, “Not like looking at the clouds to see shapes, omens. Though rain clouds look a certain way. But that would be a fun job. To look at clouds all day. See what is going to blow over the town, the state. Tell the people what kinds of feelings are in the air based on the shapes you see in the clouds. Maybe people would be a bit better about their actions, knowing what was in the air above.”

You tell the frog. “While I wish that was how people worked, that’s not how they work at all.”

You tell the frog, “If I were someone else I would have eaten you. Honestly, if I were me but a little more skilled at killing animals, I would have eaten you.”

You find a small stream. You set the frog down on a hump of sand, gravel in the water. The frog crawls away from you, to the water.  The current carries the frog away. Faster than you would have thought. You feel accomplished. You feel lonely. You sit by the water a while. Scoop up a few handfuls to drink. Then a few handfuls to wash your face.

 

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