“Are You Here for the Frogs? Because You Can’t Have Them. They’re All I’ve Got.”

Short fiction by

 Christina L. Rozelle

 

 

It felt colder in the room that day.

Lucy knew they were trying to kill her, and freezing her was one of the many ways they tried to do it. But that day was different. Along with the usual frigidness, came a quaking emptiness that she couldn’t quite place. The girl that had come by, supposedly to keep her company, went on and on about this love between two people Lucy had never met. She was unsure why the girl was telling her such things. It was none of her business and she could hardly relate. She couldn’t remember if she had ever experienced anything like that in her life. All she could remember now, was the harsh climate of her home, the ever-present loneliness . . . and the frogs.

The frogs were her friends. If she moved too quickly around the room, she’d startle them, so Lucy was sure to remind all who entered to watch for them. And when they told her the frogs weren’t real, she kept quiet, because she knew they were just trying to trick her. They were always trying to trick her.

“Gran? Are you all right?” the girl asked.

Lucy nodded, rocking faster in her chair, keeping an eye on Jasper, the mammoth toad who hid behind her trashcan. She remained cautious as the girl continued, rambling on about the time the man came home from four long years at the war, and how the woman had knitted him the ugliest winter sweater on the planet, but the man loved her so much he wore it proudly anyway. The girl laughed softly as she opened a photo album in her lap.

“I don’t know whose this is, do you?” she asked, running her fingers along a lock of hair. “I can’t read the writing beside it.”

“How would I?” Lucy asked.

The girl’s face tightened with pain, which confused Lucy. Why was this stranger so emotional over things that she knew nothing about? Her eyes wandered to an unfamiliar painting of a young couple, frozen in their laughter, and she wondered what they were laughing about. It made Lucy very sad but she didn’t know why.

“Aww . . .” The girl knelt by Lucy’s side and took her cool, wrinkled hand, cupping it inside her young palms. “I always wondered what you two were laughing at.”

“Oh, that’s not me.” Lucy tried to see why the girl would mistake the woman in it for her.

“Gran, it is you. It’s you and your husband, Dale, my Grandpa. That picture was painted on your honeymoon, fifty-seven years ago.”

Lucy stared at her, feeling the sudden rage she felt when she knew someone was trying to trick her. Tears filled her eyes, blurring the girl’s face. She tightened her trembling fists. “No! You’re lying to me!” She turned away from the horrible picture and her eyes landed on the tiny locket beside her bed. Her chest heaved and swelled as she took it in her hands and opened it.

The girl cried softly beside her.

Lucy looked from the man in the tiny gold heart to the girl . . .

. . . And then, a light turned on somewhere.

“Annette?” Lucy whispered.

The girl cried harder and wrapped her arms around Lucy’s neck.

“You’re my . . . my granddaughter . . . .”

Annette nodded and kissed Lucy’s cheek.

Lucy looked down at the man in the gold heart. She tilted her head slightly to the right, daring to look at the picture on the wall again. And then, she knew. Lucy closed the locket up tight inside her palm. How could she forget?

Dale was a great man. There was never a day that went by that he didn’t do something for someone else. He was a war hero, a teacher, a giver, a lover . . . . But most of all, he was her best friend for fifty-seven years.

“He’s . . . gone?” Lucy asked.

Annette nodded, tears trailing her cheeks.

“Please,” Lucy begged. “Please don’t let me forget my Dale. I don’t want to be without my Dale,” she pleaded, holding her granddaughter as tight as her weak arms could manage.

Annette sobbed into her grandma’s lap. Because she knew there was nothing she could do. It was only a matter of time.

As Lucy squeezed the locket, drenching her granddaughter’s shoulder with her tears, Jasper hopped out from behind the trashcan and shook his head at her.

“Wait. . . .” Lucy pushed Annette back, held her at arm’s length. “Who are you? Are you here for the frogs? Because you can’t have them. They’re all I’ve got.”

 

* * *

To preorder Christina’s Upper YA Dystopian Sci-Fi novel, “The Treemakers,” releasing on December 3, 2014, follow this link.

“The Toothbrush and the Lie”

When I see Charlie’s toothbrush on the sink as I brush my teeth, once again, I leave it alone. After twenty-seven years of sharing the same six-by-eight foot space, leaving each other’s stuff alone, I suppose it’s out of habit more than anything.

They came to clean his stuff out of our cell and I don’t know what came over me. I told those bastards it was my hootch and I’d be the one to decide what to do with Charlie’s stuff, now that he was gone. They could see blood in my eyes so they left me alone. And for the first time in twenty-seven years, I was alone in my cell, with plenty of time to reminisce . . . .

You’d think people would have more sympathy for men who’ve fought for this country once they’ve gone crazy. People love you while you’re away risking your life in guerilla warfare, but once you come back, alls you get is a sea of cold shoulders. It’s enough to make a man hate; especially the Chucks that were the reason for the whole thing.

It didn’t take me long to lose Mary once I got back from my second tour. After you’ve murdered thousands of people—women, children—you’re a changed man. I wasn’t the same long-haired boy they drafted, that’s for sure. I was angry, drunk, and abusive, and eventually, after a year of that, my wife finally put me out. I was on the street for two years before I got so hungry and desperate for booze that I robbed an ice-cream shop. I’ll never understand why I chose that place. Whoever heard of an ice-cream shop owner with a sawed-off under the counter? He pinned me to the ground with the barrel digging into my neck and his foot pressed into my upper back, waiting for the cops.

In that moment, I experienced a sort of death. My life passed before my eyes in snapshots, faded gray and tattered by my constant cramming of them back down in my pocket of memories—the ones I couldn’t bear to stare at for too long. And then, I wasn’t there anymore; I was under attack. I flipped around and took the gook’s gun and fired, blowing his head against the wall behind him.

And then, I woke up.

They gave me life with no parole. And to pour salt in the wound, they stuck me in a cell with a goddamn Charlie. I told them they were no good fucking cherries, and if they didn’t get that Chuck son-of-a-bitch outta my cell, I’d kill him. Just like I killed his relatives back in Nam. I threatened the slanty-eyed bastard, and beat him within a splinter of his life for touching my toothbrush (which he never did again), and ended up in solitary for a week. Then, they threw me right back in there, with him reading his gook bible. And I knew I was stuck with him. For good.

Weeks turned into months and then years, and Charlie and I learned to work around each other. He never touched my stuff and I never touched his. And looking at his bed—the cold blankets pulled back, bible still lain open, its pages fanned and crumpled beneath it—I haven’t been able to bring myself to touch his things, even now.

***

Charlie comes to me in a dream and tells me he always considered me a friend, even though we never once spoke. Even after what I did to him. Even after I never once called him by his real name. He tells me he forgives me, and that I should forgive myself, too. He says he’ll be waiting for me on the bright side.

I gasp myself awake and stumble to the stainless steel mirror by the sink. I splash cold water on my face and struggle to breathe. I grip the edge of the sink with trembling hands, accidentally knocking Hao’s toothbrush onto the concrete floor. I stare at it for a second in disbelief. I had just thought of him as “Hao” for the first time. I bend down to pick up his toothbrush, but instead I fold up under the sink, cradling it and sobbing like a schoolgirl. Hao was never the enemy I made him out to be. He left me alone because it was my wish. He never hated me or my sins. He forgave me, respected me when there was no one else left that did. Hao was no enemy . . . .

And he was never coming back.

This story was first published in The Oddville Press, Volume 2, Issue 2. There are so many great stories in that issue, as well as the newest issue that just came out a few days ago. Definitely worth the free download! You can download both issues, as well as Volume 1, Issues 1-6 with this nifty little link right HERE.