The Folklore Project


Bland

Berkeley, California

Frogs

By Gary Bland


I stood silently by my parents’ bed while my mother was sleeping. I would wait, listening in the stillness, until I could hear the soft rhythm of her breath or see a rise in the sheets, then quietly leave. This was something I would do periodically during the day. She would get up early to make coffee and breakfast for my father and I, and then go back to bed immediately after my father left for work. She had a headache, or hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, or was just tired. It was the summer between the second and third grade, and I was painfully bored. All of the other children in our complex were out of town for family vacations. Sometimes, my mother would come into the living room where I was trying to watch the small black-and-white TV, and sit beside me, telling me how sorry she was that I didn’t have something to do, no one to play with, and how bad she felt that she was absent in bed through most of the day. But then she would eventually go back to bed until about an hour before my father would return home from work. Then she would bathe and dress, rush around to tidy the apartment, and start dinner.

My father was a Marine, and we lived in military housing in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, near the Atlantic coast. Like most of the southeastern coast of the continental U.S., the landscape was flat and unbroken except for the rivers, inlets, marshes, and swamps that gave rise to the sweltering humidity and bothersome mosquitoes of the summer months. Rather than wake my mother for my lunch, I would pull a chair to the kitchen cabinet and retrieve the bread and peanut butter, then go to the refrigerator for my jelly and milk. Afterward, I tried to watch TV, but it was a weekday with no kiddie shows or cartoons. I tried to watch a show where two unhappy women were talking intently while a solitary organ droned in the background. A handsome man entered the scene, and the two women hushed quickly, turning smiles toward the man. Even though I knew it would be empty, I decided to go to the small playground that had been set up for the kids in the complex. I got up to turn off the TV, and once more went into my parent’s room and stood by the bed. I was going to wake my mother up to tell her I was going outside to play but decided to let her sleep. If she did get up, she would know to look out the back door, where the playground was visible. Before I left I made sure that I could hear her breath.

The heat and humidity smacked me instantly as I walked out the back door. The sky was low with an unbroken gray ceiling that forecasted rain. The playground sat silently among the surrounding apartments with a swing set, two slides, a teeter totter, and a set of jungle bars. I usually had only to look out my back door to see what sort of activity was happening. The Muldoons lived closest to the playground and had five kids I could always join for some play. And at another complex was my best friend, Anthony, whose mother was Filipino and had taken him back to visit his grandmother for the summer. I took a seat on a swing and spun myself around forlornly looking at the backsides of the surrounding apartments with blank, empty windows and closed doors. In 360 degrees, I felt like the only boy alive on Earth. 



When the first few drops of rain started to fall, I resolved that I would have to spend the rest of the day stuck inside our silent home and stood to lumber back to our apartment. Immediately, I noticed something peculiar about this rain. It seemed to fall slowly in big wet drops that would splash open audibly when they hit the ground, making an irregular staccato. Years later I was reminded of this chaotic rhythm when I was caught in the beginning of a hail storm. The air was thick with the smell of ozone, and a whiff of muck and mud. A drop hit the back of my neck and began to roll down beneath my T-shirt, but then I felt it bounce several times and disappear. I saw a small frog lying on top of the long grass, and as I looked, I saw another identical frog fall and bounce beside it, and then another. Something hit my bare arm, and I saw another frog drop into the grass. I turned my face upward to the sky and a tiny frog fell like it was riding a raindrop and hit me square on the nose. I felt the glow of something brilliant rise up from my belly and explode out of the top of my head, and I took off running for the back door.

I banged through the screen door into the quiet and darkened apartment, racing down the short hall to my parents’ bedroom.

“Mama, It’s raining frogs! It’s raining frogs!” I was shouting as I came into the bedroom.

I don’t know if it was my words or the alarm in my voice, but my mother came out of the bed as if on springs. She stood there in her white nightgown with her feet spread and her arms at ready in a fight-or-flight posture. Her long brown hair stood up in disarray above her startled features. She looked like a cartoon character that had stuck its finger in a light socket.

“It’s raining frogs! It’s raining frogs! Come on!” I shouted and turned to run back outside. I could hear the sound of her bare feet slapping the floor behind me as I burst out into the odd, falling rain and ran straight to the spot by the swing sets and started searching the grass.

“There!” I shouted and pointed as a frog bounced to the ground, followed by another one not a foot away. One frog hit her shoulder and fell into the front of her nightgown, causing her to dance and squeal. She pulled her nightgown away from her body so the little frog would fall through. We bellowed with laughter and disbelief at each other. She was suddenly like a little girl and we, two enraptured children.

She was unaware when a frog fell onto the top of her head, and when I told her, she shrieked and put her hands to her hair.

“Get it out! Get it out!” she cried, then turned and fell to a crouch so I could reach it. As soon as I spotted the tiny amphibian, it slipped down deeper into the recesses of her hair. Trying to calm my own laughter, I gingerly began pulling apart the strands of damp hair. As I sought deeper, there were strands of chestnut brown hair with threaded highlights of red, and tangled within, this wet green gem. I reached in and plucked it up gently with my fingers, capturing it within my cupped hands. My mother stood and came in close to me, cupping my own hands in hers. Her long wet hair fell like curtains around us as I raised my hand to reveal this impossible treasure that had fallen from the sky.

It was so small, as small as my fingernail. Across its green body were tiny spots of a darker green. It still had part of its tadpole tail. Delicate palpitations could be seen in the sides of its soft belly. My mother’s whisper filled up the space we had created between us.

“It’s a miracle.”

In response, it popped up at us, causing us both to yelp and leap apart. The nature of the rain had suddenly changed and was falling in light, uniform drops, creating a hush in our world. By this time, our hair and clothes were plastered to our bodies, rain dripping from our faces.

“Oh, my,” she said. “We better get back inside.” Then she got an idea.

“After we change into some dry clothes, let’s bake that cake I’ve been meaning to make all summer. We’ll surprise your dad when he gets home from work.” I immediately envisioned licking raw cake batter off a rubber spatula. We held hands and tiptoed through the wet grass to our back door, taking care where we stepped.