Fiction Inspirational


When Danny saw the starburst of forks strewn across the floor, he mumbled, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” 

And knew he was lying. Of course he had meant to. How could you accidentally knock over a heavy metal container with a cast-iron bottom? 

But the truth—Icky made me do it—was one truth he was never going to tell. 

“That was just plain stupid,” Mrs. Mommy was informing him, as if he were in fact stupid. “You need to stop making these messes, Danny! What are we going to do with a bad boy who won’t quit breaking and spilling things?”

“I don’t know,” Danny said, looking at the fallen forks. There were tears in his eyes; he could feel their familiar sting and knew they would fall out any second. It would be a lot better, always, if he could just not cry, not let those tears come spewing out to make his whole face wet and drippy. 

Danny was pretty sure it was this crying, more than anything else, that made the other kids in the Home turn on him the way they did, like bad crows—Caw, caw, Danny’s cryyyying. But he cried anyway, no matter what they said or did. He couldn’t help it. Icky didn’t make him cry, but Icky made him do things that made him get in trouble, and then he would cry. 

He'd been only six when he first got Icky. His sister—it was back when he had a sister—found this beanbag frog in a mud puddle, and she pulled it out of the water with two fingers, saying, ‘Ugh, pew, he’s icky!’ She didn’t want it. She’d thrown it toward Danny so it bounced right off his chest, and Danny had picked it back out of the dirt, to save it. The frog was about the same size as his two hands were then. Its cloth skin was slimy and stained. Danny’s fingers could feel the frog’s insides, tiny round things something like BBs; maybe they were the frog’s thoughts. 

“Throw it away, it’s icky,” his sister was yelling, but his hands kept holding it. A story had come into his head, and he knew it was true: The frog’s name was Icky—his sister called him that. And Icky’s mission was to make him, Danny, do bad things, really bad, things he was going to get punished for. And, it was against the rules to throw Icky away. That was one of the things he’d get punished for.

Danny didn’t tell his sister the story about Icky the frog. He didn’t even tell her he was keeping it. Later, when his sister got adopted and was driven away in the back seat of that large blue car, and he himself was brought to the Home, unadopted, he made sure no one would ever find out about Icky. 

This was hard work every day; it’s hard to keep anything secret in a small three-bedroom house with eleven other foster-kids in it, all of them wanting to pry into your life and dig out details they can torture you with. Why they would even want to do this, Danny didn’t know; he just knew he had to protect himself from their fingers, their eyes, their laughter that cawed like crows and made his stomach clinch. If they ever found out he had this rotten frog as a friend, they would manage to twist it into something ridiculous.

Danny knew it really was ridiculous, from their standpoint. Nevertheless, he could see Icky in a way no one else could, he was sure of this. So he found ingenious ways of hiding his frog—inside the very bottom of his bedsheet, or under the leaves of a dead fern, or behind the angel statue, or outside in the junk pile that was never sorted. He’d thought of a new place every day. 

Now, he was ten—and no one had found Icky yet.

In a way, he almost wished someone would. Just find the frog and get it over with. Icky was Danny’s secret, and secrets can grow too heavy to stand. This business of having to do bad things at Icky’s will, even when he himself didn’t want to, was a burden. Every single day, and sometimes more often than that, he had to knock over his milk—hit Richard in the face—pour pepper into Jordan’s cereal—chew the erasers off all the pencils—stick a fish skeleton into Marcy’s bed—rip pages out of a book—pee all over the toilet seat—say the really bad word out loud—drown a spider in Mrs. Mommy’s coffee…

Icky never ran out of things to make Danny do, and Danny did them. And never once did he say, ‘Icky made me do it,’ even though it was completely true, because he couldn’t let on that Icky existed. It wasn’t fair—but Danny had figured out there was no such thing as fair. Fair was a word the other kids used when they didn’t like the way things were going for them. Fair was a meaningless word.

Then came the day the unthinkable happened. 

It was the day Danny knocked over the fork container, so that Mrs. Mommy had to pick up all those forks (she was too disgusted to let Danny do it) and wash them over again. Danny saw his own dirty, swollen face reflected in the toaster; he heard the other kids cawing, Danny’s cryyyying. And he was just getting ready to hear Icky telling him to attack the whole bunch of them with his fists—when suddenly in burst Kaylin with Icky in her grip: “Lookit what I found in Danny’s sneaker!”

“That was naughty, Kaylin,” Mrs. Mommy scolded absently as she kept cooking. “We don’t touch people’s dirty shoes.”

But Brad said, “What?! Gimme that!” and snatched Icky right out of Kaylin’s hand.

“Nuh-uh, I found it.” Kaylin grabbed one of Icky’s dangling legs.

“It’s mine,” said Danny, but he didn’t say it very loudly, because his voice was suddenly like a cloud, a puff of smoke. He’d sensed that his sneaker wasn’t a good hiding place for Icky, but then he’d decided the stink would keep snoops out. Now, he sensed something else—something larger and more meaningful.

He sensed that his life was never going to be the same again. 

He would have liked to express this sensation to Brad and Kaylin both, as between them they stretched his frog to the breaking point. But he wasn’t good with words—everyone knew that, and said so constantly. He was only good with breaking and spilling things. In his imagination he could roar, Icky is mine, you wretches, and the two wretches would shrink back in awe while Icky fell safely to the floor. But he couldn’t roar, and his frog didn’t fall. Instead, it ripped right down the middle of its rotten cloth skin, and all its insides spilled out, rolling every which way including under the refrigerator.

“Oh, great,” Kaylin snapped. “Now look what you did.”

“I didn’t,” said Brad. “Gimme that.”

“No way,” said Kaylin, and with her free hand she grabbed the scissors from Mrs. Mommy’s corner desk. “It’s stupid, just like Danny. Look, I’m going to cut its head off.”

“No,” Danny whispered. “Don’t…”

“Here it goes—cut, cut, cut. See? It’s not even a frog. It’s just a dead rag.”

It was. It was a dead rag. Danny stared at it, and that was what it was—a dead rag hanging from Kaylin’s fist. Sure, it had things like legs hanging off its edges, but they didn’t make the rag be a frog. Didn’t turn it back into Icky. It was as if Icky the frog had never been. Mrs. Mommy seized the rag and threw it into the yard waste, which was being collected at this very moment. And Danny, stony-faced and dry-eyed, watched the yard waste truck roll away.

Many years later, when Danny was a grown man called Daniel, extremely good with words and extremely wealthy from his use of them in the articles he’d had published in psychiatric journals, he often spoke of this pivotal moment in his life. “That was the end of my acting out,” he would tell his rapt audience. “Suddenly I was free! Not that I never did another bad thing, but it was the end of my believing I wasn’t personally responsible for my actions. I did not punch Brad on his big fat nose, and I did not knock Kaylin on her scrawny ass—and I assure you I wanted to do both those things, as much as it’s possible for a human to want anything. I chose not to. Icky was gone, and I simply walked out of the room. Walked out of childhood into adulthood. Walked out of darkness into light. Walked from helpless victim to the man you see now—simply by letting go of my frog.”

May 08, 2023 19:04

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