The Amphibian Analysis

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Set your story at a park during a spring festival.... view prompt


Fiction Funny

Michele Merchant had once read a fascinating article about Imposter Syndrome, but it didn’t take long for her to realise that reading about it was one thing, experiencing it was another. Memo to self, she thought, accepting invitations just because they flatter you, at least without any further thought, is to be avoided.

But it was too late to avoid this one. She had already been scheduled, and had already had a chat with the organisers. She was going to be one of the participants in Poets in the Park, whether she wanted to or not.

Oh, it was true she had a certain facility for verse. But any lover of words knows that there is a linguistic link between the words “facility” and “facile” for a reason. She felt entirely out of her depth and was reminded of the time when she had presented herself at the school chess club after just a weekend trying to teach herself the rules with the help of the then nascent Internet. She was trapped in a Fool’s Mate within five minutes by a girl two years below her. In fact, she did, in time, become a passable player, but never did rejoin the school chess club. People tended to remember such things, irrespective of whether they had personally witnessed them.

Yes, she’d had poems published. Yes, she’d had them read on air. But she had a nasty feeling that for many of those gathered in the park on that spring day, The People’s Friend and Radio Lincolnshire weren’t going to be particularly impressive. Not that they weren’t entirely respectable and laudable institutions, she hurriedly reminded herself, though she couldn’t deny that, at least in the case of the former, it had started out as a way of earning a bit of extra money when she was on benefits, and even now she was a bit more financially secure, it was still a relatively painless way of augmenting her income. And though the few poems she’d done for the radio had been unpaid, there had been something gratifying about friends and colleagues saying, “Oh, Michele, I heard your poems on the radio!”

She could write poems that appealed to old and not so old ladies about shifting clouds and crackling fires and Christmas trees and Mothers’ Day flowers, and she could write ones that made people laugh, or at least smile, about the absurdities of every day life. But sometimes, months after, years after even, words that were probably meant with no ill intent whatsoever, surfaced and nagged and snagged. She had (she thought) blushed endearingly when her friend NIcky had said, “I don’t know how you churn them out the way you do, Michele!”

But proper poets didn’t churn out. Proper poets didn’t immediately switch into tap or scribble mode and produce something on a well-oiled production line. It had become a habit. Even as she paced around the park, with some vague sense that if she kept moving it might not be so bad, she couldn’t help herself. She was already thinking that dainty briar roses could be described as Shy sisters of the rose full blown, with charm and beauty of their own and that the reeds in the little sheltered pond whispered and swayed and bowed and made, green blend with blue, and light with shade.

That wasn’t what proper poets wrote. That wasn’t what Ted Hughes and Christina Rossetti and William Wordsworth had written. That wasn’t what Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion would write. Fair enough, Poets in the Park hadn’t attracted any former or present or (probably) future poets laureate, but she knew there were people there who had been shortlisted in the Forward Prize and who had been published by Faber and Faber and who were, at the very least, professors of creative writing.

At best I’m a low grade Pam Ayres clone, thought Michele, except I don’t have an appealing regional accent and I’ve never been in a TV talent contest. But she knew in her heart of hearts that there was more to it than that.

She decided to at least see if she could have a few moments’ relative privacy sitting by the pond. There were no benches there, but a couple of rocks that surely weren’t random and were made to be sat on. She could hear one of the poets performing his work and recognised it. Alec Harper, who had a considerable online following. She listened to his poem about the evils of plastic in the world’s oceans, and knew that though the theme, while worthy, was not that original, that was a proper poem. It was a good poem, with unusual metaphors and similes, and words that seemed discordant and contradictory, but made deeper sense. It was not entirely free verse, but did not confine to the treadmill rhyming schemes that Michele often found helpful rather than confining. And she knew for sure that when he was rhyming, he would never dream, as she would have done, with rhyming whales with gales or waves with saves. He just wouldn’t.

Well, she had some aquatic life of her own to contemplate. A little frog was hopping about, and she was reminded of a poem she had written for the children’s page of the Friend about a frog called Fran who was very good at playing with a skipping rope. It had been one of the first of hers they had published. For a while she had toyed with the idea of writing a whole book for children in verse, and she had ideas. But she knew perfectly well she was no Julia Donaldson or Dr Seuss. The frog paused for a few seconds, and she half-imagined it was looking at her and weighing her up, but told herself that was nonsense. All the same, she thought, and you needn’t think I’m going to write a poem about you, I’ve had it with writing poems about frogs.

“Well, we’re not so keen on being written about either,” the frog informed her. Had she spoken aloud without realising it? That was disconcerting. But on a scale of disconcerting, it was pretty low key in comparison to – well, in comparison to …….

“And my mother warned me, and she was right, but I’ve always been one to push my luck. You know what happens to talking frogs, she said, they end up getting flung into a wall by spoilt little madams, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they get turned into humans, and who on earth wants to be a big galumphing human? She told me, she did, some of her best friends were newts and even toads, and sometimes you can even have a halfway sensible conversation with a fish, but humans – nasty, clumping creatures who always have to be making a noise about nothing of any significance!”

Michele was about to jump to her species’ defence when they promptly proved the frog right by bursting into volleys of percussive applause that echoed round the park. Alec Harper had concluded his poem, and surely she had misheard because she was so distracted by other matters, but he hadn’t rhymed orca with stalker, had he? Even she would have baulked at that one! But she supposed she was imagining things, or that it was patently obvious it was meant ironically. As the applause finally subsided with that mixture of relief and reluctance that so often marks the subsiding of applause, the announcer, using a loud hailer that was, well, undeniably loud, said, “Many thanks to Alec for his wonderful words. A message we all need to listen to! Our next poet will be Mary Anne Howard, whose fusion of text speak and the alliterative form of Beowulf has earned her a reputation as one of our must original and challenging poets. And a reminder to Michele Merchant that you’re on after that, Michele!”

“Well, hadn’t you better be making tracks?” asked the frog. “Not going to chicken out are you – can’t be doing with chickens, nearly as bad as humans, not that I’ve had that much to do with them. At least you’re not performing that bloody awful poem you wrote about the frog and the skipping rope. Be thankful for small mercies. Go on, hop it, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

“Very funny,” Michele muttered, making her way to what they termed the Performance Space with the feeling that she should have eaten the condemned person’s proverbial hearty breakfast, but it was perhaps wiser she hadn’t. She had also realised too late that part of the reason the rock felt so comfortable was that it had a liberal coating of moss, and though at least she was wearing a dark coloured skirt, it was still quite possible it had stained it. It was as well she had made haste, for Mary Anne’s performance was shorter than she had expected, and it took her a couple of minutes to realise that the breaking off in midline was wholly intentional – LOL, lisped the loitering littering …… Actually, that wasn’t a bad phrase, thought Michele, she might put it in the memory bank, though without the LOL of course. That didn’t count as plagiarism, did it? Especially not if she concluded it.

Another volley of applause echoed round the park, and Mary Anne left the podium, pausing for a quick word with Michele, as all the participants did, not unlike entrants in the Eurovision Song Contest, and saying, “You calm them down a bit now, love!” Michele wasn’t quite sure how to take that. And she realised, too late, that she had left her printed copy of the poem she had planned to read – or perform, as they preferred to say – on the rock by the pond! She had put a great deal of work into that poem, too, all about the thoughts inspired by finding a fossil on the beach, and she had even Googled some proper grown up scientific stuff to enhance it. Or pad it out. She had a pretty good memory, and would normally have thought that she didn’t need the safety net of the printed sheet anyway. But now she felt a pang of sheer panic, and one of those seconds that last forever that generally only occur when you try to stop yourself falling on an uneven kerbstone but know that you’re going to.

Then she said, “Thank you, ladies and gentleman, and here is my latest work, The Other Side of the Story.”

A few minutes later the applause was for her. And to her amazement, Michele realised that it wasn’t polite or vaguely embarrassed or accompanied by whispers about why on earth had they invited her to the festival. It was louder and more sustained than the applause had been for Alec or Mary Anne.

The festival was covered in the next edition of the local newspaper, the East Shires Argos. It occupied that uneasy and tactful territory somewhere between a report and a review of the kind you often find in local newspapers when called on to hold forth about the local cultural scene. And yes, her name was mentioned.

It was a hugely enjoyable and sometimes thought provoking event in general, but many will agree that the absolute highlight was the performance of “The Other Side of the Story” by local poet Michele Merchant, whose works have already featured in magazines and on the radio. Entirely from memory, but with great spontaneity, she performed the utterly delightful fresh take on the familiar fairy tale of the Princess and the Frog. It was hilariously funny, and yet made the audience pause and think, too. People were also very impressed by Michele’s delivery of the poem. As well as her skill with words, she has the asset of a clear and expressive speaking voice, with a certain musical quality to it – a joy to hear.

Oh my word, thought Michele, so I pulled it off after all, and nobody thought I was an imposter. But she was especially surprised about what they’d said about her voice. She had been afraid that it had sounded rather hoarse and raspy, and that she had to pause to cough a couple of times. As if – what was that phrase? – she had a frog in her throat!

March 26, 2021 08:47

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Rachel Loughran
17:09 Mar 26, 2021

This was great! It took me on a serious journey - as someone who for sure suffers from imposter syndrome and an unfortunate habit of comparing oneself to the authors I like to read - this had me feeling some kind of way! And then the frog started talking - that part's never happened to me! This was really well written, funny and relatable and likeable. Another really fresh take on the prompts. Would love to know some more of your thoughts as you were writing this!


Deborah Mercer
06:38 Mar 27, 2021

Thank you, Rachel! Though a work of fiction (I may on occasion have talked to a frog but assure you one has never talked to me!) it has autobiographical elements in it, particularly concerning Michele's previous, let's say poetic history. Lately I have been quite taken with the notion of introducing elements from well known fairy/folk tales into my stories, though not actually re-telling them. Oh, and the title is a shameless rip off of the "Big Bang Theory" titles! I am so glad you enjoyed it!


Rachel Loughran
09:07 Mar 27, 2021

I like that, in my own writing I like the framework of an existing narrative or loads of research to include - it helps me build a better story around it I feel, so I quite understand! It’s a good title! I struggle with titles myself!


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Josh C
14:43 Mar 31, 2021

This was wonderful! About a month ago I performed, as you say, a poem in public for the first time so I can definitely relate to this story! I'm not confident in my poetry skills but, just like for Michelle, people seemed to enjoy it. Imposter syndrome is not fun. Again, great read, thanks for the story!


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