It rains and a frog arrives at your front door and asks if he can come in. You let him in because frogs don’t usually talk. Also, your grandmother taught you that hospitality is an ancient art, essential to civilization. So you ask the frog to come in, please, and he tells you that he’s hungry. This gives you pause. Embarrassed, you explain that you might not have anything that he would like.
“What are you having?”
“Some soup,” you explain. “Just vegetable soup out of a can and saltine crackers. My mother used to give us that on rainy days. She was a terrible cook. But now I like it. It reminds me of that. Coming home from school all wet and muddy and cold, peeling out of damp clothes for a hot bath. Afterward sitting down at the table, warm and dry, with my mother and sister. She let us eat all of the crackers that we wanted, right out of the package, and asked us about our day.”
“Well, that sounds perfect. I’ll have what you’re having.”
So you bring the frog to the dining room where your bowl of soup is still steaming and the crackers are spilling out of the white wrapper onto the table. A tattered paperback book is opened face down to save your place and a page from the newspaper is spread out with the crossword half done.
“Pardon my mess.” you say, “I wasn’t expecting anybody. Please, make yourself comfortable,” you add, setting him on the table and reaching to gather your clutter.
The frog says, “No, that’s alright. You can leave it. If you were doing a crossword puzzle before, we can do it together. What’s that you're reading?”
You are blushing a little. Embarrassed by your mess and this intimate glimpse into your life, inadvertently shared with an unexpected guest. But you’re also smiling. Because it is nice to have company and nice to have someone interested.
“It’s The Once and Future King by T.H White. It’s a novel about King Arthur.”
The frog is inspecting the spine of the book. “Do you like it?” he asks.
“Oh. I do. I love it. I used to watch the Sword and The Stone with my sister when we were little. It was one of our favorite movies, that and Robinhood, with the foxes. Anyway, I see how that cartoon was inspired by the first part of this book, all of his adventures with animals. But it does get very dark and serious later. The writing is beautiful.” The frog is looking up at you intently with big yellow eyes.
“Let’s see,” you say, “if you wait here I can go see if I can find a bowl that would suit you…” You are thinking of the frog perching on the edge of a bowl, struggling not to slip in and be scalded, thinking of a tea saucer with a nice indentation in the center, of a miniature honey jar you got at a hotel buffet with a tiny black lid…
“Oh that’s all right.” the frog says. “Come sit down and feed me from your bowl. I don’t mind sharing.”
You hesitate. This is a bit unorthodox and you worry about sharing your spoon with a stranger, not because he’s a frog, of course, but because anybody might have germs. But then again, he is a frog so he probably can’t give you the common cold. And didn’t people used to put toads in pitchers of milk to keep it fresh? So what harm in sharing a soup spoon? You smile quickly and say, “Well, alright, I don’t mind if you don’t. Would you like anything to drink? I might pour myself a little wine. We used to have grape juice with this when I was a kid.”
“Some wine sounds nice,” the frog answers, eyes glistening.
You pop off to the kitchen and return with a chipped blue mug filled halfway with wine for yourself and, (you are very pleased with yourself about this,) a thimble you found in your everything drawer by the kitchen sink, filled to the brim with wine for the frog. Beaming you place the drinks on the table and slide into your chair. The frog hops closer to your bowl. You test the soup first to make sure it isn’t too hot before offering him his first spoonful. Gingerly, he sips soup from your spoon.
“Mm delicious!” he pronounces. Thus you dine; one spoon for you and one for the frog. You hold the thimble to his “lips” so that he can partake of the wine and he smacks with satisfaction after taking a hardy gulp. When the bowl is empty, the frog thanks you, gazes into your eyes, blinks once and asks, “Do you live here by yourself?”
“Yes.” You answer, “It’s just me.” You can’t hide the tremor in your voice. It’s the wine.
“Do you ever get lonely?” the frog asks.
“Sometimes.” Your own voice sounds strange to you. The rain is starting to fall a bit harder, thumping on the windows around you and the wind howls savagely rattling the windows. “What a storm,” you say, “I can’t possibly let you go back out there while it’s like this. I can make you a little bed.” You’re thinking of a shoebox and a towel wrapped in a nice pillowcase to make a mattress, and maybe a rolled-up sock for a pillow, one of your fuzzy socks…
“Oh that sounds like a lot of trouble,” the frog says. “I would like to stay. I could just sleep on your pillow.”
You laugh out loud, your cheeks reddening. “Of course! That makes the most sense. I can be so silly.”
“You aren’t silly,” the frog tells you earnestly, “You’re very kind. Kindness isn’t silly. It’s a strength.”
Tears well up in your eyes. You wipe them on your sleeve. “Sorry,” you sniff trying to smile again, “Even a little wine is too much for me.” You start gathering the dishes. “It’s still early. Would you like to sit by the electric fireplace in the living room? I can make us some cocoa.”
Bathed in the warm flickering glow of the eclectic fireplace, the frog sits on your knee while you give him little spoonfuls of cocoa from the chipped blue mug. “That’s very good,” he says stamping his webbed feet, eyes widening.
“It's just Swiss Miss. It was my sister’s favorite, with the tiny marshmallows in it.”
The frog tries to eat one of the tiny marshmallows off of the spoon.
“The rain always makes me think of her.” You continue, “ When we were little we used to go out into the driveway and turn the umbrella upside down and sit in it, pretending it would carry us like a boat. We saw that in a cartoon. We broke a lot of umbrellas and made our mother furious. She tried to tell us that it would not work, that we couldn’t float away on an umbrella. But we never stopped trying, so mother never had an umbrella when she needed one.”
The frog is watching you intently now, neglecting his coco. You realize that your cheeks are streaked with tears. You set the spoon and the mug down on the coffee table. Some Cocoa sloshes over the brim.
“The roads are very slick, you know, after the first rain.” You explain, “The oil on the roads gets loosed up by the water and even though it isn’t a lot of rain, it's very dangerous. They both died.” Your voice shakes and comes out much higher than usual, “It was just a little bit of rain.”
You can’t stop yourself. The more you wish it to stop, the less control you seem to have, and the more you cry. You wrap your arms around yourself and lean forward so that your face is quite close to the frog, your eyes squinched shut, face wet with tears, nose running, spittle escaping from around your clenched teeth as you sob. The frog starts croaking, bleating sorrowfully with you as you cry, the rain drums down on the rooftop with voracity.
You are thinking of canned soup, of your sister asking for the cocoa with the lady on it, your mother beautiful and angry about umbrellas, of laughing with your sister in the back of the car singing, “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.”
And of waking up in a hospital bed, of your grandmother’s eyes full of tears, her clutching your hand desperately. Of the funeral you couldn’t attend, of flowers and hospital food, of taking the bus home from school alone the first time, of your sister's empty room with her favorite plush animal alone on her bed; a stuffed frog.
The rain slows down and so do you. You stop sobbing. Your tears stop and your cheeks feel sticky. The frog croaks intermittently. The rain trickles in irregular thumps. You sniff and sit up, wiping your face on your sleeves.
“I’m sorry,” you say. Your voice is gritty.
The frog croaks once more, straightens up, and tells you, “It’s alright. You’ll be alright. I’ll stay as long as you like.”