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Building Croaks

By Alexandra Swain



It all started as an experiment. My therapist said that I had to expose myself to something small that made me uncomfortable. When I took Renata to my next session she kept staring at me, the look in her face rivalling that of the fish in the aquarium next to Reni’s at the pet shop.


‘What is that?’


‘It’s a frog, she’s my pet.’


‘Why did you get a pet frog?’


‘You said I should expose myself to small things that make me uncomfortable.’ I replied, showing her Reni. She sat in the palm of my hand, her spindly legs tucked underneath her.


‘I meant something like going to a yoga class, or drinks with your class mates on a Thursday…’


‘Oh dear.’


‘Yes, “oh dear” indeed.’


Reni did not take that session very kindly. Once back home in her little pond, she spent the rest of the day in her cave ignoring my every attempt to play with her. Deciding to let her brood in peace, I let her be and fell asleep. Halfway through the night I woke up to a gentle chirping, whose source I found under my desk. A cricket had climbed through my open window and tried to make itself at home. Gently picking it up between a water glass and an old magazine, I turned to find Reni’s star-filled gaze on me. Her pink tongue slithered out of the wide depths of her mouth, her front legs rubbing in a comically diabolical manner.


Gently, I approached her, trying to make amends. As soon as the cricket hit the rocks, that flash of a tongue was upon it, ending the little chirper’s existence. As for me? It had earned me a gummy smile from Reni.


This routine continued over many nights, me chasing down crickets, seeking the cold-blooded princess’ approval. On days that followed unfruitful night hunts, I knew all I’d be receiving would be a cold shoulder from her, eyes half-closed letting me know that more was expected from me.


With the start of term, I could devote less attention to Reni, but she was not discouraged by this. It wasn’t uncommon for her to perch herself on my shoulder as I studied, following along advanced trigonometry and structural analysis. On Zoom classes she sagely nodded at what the lecturer explained, grasping more than I could.


As soon as I settled into study mode, she’d watch from her perch on my desk, croaking her approval at right answers and deflating in disappointment otherwise. With the increase of my grades it had become expected that bigger tithes were payed nightly. To the crickets, I had to add flies and worms, as well as protein bars for winter nights when no crawling visitors were at hand. After my midterms one night I woke up because I couldn’t breathe. In between dreams all I knew was that something large was pressing on my chest, tighter with each shallow exhale. When I opened my eyes I found myself reflected on Reni’s eyes. In the four months that had passed since she arrived, all her knowledge had made her bigger. Gone were the days when I could hold her in the palm of my hand. Now, if I didn’t use both, I’d drop her. And pay for it.


«Feed me» her eyes said. Not a plea or a question. A demand. I had passed all my exams thanks to the suffocating amphibian on my chest, and I had to pay my dues.


That is how the rest of the year went by. Getting correct answers in class meant a cricket, an aced test a bowl of worms. Winning first place in the Young Engineering Competition, that earned her a whole rat. Who knew?


The nights where I woke up with Remi’s growing weight on my chest became more frequent, I even felt the coldness of her tongue in my ear once, as if tasting.


I grew paranoid, scared. I did not eat, just so I had leftovers to feed her. I tried failing exams on purpose to blame her and have an excuse to not feed her. But it did not work. She’d judgementally croak from her pond when I exiled her from my desk, then slowly make her way to my feet, where she’d start nibbling at my toes. I didn’t sleep, instead trying to create the perfect way to be rid of her. But no matter how hard I tried, she was always one hop ahead.


The night I gave my final exam should have been a moment of celebration, a reward for a year of hard work. But I could not relax, every creak of the floor or groan of a chair reminded me of her. Her low croaks lingering behind every corner. I fell into bed exhausted, fear making every muscle in my body spasm, making me feel as if I had just come home from back-to-back sessions at the gym.


Amidst dreams of rats and crickets, I felt as if I was slipping into the murky depths of Reni’s pond. Each attempt to breath a cold knife in my chest. Through barely open eyes I saw her once again on top of me. The brunt of her weight on me, her willowy front legs on my face.


As I lay there, seeing my life float away on a lily pad, the only thought in my brain was «who knew frogs had teeth».


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