Where the Frogs Are ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Giles knocked loudly. When Eddie opened the door, he was wearing a dressing gown of John Barrymore vintage and smoking a cigarette in a long holder. He had put something on his hair to cause it to stand up. It was flat on top.
“I figured it would be you,” Eddie said as he held the door for Giles to enter.
“I was just in the neighborhood,” Giles said.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s a likely story.”
“Are you all alone?”
“Do you have anything you want to tell me?”
“Not a thing.”
“There’s a rumor going around school today that a certain party had a little set-to with Miss Cratty and scored a three-day suspension.”
“Word travels fast, doesn’t it?”
“Would you care to tell me how it all came down so I can tell everybody about it tomorrow?”
Eddie puffed on the cigarette holder with a flourish and blew the smoke out through his nose. “How much do you know?” he asked.
“Practically nothing,” Giles said. “Try as I might, I wasn’t able to find out any details. Those who might have known weren’t talking.”
“First a drink,” Eddie said.
He went into the kitchen and when he came back he was carrying two whisky glasses containing Coke and two ice cubes in each glass. He handed one of the glasses to Giles and sat down beside him on the couch.
Giles took a sip and looked at Eddie. “Since I’m the closest thing you have to a best friend, you’d better tell me everything.”
“Can you keep a secret?”
“You know I can’t.”
“What if I said I don’t want everybody to know about this?”
“Everybody will know about it anyway.”
“You know I’ve been having trouble with geometry,” Eddie said. “Failing, in fact.”
“Why does there even need to be geometry in the world? It’s an affliction to those who are forced to learn it, not to mention a complete waste of time. No matter what I do in life or where I go, I will never need to know that crap!”
“I’ve heard all this before,” Giles said, “but go on.”
“Miss Cratty, the dear old thing, agreed to let me take a makeup test. She said it was the only way I could come out of the class with a passing grade.”
“That was rather sporting of her.”
“Well, you know that geometry is nothing more than just memorizing stuff. You memorize all these theorems for a test and just as soon as the test is over, you put everything out of your mind as if it had never happened. Education is rather stupid at times.”
“You could write a book.”
“Well, I gave up my fifth period study hall—during which I was planning on catching up on my sleep—to go and take the silly old makeup test. Miss Cratty told me to come to the zoology room where they cut up frogs and starfishes and things because the math room was being used during that period.”
“That seems logical.”
“When I got to the zoology room, I was a couple minutes late and Miss Cratty was already foaming at the mouth because I didn’t get there on time. Right off she gave me a lecture about how rude it was to keep her waiting and how she was giving me the makeup test out of the goodness of her heart and not because she had to. You might say we got off to a really bad start. I mean, you could have cut the ill will with a knife. I never liked Miss Cratty anyway and she obviously feels the same about me.”
“Are you sure you were only a couple minutes late?”
“I figured she would just give me the test paper and then fly off somewhere on her broomstick, but I could see she was going to stay in the room with me the whole time.”
“She didn’t trust you not to cheat.”
“After I had been in the zoology room not more than five minutes, I began to feel sick from the smell.”
“No, the smell of formaldehyde or whatever they use when they’re dissecting frogs. You know how sensitive I am to my surroundings.”
“You never let anybody forget.”
“Well, Miss Cratty gave me the test paper and sat down about twelve feel away from me, over to my right, where she could see every move I made. She opened her book of spells and incantations and began reading.”
“She probably feels right at home where the frogs are.”
“When I started the test, I was feeling pretty sick, not only from the smell, but from all the stuff on the test I didn’t know. I had crammed my head full of geometry stuff to prepare for the test but it was all gone by the time I needed it. I was suffering from temporary amnesia. I couldn’t remember a thing. I could hardly even remember my own name.”
“That sounds like a pretty good excuse, but I think you’d have a hard time proving it.”
“I looked over at Miss Cratty. Her head was down and she seemed deeply involved in her reading, almost in a trance or something.”
“I’ve heard that witches do that.”
“I had copied some things I was likely to forget on a tiny little index card and had the card in my pocket.”
“I thought I could slip the card out of my pocket and put it flat on the desk against my stomach, refer to it as needed, and nobody would be any the wiser.”
“So you cheated.”
“I don’t think of it as cheating. I think of it as helping oneself where one can.” He pinched the butt out of the end of his holder, put a fresh cigarette in and lit it.
“Go on,” Giles said.
“Miss Cratty’s eyes were closed, almost as if she had drifted off to sleep, so I became a little bolder. I was referring to my index card freely, copying the stuff into the test. Then it happened.”
“I know what’s coming.”
“She saw what I was doing and was on me like a duck on a June bug. She tried to snatch the index card away from me to see what it was but I wouldn’t let her have it. She began poking me in the shoulder with the end of her pencil. I told her to stop it and when she didn’t I grabbed the pencil out of her hand and threw it across the room. That enraged her. She began punching me with her bony fingers and saying terrible things to me.”
“She said a person who will cheat on a makeup test is just about the lowest thing in the world. She told me I was a disgrace to the school and to my family. She was screaming right in my face like a lunatic. All I could see was the wart on the end of her nose with the little hairs sticking out of it.”
“So what did you do then?”
“I stood up off the stool I was sitting on, and when I did I stepped on her foot. She thought I did it on purpose. She yowled as if I had stabbed her in the stomach. She started punching me on the shoulder, getting nearer my face. I panicked. All I could think was that I had to get away from her, had to make her stop punching me. I reared back as if I was going to hit her in the face but I did something else instead.”
“I pushed her. Her feet got tangled in the stool legs and she fell backward and landed on the floor. Her dress went up over her waist and I saw her underpants. It was the most horrible sight I ever saw in my life. I can’t get it out of my mind. It was like looking upon the face of Satan.”
“You actually saw her underpants?”
“She screamed as one mortally wounded. The art teacher and the janitor heard her and came running. They helped get her up off the floor. She told them I hit her but I didn’t. The art teacher took me by one arm and the janitor by the other, as if I was a dangerous criminal, and took me to the principal’s office with Miss Cratty right behind us.”
“Are you making this up?”
“When Miss Cratty told the principal her version of the story, he wasn’t pleased. He would hardly let me speak at all. He tried to get me to apologize to her but I refused, so he suspended me. To await further review, he said. The only way I can get back in school is to have one or both my parents solicit the principal’s office, in person, for my re-admittance. Miss Cratty is going to prefer charges against me for assault. I’m going to end up behind bars. Nobody will take my word for what happened over hers.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not ever going back to school. I’m leaving tonight. I have a little money.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not going to tell you because everyone will suspect that I told you and force you to tell them. You admit yourself that you can’t keep a secret.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Tell my friends at school tomorrow that I said goodbye.”
At the door as Giles was leaving, Eddie hugged him with tears in his eyes. “I’ve known you since kindergarten,” he said, “and you’ve always been square with me. Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime, but probably not.”
“Are you sure that going away is the only way to deal with this thing?” Giles asked.
“Don’t tell anybody you even saw me today,” Eddie said. “I’m vanishing right before your eyes. I no longer exist.”
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp