By Shari Lane
I first heard them calling to each other one evening in late spring, after all the others had apparently paired off. The goose calling to the frog and the frog responding, or perhaps vice versa. He with his three-note solicitation, more of a lament than a full-throated hustle. She with her plaintive canticle to sex, answering each query with her own.
And why not? Is it so strange to think that, having failed to find a mate amongst their own species, the graceful goose and the ludicrous toad might turn to each other for solace, and companionship?
I can think of stranger things.
When my ex calls to tell me how his chemotherapy is going, I have no patience. I like to believe I’m compassionate, generous of spirit, but I catch myself thinking, why don’t you just die already? I don’t truly wish him harm. But I am exhausted from worrying about him. I want him to relieve me of the burden of pity.
There is a man named Terrance who sleeps with me from time to time. I think I was attracted to the name more than the man. I have always been an Anglophile, and he’s British, all angles and bad teeth, and Terrance rather than Terry. Sometimes, after coitus, he’ll read me his poems. He writes of beginnings, of sunrises and chopping onions to make alligator stew, and finding his dog Bailey at the animal shelter, and he traces a whorl on my stomach as he reads to me, forming a vortex around my navel, a whirlwind of words, and I am afraid they will wriggle into my core and nest there, or drill right through me, and nail me to the bed forever.
There is a cat named Juniper who speaks to me, when no one else is near. She belongs to a neighbor, so I don’t have to feed her, or take her to the vet, or sob over her when it’s time for her to be put down. I can simply run my hand the length of her body, from her small, hard head to the tip of her tail, again, and again. She asks me what I’m playing at, why I have no babies even though I’m fertile, why I have pictures on every wall in the house, but none is framed; why I still listen to Cat Stevens, and why I never finished reading Moby Dick. I wanted the whale to live, I tell her, petulant. If I never read the end, I can imagine the whale surviving.
Pet me, she says, purring.
The whale survives, she says, rolling over and exposing her soft underbelly.
Ah, well, now I know, and there’s no need to read the rest, I say.
I planted petunias, prosaic petunias, in a short-lived frenzy of efficacy. The moist ground opened herself to receive the seeds, and the seeds, surprised by her tenderness and overwhelmed with gratitude, sprouted. I failed to water them, and in this year’s unusually dry growing season, they wilted and turned brown.
Every spring, there is a cacophony of frogs in the pond outside my house. Each has a slightly different sound, a unique, come-hither voice. The magnitude of all that desire is almost unbearable; I can feel it in my breasts and in my bones. Once, the croaking was so loud I couldn’t sleep, and I roared shut up out my window. As if a switch had been thrown, they all stopped, simultaneously. And then one frog spoke up, tentative, testing the water, so to speak. Then a second joined him, and a third, and then it was a full chorus again.
My shouting, my yawp, was meaningless.
Most of my ex’s sentences fall into the shallow, meandering pool of my thoughts, ponderings on whether I should have oatmeal or eggs for breakfast, and why can’t I find a life partner, and I haven’t seen Juniper in a while—I hope she’s okay—but I do hear one phrase, rising out of the swarm of sounds: I don’t have very long. I think of things that are very long. His hair when he decided to grow it out, the trailing ends of a gaggle of geese in formation, a dog’s nails if they aren’t trimmed or worn down by walking on rough surfaces. Moby Dick.
I don’t know how they found each other, only that they did. They are lovers. Listen without speaking, and you will hear them. Croaking and honking terms of endearment.
By the time the fall comes, the goose has flown south for the winter, and the frog has been eaten by an itinerant blue heron. Terrance dedicated his book of poetry to me, for which I banished him from my life forever. Juniper is still missing. And my ex’s not very long is over.
I resolve to save the tadpoles, every single one, and nurture them, so they may grow to maturity, and maybe, one day, meet the goose who loved their father.