Spitting Up Frogs
by Miki Dare
My Great Aunt Angeline cursed me. She came from a long line of pure bloods from the old country and she was horrified when my dad mixed it up and married a woman from a new country she couldn’t pronounce properly. She refused to go to my parents’ wedding and refused all of their invitations after that day, so when I came into the world they didn’t invite her to my baby shower. Meanwhile, all my cousins’ parents married “right,” which to her meant white, and they didn’t think twice about sending baby invitations to Great Aunt Angeline. She came bearing grandiose gifts; when my cousins part their lips, out drop gold coins, diamonds or pearls.
They say Great Aunt Angeline flew into a rage and stormed uninvited into my parents’ house during my baby shower. She screamed that my parents were heretics, that I was an abomination, and with the magic of her words she cursed me. Since that day, every time I open my mouth to talk, a frog jumps out.
It’s not like spitting out a cherry pit or a pearl into a lacy handkerchief. For me, there’s a lot of gagging that crescendos into an explosive vomit of frog along with long thick strings of green slime. It’s not pretty for anyone, not even the frogs. They always look a bit squished when they first come out.
My earliest memories are of floors carpeted with frogs and my parents throwing my frogs into buckets, bottles and boxes strategically placed all over the house. I remember a lot of late night walks to the park with backpacks, bags and strollers, where my parents would discretely dump the frogs when no one was around. Over time, I learned to keep my lips locked, for all our sakes. I can communicate pretty well with just my eyes and hand gestures. Only now have the news stories about the frog overpopulation problem at the local park finally petered out.
Now I’m in grade eight. No one even knows I spit up frogs because I have not spoken at school…ever. And as you can guess, I don’t have many friends. Every year my mom goes to my school to talk about my “situation” with the principal and my teachers. I get a special learning plan and all the teachers know not to ask me to speak. But it doesn’t help, kids always sniff out whose different and then let you know about it. There are always bullies who like to taunt and hurt me, the instigators that snicker behind them and then the indifference of the rest of the kids who are just happy they aren’t the target.
That’s what I am dealing with right now. Elida Renarst, who puts the bull in bully, is saying over and over, “What’s wrong Freaky Fuyumi, cat’s got your tongue?”
She has been saying this stupid line to me every day since we learned this idiom, which is five months ago. Elida is slick as a toxic oil spill. She always knows to dump on me when no one can help me. She will push me down at recess when the duty monitors are out of sight. She will whisper insults to me when the teacher has her back turned. Or like now, she will wait until we have just left school property, so she knows she is safe from teachers. Elida is right in my face, pinching both my cheeks so hard that I can feel unwanted tears squeezing out. I just can’t take it anymore. My heart is beating mad in my head, my brain is screaming. Elida has kicked, hit and put me down for the last time.
I say, “Well, not so much a cat.”
I sound croaky and maybe no one can understand me because at the same time I am retching out a frog. It’s flying with flailing legs in wave of green gravy mucous. Time seems to slow down as I watch the frog land right on Elida’s nose. Her face drips with goop and she is shrieking like a girl about to die in a horror movie. Then time speeds up to its normal pace and Elida is running down the street, her hands desperately trying to flick off the long lines of mucous stuck to her face. All the kids who were laughing and crowded around earlier are now shooting off in any direction away from me.
All except one boy, Harvinder Gill. He’s holding the frog I just spit up. “Cool! It’s a Pacific tree frog!”
“How can you tell?” I ask. Another frog bursts out of my mouth, green slime splattering on Harvinder’s nice jeans and very white runners. I am waiting for Harvinder to start running away too.
Instead, he picks up the second frog, and sets it beside the other frog in his hand. “It’s because it’s, I mean, they’re bright green and have a black mask. See.” He brings them closer to me.
I nod my head and smile ever so slightly, with my lips closed. I do see. For the first time ever, I see my frogs as something different. As something maybe…interesting.
Harvinder invites me over to his house and I nod in agreement. He lives right across the street. His grandfather is wearing an orange turban and opens the door and ushers us in. He gets us up a plate of cookies and a glass of milk at the kitchen table. His grandpa isn’t talking much, just smiling and nodding at me a lot.
“My grandpa doesn’t speak any English,” Harvinder says.
I nod my head and beam my biggest smile at his grandpa, I know the feeling. He smiles back with warm wrinkly eyes and pats me on the shoulder.
Harvinder takes me to his room and he has an aquarium with two frogs just like the ones I spit up. “These are my Pacific tree frogs, Hilly and Billy. I can keep your two frogs for you in my tank until you go home.”
I’m shocked he thinks I’m going to keep them. I have always taken them to the park.
He gently puts the pair in the tank. “If you haven’t thought of any names for them yet, how about the names Willy and Nilly? They could be cousins with mine.”
I nod yes.
“Oh, I have something else I want to show you!”
Harvinder takes a huge book down from his book shelf. “I was thinking of doing my science fair project on something about frogs. What are you thinking of doing?”
My fingers run along the glossy green letters, “Frogs from Around the World.” I flip through the pages and I fall in love with the poison dart frogs from the Amazon rainforest. They light up the pages with their colors and are described brilliantly by the author as sapphire blue, strawberry red and golden yellow.
“I wonder if I can make those frogs?” I say and cough up a bright blue poison dart frog.
We both grin big. Then a thought dawns on me.
“It’s poisonous!” I say and spit out a golden poison dart frog.
“Are you okay? Did their poison come off in your mouth?”
I shrug my shoulders. I don’t feel any different. I point to the colorful frogs vigorously and make my eyes big. We can’t just leave deadly frogs to hop about his house; I really like Harvinder and his grandfather.
“Okay, you yell if you start feeling sick. I’ll get something to hold the frogs. I’ll be back!” he calls as he sprints down the hall.
He rushes back in with rubber dish gloves on; he’s holding a plastic bag and an empty ice cream bucket. He scoops up the frogs, puts them in the bucket and then stabs holes in the lid so the frogs can breathe. He is smiling, despite having deadly frogs in his house.
Oddly enough, I am too. I can make poison frogs just by thinking about it. What else can I do? Revenge plans flash in my mind, I could splat out poison dart frogs the next time I see Elida and her buddies. I could grow up and become an assassin and shoot out deadly frogs like I was a living semi-automatic frog machine gun. They’d call me the Frog Woman of Death.
But, I don’t really want to hurt people because then I’m just as much a jerk as any other bully. I want to be better than that. And I don’t want to make my frogs do bad things, it’s not their fault they’re poisonous.
I remember what else I read about poison dart frogs in Harvinder’s book, that it’s not their fault they are endangered. People keep cutting down their forests and there’s no one to speak up for them. “I have an idea for our science project!”
Harvinder and I are standing in front of the entire school. I’ve never received an award or this much attention. My hands are sweaty and I’m biting my tongue looking out at all the students and teachers. Harvinder smiles at me. I take some slow deep breaths.
I focus my attention back on Principal Sidhu’s words. “Fuyumi and Harvinder are the winners of the science fair championship for our school and will now go on to compete in the provincial science fair competition. Their project looks at ways to increase the population of endangered frog species and, especially, at the importance of speaking up and taking action to ensure habitats are protected here and around the world. Let’s give them all a big hand.”
The clapping echoes throughout the auditorium. I feel like I’m glowing, colorful and beautiful as a jewel-toned poison dart frog. It’s not just doing well at the science fair. It’s that me, all of me, including my frogs, can make a difference in the world.
The principal says, “Do you have any words you’d like to say?”
She moves so I can stand in front of the microphone. Harvinder and I each pick up the empty buckets that are at our feet and step forward.
“I do,” I say. Frogs rain from my mouth and I smile. And, more importantly, I keep on talking.