I didn’t have a chance to work on some of my extended projects this weekend, but I did work on a new flash fiction piece, drawing on the following list of words for inspiration:
rotting, trapped, slab, faith, paradise, mangle, toad, match, wolf, lamb, ginger snap, nursing, bones, newts, bathtub, abroad, protectors, lodging, elapsed, diminished, married, confidence, indulgence, welcome, ragged, mysteries, lively, intelligent
Words selected from Life Studies and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell (1964) and Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell, Penguin Edition (2004)
The feeling had diminished, whatever it was. Earlier, she had felt it crouched inside her: a lumpy toad, spreading a rancid chill amongst her organs. It was, she supposed, a type of depression. There were strains, too, of anger. There were hints of loneliness and undertones of dissatisfaction.
Harriet had given lodging to the toad. What choice had she had? Yet, she’d left the door to the creature’s abode open, to try to tempt it to leave.
Time had elapsed, and the toad had left her abdomen and had hopped onto the kitchen counter, where it watched her preparing dinner. It sneered at the french fries as she poured them, frozen, but still greasy, onto the pan. Under its intelligent eyes, she felt guilty for the indulgence.
After the terrible meal, her stomach had become a slab, and the toad hopped to it and settled there once more, and he made her feel cold and little afraid, so she ran a bath for herself: hot with fragrant bubbles. These were enough to make the toad unsure of his welcome, and he once again departed from her, though he didn’t go far. He sat on the vanity and peered down at her obscured, but naked form in the bathtub. Harriet felt sure that none of her mysteries were secret to him, and saw that his eyes were more lively than she had hitherto realized.
Regarding the toad from tub and meeting his liquid eyes, she felt herself warming to him. Might he not be a protector? A supernatural gift? A benign influence bent on nursing her back to health? It might only have been her own bleak feelings which had initially framed him as a bad omen.
Reading her thoughts, the toad launched himself down to her from the vanity, and perched his squishy body upon the edge of the tub. Next, he would slip down into the water. Harriet felt a quiver of apprehension at that, a wavering of her confidence. Why had the great beyond sent her a toad, after all? Why not a wolf, or a lamb? Why was her familiar a creature so universally known for ugliness—a creature whose only defense mechanisms are camouflage and peeing into the mouths of predators?
The toad read these thoughts in Harriet’s eyes and turned, launching himself onto the bathroom rug and exiting the room. When Harriet stood, toweled herself dry, and peered into the hallway, she was alone. The toad had gone, punishing her for her lack of faith. Who knew what he might have been, if she had been patient?
Harriet felt a new heaviness settle inside her, as yet unfamiliar. She vowed that she would not be so careless with this entity. She would guard her thoughts. She would strive to be grateful. She would hold back any desire to cringe at an unexpected form. She would kneel at the knee of this new shape, and she would study its lessons and recite its mantras.
As she made these fervent promises, the new creature lifted its head from its coils, and Harriet reached out a hand, free of trembling, to stroke its scales.
If you liked “The Toad,” please take a look at my other works of flash fiction, “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”