Tadpole

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Jennie Kermode


“Mummy, mummy, come and look!” Meera shouted, clamouring into the kitchen where her mother stood wiping dishes with a checked cloth. “Come and look at my tadpoles! They’ve gone wrong.”

“What’s wrong with them, dear?” Her mother put down the cloth and followed her through to the dining room, where a white ceramic bowl stood on the sideboard. Black shapes wriggled beneath green pondweed.

“Look!” Meera pointed. “They’ve gone wrong.”

Her mother peered curiously at the contents of the bowl. Some of the shapes were starting to bulge beside their tails, the stumps of legs emerging.

“Is that what you mean?” she asked, pointing.

Meera followed the line of her finger, almost touching the tadpoles, which twisted round to try and nibble at her.

“They’ve gone the wrong shape.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Her mother drew her back, sat on a chair, lifted her onto her lap. “That’s perfectly natural. They’re growing legs. Soon they’ll start growing arms too, and they’ll turn into little frogs. Remember we talked about them turning into frogs?”

Meera frowned. “But they’re tadpoles.”

“Tadpoles become frogs. They’re just a beginning stage, like children are a beginning stage of grown-ups.”

The child thought for a while, cautiously watching the bowl.

“So they just grow new pieces?” she asked eventually.

“That’s right.”

“Can I grow new pieces?”

“You’ll change as you get bigger. But we don’t want you turning into a frog!”

*

At school the next day, Meera found a quiet corner of the playground, where the bushes grew close to the wall, and took out her book from her Miffy satchel. The book was called ‘The Adventures of Captain Zapp’; on the cover was a picture of Captain Zapp in his spacesuit, talking to a green alien. Meera put her finger on the picture and traced the outline of the alien’s head. When she stood up, even on her tiptoes, she wasn’t tall enough to see over the wall into the gardens she knew lay beyond. She should grow eye-stalks, like the alien, and then she’d be able to see. Eye-stalks could be as tall as she wanted, and being small wouldn’t be a problem anymore. She wondered if there were other children in the hidden garden. Perhaps they’d be her friends.

“What are you doing over here, Meera?” came a voice from behind her, stretching out the first vowel in her name to make it ugly.

Meera turned round. It was Julie, one of the older girls from her reception class. Julie had very pretty hair in braids, which Meera admired, but when she tried to touch them the other girl pulled away.

“What are you doing? You’re weird. What’s wrong with you, Meera? Your hair looks like a bush!”

“I made it big to cover my eye-stalks.” Meera explained. “I can see right over this wall. I bet you’d like to.”

Julie laughed nervously. “You don’t have eye-stalks.”

“Yes I do. I grew them.”

Julie stood staring at her, small fists clenching and unclenching. Then the bell rang.

“I’ll see you at lunchtime.” she muttered aggressively.”

Meera stood her ground. “No you won’t. I’m going home at lunchtime, to see my tadpoles. My mummy says I won’t be here for whole days until I’m bigger.”

“You’re so immature!” Julie shouted at her, and stomped off.

*

“I don’t think Julie likes me.” Meera announced later, at home.

“Who’s Julie?” asked her father, absent-mindedly.

“A girl. At school.”

Her father put down his newspaper and gave her a hug. “Well don’t you listen to her. You and I know that you’re the best little girl in all the world.”

“And I have the best tadpoles.”

“Yes, I suppose you do.”

“They’re going to turn into frogs.”

“I suppose they are.”

“I think Julie was going to hit me.”

“Why don’t you go and help Mummy set the table? Dinner will be ready soon.”

*

In her room that evening, Meera looked through more of her books. Using her new eye stalks, she could scan the contents of her top bookshelf even while she was lying in bed. She found a book about Rama and Sita and sat stroking the cover, which felt soft and smooth. Sita was very beautiful. It said in the story she was the most beautiful woman ever. In some of the pictures she had two arms, but in some others she had four. Meera thought about how useful it would be to have extra arms if Julie was going to hit her. She would have to concentrate very hard and see if she could grow two new arms by the morning.

At school they said you could grow better if you drank lots of milk, so Meera tiptoed cautiously downstairs to explore the contents of the fridge.

*

The following morning, Meera observed that the largest of her tadpoles had grown plump little hind legs and was now kicking its way through the water. Its tail seemed to have become shorter. She furrowed her brow at this; it didn’t seem good. But everyone was busy, and there was no time to ask about it.

At school, trouble developed even before she got as far as the playground. While she was putting some shapes together to make a tree, Julie grabbed her hair and pulled her backwards.

“Look!” she was shouting to the others. “Meera thinks she’s got eye-stalks.”

Meera growled at her. She had been feeling uncomfortable to begin with, now that her sleeves were so tight. Heaving herself up, she swung out with her two right arms and caught Julie hard in the stomach. Julie sputtered, eyes wide with surprise, and slumped to the carpet, where she commenced to wail.

“That serves you right,” said Meera. “You leave me alone.”

But the teacher didn’t see it that way.

*

When Meera’s mother came to collect her at lunchtime she had a long talk with the teacher, and she didn’t seem pleased. She held Meera’s hand very firmly all the way home. Meera tried to talk about the shapes and the things she’d been doing, but her mother didn’t want to listen. When they were sitting down at the dining room table she began speaking very sternly.

“Meera, your teacher told me that you’ve been fighting. I think Daddy and I brought you up to know that you shouldn’t hit other children. Don’t you know that?”

Sullenly, Meera nodded.

“How do you think it makes me feel when I hear that you’ve been doing that?”

Meera hung her head. She tried to look at the tadpoles out of the corner of her eye.

“Look at me, Meera. That’s right. You know, some people would give you a smack for that. I’m not going to smack you, because I think you already know you’ve been bad, but this had better not happen again. Do you understand?”

Meera nodded.

“Good. I hope so. What kind of a young lady are you?”

And Meera’s heart bounced, because she knew what kind of young lady she was; like the very most beautiful! Because she was growing and changing. Up in her room, she rolled up her sleeves and let her four arms free. Her eye-stalks wriggled out from beneath her tangle of hair and gazed off through the window whilst her other eyes focused on her toys. Rex the dinosaur roared as he chased the little Lego people across the rug. Tonight, she thought, she would grow a long dinosaur tail.

*

“How long have you been worried about your daughter?” asked Doctor Singh, leaning back in his chair.

“Well, to be honest, for a few weeks now.” Pareeta admitted. “She was a perfectly happy, lovely little girl, and then it seemed to change quite suddenly. I suppose my husband told you she was in trouble for hitting another child at school.”

“I did.” murmured Rajneesh.

“She became quite withdrawn. I thought she might be coming down with something, so I took her to our usual doctor, but he said she was fine. I’ve been making sure she gets plenty of water, and fresh fruit and vegetables. I didn’t want to suggest… anything else… You understand, I talk to you about this only because you are a friend of my husband’s.”

“Of course.” Doctor Singh nodded. “It’s not easy for you. Be assured, everything you tell me is confidential.”

“I just don’t know what to do with her, Doctor. I feel that she’s started to keep secrets from me. I’ve been afraid in case somebody’s hurting her.”

Doctor Singh rested a calloused hand gently on her arm.

“I wouldn’t worry about that quite yet, my dear. Children sometimes go off in their own directions without any outside interference. Your husband has told me that Meera is a highly imaginative child.”

“She is… she always was. I don’t know now.”

“It’s possible she has imagined herself into her own little world. I’ll have a talk with her and see what I can find out. Perhaps I can persuade her that she wants to spend more time in your world again, or perhaps we can find a way for you to visit hers.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“Don’t mention it. Just keep on giving her plenty of love.”

*

Bathtime was the most difficult part. Since the incident with Julie, Meera had realised that she had to hide her newly grown body parts from other people. She had taken to stretching all her sleeves wide and making her hair big all the time. To conceal her tail, she wore long skirts, which pleased her grandparents. “Now she’s a proper young lady!” they said. But she could tell that her parents were worried. In the bath, she used as much bubble mix as she could get, to hide herself under a mountain of foam. She announced that she was grown up enough to be able to soap and scrub herself.

It was just after bathtime one day that Doctor Singh came to see her. Because he was a special visitor, she was allowed to stay up late and have warm milk and biscuits. She sat on the sofa with her favourite blanket curled around her. Doctor Singh asked her lots of questions. She was wary at first. Then, when he started asking why she thought grown-ups wouldn’t understand her, she began to wonder. And then he took off his jacket and showed her his wings.

*

“I don’t know how to swish my tail around like a dinosaur. I just can’t get the hang of it.” Pareeta sighed. It was so frustrating. She sat looking at Meera’s tadpoles. Their tails had almost gone now. They looked like perfect miniature adults.

“We have to try to reach her somehow, dear. She’s lonely. You can see that.”

“Yes, but I don’t have any extra limbs! She knows we’re just pretending.”

“So is she.”

“Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, she seems very sure. More than I know how to be. How can we compete with the world she’s built for herself?”

“We don’t have to compete, Pareeta. We just have to persuade her to let us in. It’s got to be a good thing that she’s so confident. It’ll help her later on in life.”

“People used to say I was confident.”

“Oh, Pareeta, now you’re letting it all get to you too much.”

Pareeta sobbed, holding her head in her hands.

“She was always such a lovely child. I just… didn’t want to have a little girl with a tail.”

Rajneesh rested his hand on her belly. “Don’t be nervous. We’re going through some changes; it was bound to affect her too. This new little one is going to grow up just fine.”

*

“Mummy’s going to have another baby. A brother or a sister for me.” Meera told Doctor Singh.

“I see. And how do you feel about that?”

“It will be interesting to watch it grow.”

“Perhaps you can talk to it and show it stories. You won’t be able to play games with it until it’s already done a bit of growing.”

“Will it grow up like me?” Meera asked.

“I don’t know. Do you want it to?”

She nodded. “I get lonely sometimes.”

“Don’t worry. When you’re bigger, you’ll be able to find more people like yourself.”

“Does everyone grow up the same in the end?”

“Not everyone. Some children start off growing in their own directions, and they don’t ever change back.”

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Jennie Kermode (jennie[at]innocent.com) is a twenty nine year old writer, researcher and editor living in Glasgow, Scotland, with her partners Donald and Erith. She also runs a small clothing company and has spent much of the past decade as a carer. Born partially intersexed, she has serious health problems of her own to contend with, but endeavours to keep active, and was at one point a competitive swimmer. She has been writing professionally for fourteen years, mostly in journalism, and has published several short stories. She currently works for the Talk Film website and for TBD magazine, and is in negotiations to teach a writing course at the online Suite University.

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