Frog Escapism

Tara Kenway

I looked over at Fernandez, who nodded at me.

“Go on, man. It’ll blow you away. I swear.”

We’d been in the prison now for over three months, and I’d reached a level of boredom I hadn’t previously known existed.

When they’d first put us inside, I’d been so scared. Hearing grown men crying in the middle of the night disturbed me, and the prison we were in wasn’t for real criminals. It was for those poor bastards who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, weeds that the government decided to get rid of. Part of me wished they’d just shoot us and get it over with, but that would’ve been too bloody and the army was trying to conserve its bullets in the unlikely case the rebels got enough people together to fight back. I say this was unlikely as the majority of them were either in prison or dead, and even the sympathisers were now hard to find.

They’d arrested me and Fernandez as we were coming out of a brothel. We’d known each other for years and lost our virginity to the same hooker when we were fifteen. She was a dirty blonde who called herself Marilyn, and she made very quick money with us two as just seeing a naked woman in front of me was enough to make me come in thirty seconds. But she was sweet and took her time with us, possibly thinking she was helping whatever poor women would come across us in the future.

After this first time, me and Fernandez often went to the brothels. That is, when we scraped enough money together. We always went to Marilyn as she used to cut us a deal, and she let us hang out in the bar downstairs, watching the men come and go, furtive and shifty like rats. But the rats were always happy when they left, the sex giving them a swagger that they didn’t have when they walked through the door. I always found that swagger strange. After all, they’d had to pay some woman just to touch them. Me and Fernandez didn’t kid ourselves: girls our own age thought we were disgusting, and were too busy fantasizing about their best friend’s older brother to give us a second look. So we went to Marilyn.

And that was where I wanted to go now. I wanted to get out of this hole we were in. And it was then that Fernandez came to me with the frog.

“You have to lick it, man.”

The frog sat in my hand, rather patiently I thought, just looking up at me, contemplating whatever it is that frogs think about. Did he know what was coming? Did he mind?

Licking a frog. That is what my life had come down to. Other people were taking drugs, and doing anything to avoid getting the guards’ attention, avoid getting cut, and I had my best friend trying to get me to lick a fucking frog.

“This is crazy,” I said.”Why don’t we just smoke a joint?”

Fernandez smiled. “Because the frog is free, man.”

And we liked free.

That was one of the first things I learnt in prison—nothing is free. You may think it is, they may tell you it is, but they’re lying. Any little favour will come straight back at you squared. I learnt that lesson fast after a guy gave me a cigarette and that night expected a blow job in return.

I knew where Fernandez had got the frog from. He kept his head down, and the guards cut him a little slack. He was a charming guy, and he knew how to talk to adults, telling them what they wanted to hear, making his black-brown eyes look wise and sad at the same time. He’d got himself a job in the kitchens, and next to the kitchens was the outside. And outside there were frogs.

The prison wasn’t that far from the old marshland, and the frogs hadn’t yet realised that the swamp was gone and wasn’t coming back. But there were enough mosquitoes there to keep an army of frogs going for a lifetime. And maybe they liked the weird smell of bad food and sweat that the prison had to offer.

Fernandez had made friends with this particular frog. The first time he showed it to me he cradled it in his hands, gently stroking its head. “She’s called Marilyn,” he said.

“How do you know it’s a girl?” I asked.

“Look at those eyes!” he said, holding up the frog for me to see. “That ain’t no boy frog.”

I nodded, wondering if Fernandez had been smoking something before coming to see me.

One of the other prisoners had told Fernandez about licking frogs. Apparently there was some hallucinogenic quality to their skin, which us poor, pathetic humans could access by licking them. I wasn’t convinced, believing more that it was just a good way to make someone look stupid. But apparently Fernandez had tried this, and swore blind it worked.

“I’m not convinced, man,” I said.

Marilyn looked up at me, and for a second it seemed to smile.

“Hey, don’t worry about Marilyn—she don’t mind being licked,” Fernandez said.

“I’m not worried about the frog.”

“Marilyn,” Fernandez corrected me.

“I’m not worried about Marilyn. I’m more worried about me.” To be honest I was also getting pretty concerned about Fernandez.

I looked down again at the frog and closed my eyes, held her up to my mouth and took a good lick along her back, my tongue surfing gently over the bumps.

I opened my eyes, fighting the gagging sensation that was looming up from my stomach.

“Fuck,” I stammered, “That tastes like shit.”

“Careful,” Fernandez said, taking the frog from me, “You’ll hurt her feelings.”

I sat and waited, the swampy taste in my mouth getting stronger and stronger.

“So?” Fernandez asked. “Anything?”

I shook my head, not trusting myself not to vomit if I opened my mouth.

Fernandez nodded. “The first time takes a while,” he said.

“When does this taste go away?” I was trying not to move my tongue as it kept making the taste come back in waves.

“About a week.”

“What? You bastard! A week? Jesus, as if this place isn’t bad enough, and now my mouth tastes like a fucking sewer.”

“Wait for the effect. It’s beautiful.”

And that’s when it started coming. The walls of the cell started to melt, and I swear I could hear the ocean, rolling in towards me. I tried to lean back against the wall, but I couldn’t stop myself falling. I fell until the sand puffed up behind me like a pillow, and Marilyn was there, the real one, the Monroe of my dreams, her blond hair falling softly around her face, coming out of the ocean like some long-lost mermaid.

I don’t remember the rest of the day. I came to at some point and Fernandez was there, still cradling Marilyn in his hand.

He smiled at me.

“Now you understand her name, right?”

“I currently reside in Paris and when not writing I like cycling, the cinema, reading, playing hide & seek with my cat, and making Super 8 films.” E-mail: kenway.tara[at]

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