Make Sure All The Frogs Get Home
By sean mcnulty
We used to go fishing fur mullet and pinkeens in de Castletown River. Dat’s all ye’d get in dere normally. But I never caught annyting ever cause I tink I’m not very good at fishing. So today I’m going down by myself to practise wit de chape rod I got out of Tom McNulty’s shop, and all de stuff I need in me bag, hooks and lines, de bait, a pack of Space Raiders.
De river’s dark and muddy most days – a dead ting – but under de sun it sparkles nice and it’s full to heaving when de tide’s in.
I find de usual spot beside de bridge where de trains pass. Before I fling de rod out, I can’t help tucking into de Space Raiders I have in me bag. Pickled Onion is a flavour dat has a hold on me and I don’t tink I will ever be able to resist a pack of dem. I’ll be on me deathbed and I’ll still make a point of eating Pickled Onion Space Raiders.
While I’m eating me Space Raiders and watching de slow roll of de river, I hear a sound above on de bridge. Someone calling down. Dere’s a mucky trail at de side of de bridge dat leads ye right up to de train tracks and when I look up I see Cathal Blood sliding down it like he’s a mountaineer. He has a hunting cap on. It’s a real professional-looking one. I wonder where he got it. Everyone knows he gets his gear from people’s clotheslines. I don’t tink his parents ever bought him a jumper or even a pair of trousers before. Cathal’s family live in a shack on de outskirts. Dey have a bad name in dis town.
--Ye wunt a Space Raider? I say to him when he lands in front of me.
--Oh tank you, says Cathal Blood, and he takes one. I recall a time when Cathal would have demanded de whole pack from me and threatened to bate de head of me if I didn’t give it to him but now he’s friendly and polite and says Tanks.
Cathal Blood has changed.
--Whut are ye doin up on de train tracks, Cathal? I ask him.
--Whut? Why are ye doin dat?
--I don’t know.
He walks down to de bank and jumps onto one of de rocks. Dere are some big rocks at de edge of de river like steps leading under de bridge and he starts hopping from one to de next.
--Are ye coming under? Dere’s loads a frogs under here.
I put de near-empty Space Raiders pack into me bag to continue wit later and I walk down to de river bank. I’ve never gone under de bridge before and now dat I’m up nearer de rocks it doesn’t look like an easy path to follow. De rocks are far apart from one anudder and slippery-lookin. I might fall.
I take me time wit it. It’s not dat hard. De oweny ting to worry about is slipping cause der’s sludge all over de rocks and if yer not sliding around yer shoes are getting stuck to de stone. It’d be easier if I had me boots on but I didn’t bring dem as I wusn’t planning on goin into de water at all today.
Dere’s croaking all around us when I reach Cathal Blood under de bridge.
--Where are dey? I ask him. I can’t see anny.
--Lookit. He points across to de udder side and ye can see hundreds of frogs – well, maybe not hundreds, fifty I’d say – sitting on de rocks and ribbitting away. Dere’s many shapes and sizes. It’s like a whole family of frogs.
Cathal turns to his right side and points to one very little frog dat’s on de rock beside him. A baby frog. It’s so small dat it’s de oweny one whose ribbits don’t echo. Cathal takes a matchbox out of his pocket, picks up de baby frog, and puts it into de matchbox. De frog is so wee it fits in no bodder.
--Whut are ye goin to do wit it?
--I put dem on de tracks and de train comes along and squashes dem.
--Ye can’t do dat.
--I do. Do ye wunt to watch?
--I don’t know. I’d feel bad fur de frogs.
--Why? Shur der oweny frogs.
--Oweny baby frogs. Why don’t ye let dem grow up? Give dem a chance.
--I don’t know. I never thought about it.
--How many frogs have ye killt so far?
--Hundred and five, I’d say.
--Dat’s a lot.
--Isn’t it? Guinness record.
--But dat means ye’ll be called a mass murderer.
--And whut about it?
--It’s not a good look. Like Hit-luh.
--Hit-luh wus a mass murderer, wus he?
--Yeah, ye don’t know about Hit-luh?
--I heard his name before alright. I’m not as clued in as de rest of yooz scholars.
--You should go to school some time.
--Our family doesn’t go to school. I tink de oweny one who ever did wus me cousin and she’s a header. Nobody likes her.
After we come out from under de bridge and cross over de stepping stones, Cathal begins to crawl up de slope to de train tracks again.
--Are ye comin? he asks.
I hesitate cause I don’t wunt to see de frog being crushed by de train and at de same time I’m interested in it and how it will all go down and I feel awful fur tinkin dat. I feel awful fur de wee frog. And awful just fur being dere.
--Okay, I’ll come up fur a bit.
I leave me rod and bag and climb up after him. At de top, I tear a leaf off a nearby hedge to wipe off all de brown slime on me hands. It’s a dirty life out here even when yer not fishin.
Cathal puts his head down on de tracks and listens fur a train.
--Is dere one coming? I ask him.
He takes de matchbox wit de frog and he places it down on de track very carefully. He prepares his frogs fur death de same way McGurk prepares fur his fires to burn – like a pure artist. Devoted.
Dere’s someting eerie about de matchbox balancing blind on de tracks wit de innocent frog inside. I keep hopin a strong wind will come along and blow it off de tracks so dat de frog will survive but den I realise...dat might kill de poor ting also.
--Would ye not tink ta keep de frog instead?
--Keep it. Why would I do dat?
--As a pet.
--Frogs aren’t pets though.
--Dey can be pets.
--Not like dogs though.
--Course dey’re not like dogs but ye can still keep dem as pets.
Cathal mutters someting under his breath dat I can’t hear too well and den he puts his ear down on de railway line again.
--I tink dere’s one coming, he says. De Belfast train.
We lie back and wait. I can’t believe how I got here. I don’t wunt to see de frog getting killt.
--Do ye have someting against frogs, Cathal?
--Dere’s no point in killin dem den.
--Whut’s up wit you? he says. Do ye tink yer me teacher or someting, do ye?
--No, I say.
De CHOOCHOO of de train gets closer and it starts to come into view from de nort. I always get a bit nervous when on de tracks but especially when dere’s a train comin so I pull back a little more and get stung by some nettles as a result.
When de train is about a mile away, I say to Cathal, Come on, let’s free de frog.
--Nah, he says.
I stand up – but Cathal stops me.
--Leave it, he says.
I don’t wunt to give him anny reason to bate de head of me. Cause dat’s whut Cathal Blood will surely do. He’s bin friendly wit me a good while now. I shouldn’t waste all dat.
I’m too late.
--AH NO! I shout. Cathal Blood looks at me like I’m a madman. He doesn’t understand why I don’t wunt to see de frog killt. We come to dis issue from very different sides.
When de train goes past, dere’s a great blast of wind and ye can feel de ground beneath ye shake. And when it’s gone by completely and we look up, dere is no more matchbox. It’s disappeared. Cathal steps up to de tracks and crouches down lookin fur de remains of it. He can’t seem to find it.
Maybe it escaped in de rush of de wind. Or maybe not. Just can’t be sure. I hope so.
I walk over to Cathal. De tracks look tense and excited after der meeting wit de train. I suppose it’s a full meal fur de tracks when de train passes.
--How do you feel now? I ask Cathal.
--Not too bad, he says.
--Ye should stop killin frogs, Cathal.
He nods. I don’t tink he’s listening to me.
I say goodbye to Cathal Blood and den I go back down to me fishing gear. I’m not in de mood fur fishing annymore so I pick up all me stuff and start to walk home.
I feel awful about de frog. If owney I’d bin able to convince Cathal. Or bin strong enough to stop him. I’ll get home tonight and have me tea and go to bed. Cathal Blood will too. But not dat wee frog. I can hear in me head de whole family croakin away now under de bridge, callin out fur der wee son. And no answer.
CROAK – CROAK – CROAK – RIBBIT ... sad sounds!
I swear from now on I’ll try to be strong and help de frogs when dey need to be helped. Or annyting else if it needs to be helped. It’s just...I feel like I’m too small meself to help annyone. Or to convince annyone. I’ll just end up being put in a matchbox like de wee frog wus and squashed.
--Where were you? me mudder says to me, all snarky as usual, when I get in de door. Look at de state of ye!
I don’t need to tell her de whole story. All she needs to know is dat I got home.
Picture: by the author