The frog’s name was Deceit.
“Deceit?” I asked Ramona when I got home from work.
She gave me that look. Ramona was quite the collector of exotic animals as pets, something not in evidence when we first started going out. Sure, she’d had a couple of cats, but before I knew it she’d obtained a bantam rooster, a corn snake, and two geckos. The corn snake, which could be up to six feet long as an adult, was thankfully still a juvenile.
“Deceit,” I said again. I pulled out the cappuccino machine and started making a latte.
Ramona sat at the kitchen table staring at the ten-gallon terrarium, apparently newly acquired, to house the frog. Deceit lurked inside. As frogs go, it had a dramatic appearance: black with yellow amoeba-like patches on its skin.
“Looks poisonous,” I said, sipping my latte. I wanted to ask how much the terrarium set me back. The bantam rooster, “Poppy,” had a cage in the daylight basement, a setup that cost nearly two hundred dollars, not counting the weekly feed bill. The corn snake, “Coral,” inhabited an enclosure in the spare room that was a couple hundred more. In fact, it still made me nervous to house a bright orange rat-eating snake that should be somewhere in a jungle. Ramona had sniffed when I told her that. “Meadow. Not jungle,” she said, correcting me.
The geckos were all right, kind of cute, actually. But they had to be fed live crickets and that arrangement was a mess. I won’t even talk about the preserved mice in the freezer for the snake.
You’re probably saying, why was I covering the exotic pet expenses? They are Ramona’s pets… Ramona should pay for them. Right? It’s a long story. Let’s just say I was the funding source in the relationship, temporarily at least.
So, like I said, I wanted to ask how much this new pet, Deceit, was going to cost. Terrarium, food (flies, I presumed), the works.
But I didn’t.
“Looks poisonous,” I said again. I had read somewhere, probably in one of Ramona’s reptile magazines, that bright colors on frogs and snakes were there for a reason, a warning of poison.
“Not really,” Ramona said at last.
I took a long drink of my latte. “It’s a poison arrow frog, isn’t it? Aren’t they black and yellow?”
She looked surprised. “Well, yes.”
Ramona was a year and a half into a two-year degree at the local community college, training to be a zoology tech. That was was part of what drew me to her when we started dating, that she wasn’t just a zookeeper wannabe, she was actually pursuing her career in a practical way. Back then she had lots of funny stories to tell over dinner about mishaps in lab, about other students’ naïve questions (she had worked at the local zoo as a volunteer starting back in high school), about the professor’s thrilling and sometimes dangerous stories of working with exotic animals. She talked about working in a game reserve, perhaps overseas. She had a purpose. A cause, even: the protection of wild and endangered animals.
Then something happened; she quit school, she seemed distracted. She had recently left her campus job so she could focus on her “next career step.” It was hard to understand. But when she had to leave her apartment when she couldn’t afford rent, I admit that I offered her a place to stay. It was supposed to be temporary.
After that, the exotic pets started showing up in our household. I had agreed to loan her the money to cover her expenses, but now she showed no indication of going back to finish her degree. Or to do anything else. The Exotic Pets Meet-up Group was taking up a lot of her time.
“If you must know,” she said frostily, “some frogs have the marks of poisonous species, but they’re not. Poisonous, I mean.”
“It’s just for show,” I said helpfully. I took the last slurp of my drink.
“A defense mechanism,” she said, watching the small frog in the glass case.
I stood up and went over to the place where she sat with the terrarium. I peered into the glass container at the frog. “It is cute, now that you mention it.” (She hadn’t.)
But not cute enough.
I said slowly, “Ramona, this isn’t working.”
“You haven’t even given Deceit a chance,” she said.
“The frog.” She gestured toward the terrarium, where the frog sat motionless. A captive in its home, like me.
“It’s too much,” I said. “I didn’t sign up for… all this.” I gestured generally at the terrarium, the geckos, the corn snake… not to mention Poppy, the rooster in the basement.
“You want me to leave.”
“Maybe it would be better.” Where would she find a place that would take all her animals?
“Well,” she said suddenly, “Anthony won’t mind.”
“My friend from the meet-up group.” She added, “Anthony has been wanting a poison arrow frog for a long time, just like me. We have a lot in common.”
Ah. So this was it. It all made sense. There was the text she’d sent last week, a gushing message about “what a stud you were last night,” only we hadn’t made love in weeks. She’d brushed it off when I asked about it. Then there were those long hours away at night, time she always claimed was part of the Exotic Pets Meet-up Group.
Apparently Anthony was the meet-up.
I straightened up, went over to the sink, and put my mug in the dishwasher.
“I think you’d better go,” I said. “And be sure to take Deceit with you.”
She was already texting him.
She left the geckos. I rather like them. I am calling them Truth and Honesty.
Theresa J. Barker has always longed to live in other worlds, which she accomplishes through her writing. Theresa’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Grievous Angel (The Urban Fantasist) and other small journals. She co-curates a monthly science fiction reading series in Seattle, Two Hour Transport. In her “other life,” Theresa has a Ph.D. in Engineering, and she enjoys solving mathematical puzzles for fun. Theresa writes literary and science fiction.