“Mom, wait up!”
Sam turned to watch her daughter coming towards her at a run. “I’m just looking at the house, Patty. I’m coming back to the car in a minute.” After a pause, she added. “This is where I lived when I was little.”
Patty grabbed her hand. “You didn’t tell me you lived on a farm, Mom.”
“It wasn’t. We didn’t have animals and the hayfield belonged to the farm across the road.”
“Oh,” said Patty.
Sam, hearing disappointment in her daughter’s voice, tried to offer something of interest from when she had lived here. “There’s a pond full of frogs just on the other side of those wild roses.” Sam lifted her arm to point and was immediately assaulted by the smell of her damp, sour underarm. Wearing black for an hour in a hot church and another hour in the cemetery was too much even for her ambitious antiperspirant.
Patty pulled her mother towards the worn path. “Show me the frogs. “
“Everyone’s waiting for us at Aunt Cathy’s. And whoever lives here now might not like trespassers.” Sam looked back at the rental car, which shimmered in the heat of the late afternoon. The empty road behind sat smooth and black. “But I guess there’s no harm in taking a quick look.”
Patty ran down the path. Sam joined her at the pond, breathing in the scent of roses and long ago summers.
“This is where the highest jumping frog in all of Northumberland County came from. Aunt Joan caught him when she was only five,” Sam said.
A frog’s small head broke the surface and then disappeared. Patty laughed and it sounded so much like Joan’s laugh that the past caught it and threw it back at Sam over a length of twenty-eight years.
“I need a good one for the contest,” Joan said from her seat on the bank. Her dark curls hung so low across her forehead that she had to keep pushing them out of her eyes. “Get me a jumper.”
Sam and Cathy stood side by side, their scabbed knees submerged in the scummy water. Cathy swiped at horse flies with the red milk pitcher she held.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Cathy, catch her a frog already,” Sam said in a low voice so five-year-old Joan wouldn’t hear the blasphemy.
“I’m frigging trying. I can’t see any.”
“There,” Sam shouted. “By that branch, look! Right there.”
They splashed after the fleeing frog and with a quick flick of red plastic, Cathy scooped it up, but it jumped straight up, out of the pitcher, startling her. She stepped backwards into Sam, and they both lost their footing on the slippery pond bottom. Joan squealed with laughter as her sisters disappeared beneath the green film.
Sam stood and flicked strings of green scum from her fingertips at Cathy. “Give me the pitcher, you’re hopeless.”
“This water is so gross.” Cathy wiped at her mouth with the back of one wet hand and pushed the pitcher at Sam with the other. “Here. You get her one. I’m getting out.”
There was another splash. Sam turned to see Joan now waist-high in the water, struggling to hold onto something just below the surface. Her chubby face shone with delight as she brought up a huge frog. Its long skinny legs ran on the spot and it stared at Sam with wary, black eyes.
Joan half screeched, half laughed. “Help me, I can’t hold him, he’s slippy.”
Splashing across the small pond, Sam took the frog from her and dumped it in the pitcher. Both, she and Cathy, spread their dirty hands across the top to hold it in.
“He will do, Joan!” Sam laughed. “This guy looks good enough to win the contest.”
Joan smiled at this. A smile so incredibly wide, so breathtakingly beautiful, that Sam and Cathy instinctively began taking turns kissing her Deet-covered forehead.
Sam reached for Patty’s hand and pulled her up the bank. “We need to go back now. Everyone is probably starting to wonder where we got to.”
Once in the car, she switched on the air, and studied the house. The window’s screen of the bedroom they once slept in now housed a large hole. She remembered the double bed that she, Joan, and Cathy shared in that room, and how, in summer, when the sheets were too warm to get under, and the window wide open onto the night, the frogs would sing to them, filling every inch of air with their throaty songs.
She sighed and put the car into reverse.
“My seatbelt’s hot,” Patty said.
“The A/C will cool the car down in a minute.”
“Did you like living around here?” Patty asked.
“So why did you move so far away?”
“For my work and your dad’s work. Life does not always let you stay in one place.”
Glancing in the rear view mirror, Sam backed the car onto the empty road. Reluctantly, she pushed childhood memories away and thought of Cathy with a house full of family and friends, managing on her own. Sam was supposed to arrive straight after the funeral to help.
As she drove she said, “I know things have been pretty busy the last few days, Patty, and we haven’t had much opportunity to talk. I wish now that we had visited here more often. I wish you got to know Aunt Joan. She was so funny and a fantastic frog catcher. They practically jumped into her hands.”
“Really!” Patty said.
“Really,” Sam answered. “She was so good at it that Cathy and I once dubbed her the Princess of the Pond.”
Patty picked up her iPod and turned it on. “That sounds like a fairy tale, Mom.”
Remembering once again bouncing brown curls and high jumping frogs, Sam nodded in agreement.
Mary J. Daley lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two daughters. Her short fiction has appeared in places like Allegory, Electric Spec, Gemini, and Moon Drenched Fables.