“So, how many frogs have you kissed?” asked Ramón, and I sensed the mocking smile on his face, even if I could not see anything at all.
He’s got quite a cheek, this one, always laughing me off for being the only female herpetologist he’s ever met. To be fair, though, he hasn’t been the only one who’s made fun of me because of my job. By now, I have probably heard every possible joke about frogs, toads, salamanders and the like.
“El que calla otorga,” said José, laughing, as if I were somewhere near fluent in Spanish to be able to understand him.
Amador turned around, enough for me to make out the contours of his face, and whispered, “If you keep your mouth shut you’re agreeing to it, or something like that.”
I could feel my cheeks reddening and anger taking over me; I shushed them all. After all, this was supposed to be a quiet expedition, otherwise our chances of success were scant.
We waddled around the shallow waters of one of the many streams that crisscrossed that part of the forest. It was our seventh and last night out there and we hadn’t come across a single frog so far. Neither had the call of any Costa Rican frog species cut through the humming silence that could be heard everywhere in the tropical forests.
It hadn’t been always like that.
Amador and the others had grown up here and they still remembered the days when it was impossible to go anywhere without stepping over at least a dozen frogs. They were everywhere — in the forest, obviously, but also on the sides of the roads, in every puddle and pond and lurking around every backyard in town.
Amador clenched his torch, its light pointing in every direction. Our eyes wide open, we all kept looking for the elusive gleam that would give away the presence of frogs nearby, the light reflected in their protruding eyeballs. But there was none, not a single glint.
The sky was already lightening when Amador decided it was time to call the expedition off. We turned back and retraced our footsteps to our 4WD. No more jokes and no more laughs. In fact, not a word was said until we arrived at the conservation centre.
“Let’s go get some sleep and I’ll schedule a press release for tomorrow morning,” said Amador, his mood as dark as the useless night we had just spent in the field.
We weren’t looking for any frog species in particular this time. Any frog would have done it for us but not a single one crossed our path during those seven days and nights we spent hiking through the tropical forests of Costa Rica. Our field trips had been fruitless for the past two years and it was time to face the truth.
I flicked through today’s newspaper and read the brief press release. Placed at the back of the paper, it wouldn’t stand out from every other piece of news. Not many people would notice it, just like not many people would bother about all those frogs now gone.
“Rest in peace, frogs and toads of the Costa Rican forests,” I said, leaving the paper on the table for everyone else to see it. “You vanished quietly and quickly, before we knew enough to help you.”
“I guess it’s too late for you to kiss a frog,” said Amador, and I thought I saw a tear running down his cheek. “And it’s only 2032.”
I sat beside him and squeezed his hand. The thing is, I never kissed a frog but I once kissed this frog lover and his passion was contagious, so much that I moved countries for him and became a herpetologist myself. It was twenty-five years now since we first met and as our passion for our work grew, so did the risks frogs all over the world faced. Each year brought worse figures than the previous one but we persisted, hoping for a miracle that never came.
Irene Montaner has a MSc in Mathematics and Econometrics. She enjoys writing speculative fiction in Basel, Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and children. Her stories have appeared at 365 tomorrows and Every Day Fiction.