Pops left for good the day the toads fell from the
They didn’t actually fall from the sky—at least I
don’t think they did—but Mama swears it happened. She says there’s
no other way to explain thousands of toads suddenly hopping down the street.
My brother Jude still believes to this day the
toads drove Pops away. He was seven at the time, three years younger
“It’s a plague,” he said as we scooped dead toads
out of the pool with a fishing net. “Like in the Bible.”
“You’re dumb,” I told him, my standard
response. “You ain’t even read the Bible.”
“I know what it says,” he retorted. “Them
Egyptians, they had frogs, too. God must be mad at us for something.”
Jude was always saying stuff like that, talking
about God punishing people like He was right there in the living room, slouched
in the old recliner. Anytime Mama mentioned Jude’s “God-talk” to
Pops, Pops said it must be nice to have an imaginary friend.
Jude really thought Pops was coming
back. I guess he was so busy talking to God he forgot about all the
times Pops left for months, and all the times he stumbled home, greasy and
unshaven, smelling like beer and sweat and something sweet, gardenias maybe, or
jasmine. The smell of women without
No, Jude must not have remembered, and I didn’t
want him to remember, either, so one night when Mama cried so hard she
hiccupped (them smelly toads made her eyes water, like onions, she said) I gave
in to Jude’s request to pray with him. We kneeled by our beds like
good boys and Jude said, “Let’s ask God to bring Pops back quick.”
“And to take them toads away,” I
said. Them toads was the nastiest thing I ever saw, getting all
squashed on the road, their cement-fried innards smelling like rotten lettuce
under the Florida sun.
“We can only ask for one thing,” Jude said, like
praying was the same as wishing. I had a sudden image of the
milkweed seeds we blew on every summer floating up to heaven one by one.
“Okay,” I said and bowed my head. But
I didn’t ask God to bring Pops back. I was done asking.
The next day the toads was gone, just like that,
and Mama had stopped crying and was humming as she swept off the front porch, wearing
her house dress with the moons and stars on it, reaching high to tear down
spider webs. She hummed and scrubbed, hummed and scrubbed like it
was a normal day, like the plague had never happened at all.