By Sarah Prevatt
Pops left for good the day the toads fell from the sky.
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 than me.
“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 faces.
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.