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Pollywogs

by Sherry Ryan 6 months ago in Short Story
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Life in a jar

Mud sucked at Sissy’s rubber boots as she tramped through the gooey stuff at water’s edge. Early morning sunlight dappled through the trees around the spaghetti pond. Its warmth kissed her rosy cheeks, as her breath crystalized in the air before her. She followed the misty sparkles as they drifted and faded into the light. These shimmering gems of rainbow light took her mind away from the mission. The one that she hadn’t been invited to join. Earlier in the kitchen, she dismissed her brother’s protests as they pulled on their rubber boots and jackets. Ever William’s shadow, she tagged along. Now she trudged behind him to the spot he deemed perfect for collecting pollywogs. The distance between them grew as she struggled to pull her feet from the mud which suctioned her in place.

“Slow down, William, I can’t keep up! William! Will…i….am. Can’t you hear me? …. Hey! …. You!” she demanded. “Do you hear me? Stop! I can’t keep up!” Like a gnat in William’s ear, Sissy prattled on as he moved ever closer to his target, leaving her farther and farther behind.

Every attempt she made to remove her boots only cemented her firmly in place. Suddenly her foot came out of its yellow casing with its long blue sock trailing like a comet. Unstable, she fell backward into the soupy muck. Brown muck splashed up covering her overhauls and smearing her duck-adorned spring jacket. Mud oozed through her fingers as her hands sunk into the thick muck behind her.

Sissy let out a howl and began crying, “William! Will…i…am!”

Finally, he turned to find her small body sprawled in the mud. She was flinging flecks of it from her hands and wiping it on her jacket. Brown swaths of sandy muck smeared across her face.

“For crying out loud, Sissy!” he wailed. “Thanks for nothing! I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for this!”

“Well, you should’ve waited for me.” She bawled.

“Look, I never asked you to come!” He scowled. “Why couldn’t you’ve just stayed home? Why do you always have to follow me around everywhere I go?”

Tears turned to deep sobs as she hiccupped her response through gasps. “I……” sniff, “just,” sniff, “w..a..n..t..e…d” sniff, sniff “to come,” she gasped. “and you never let me.” She gulped in one breath.

He reached down to the four-year-old with hand extended. “Take my hand, dummy.” He commanded.

Sissy gave him her muddy hand and he swiftly pulled her up. Leading her to the embankment and setting her down, he retrieved the stuck rubber boot.

“Just stay up out of the mud. You need to watch where your going.” He said as he slipped the mud entombed yellow boot on her foot. “Just pay attention to where you’re going! For Christ’s sake.” Sissy gasped. Swearing was forbidden.

“If you’re going to follow me, do it right. Did you see me walking in the mud?” he looked her squarely in the eyes “Nope, because I’m not dumb.”

She kept sniffling and sucking in huge gulps of air while he spoke. Heartbroken that he didn’t want her there. Blinking away tears, she watched him turn back toward his pollywog spot. She rose to follow. This time, she walked up on the bank and kept a close eye on her brother.

When they arrived, he removed the lid from the mason jar and placed it on the ground next to the pond. He scanned the water for the black exclamation marks. She earnestly mimicked her brother. There they were, close to a clump of waterweed. He began scooping with his left hand. William worked frantically grasping at the squirmy little pollywogs. They wriggled about in his hands. He transported them from pond water to mason jar. Sissy dipped her hands in the cold murky water to help. The water stung her tender skin. But she didn’t care.

“Watch out,” he yelled into her face. “You’re scaring them all away. Just go sit over there.” He motioned to the bank.

“But, I’m helping,” she insisted.

He laughed, “yeah right, you’re just in the way.” He shoved her a little with his free hand. It wasn’t enough to hurt her, but it got his point across.

She didn’t make a move toward the bank. Righting herself and crossing her arms, she screamed into his face with all her might. “I’m telling!”

“Alright, alight, calm down, crazy!” he sighed holding the jar toward her. “Go ahead, put some in.” He knew he was defeated. She was small but mighty.

“Aren’t they beautiful, William?” she said gazing at the pollywogs clustered on the bottom of the jar.

William shook his head in disbelief. How quickly she could change her emotions? It just killed him.

As she attempted once more to add one pollywog to the jar unsuccessfully, she glanced sideways at her brother seeking his approval. His face was dark as usual, but she loved that pointy chin and sharp features. It reminded her elves in the fairy tale picture books. William’s hair stood up like the shaving brush in the medicine cabinet. She imagined Father dipping his head into the shaving soap dish and swirling it about. She giggled.

“Hey, dummy! Stop that!” her brother protested. At the very least, she could recognize his distaste at having her there and not laugh about it.

She gazed into his dark brown eyes lovingly, but he failed to notice. He grimaced and turned away from her sparkling green eyes. Sure, she was cute, but damn she was annoying.

He didn’t have time for that. He was enwrapped in the mission. It was the first day it hadn’t rained in weeks. The magical time of year finally arrived with its acrid smell of decomposing leaves. Swampy muck and pond water pulled at something deep within William. Perhaps it was the rawness of rebirth filling the air. Maybe, as tiny water creatures began the dance of life, it gave him a feeling of hope. More likely, it was that he could lord over these miniature worlds. There was power here. Once caught, he could decide to let them live or die. The idea of it was intoxicating. He was thrilled by the chaos he caused these creatures, as he snatched them from the safety of their little ecosystem. He felt their fear as they clung to the bottom of the jar. Pent up with nowhere to go. Yet they had potential. In time they could change into something else. If he let them live.

Just then, Sissy batted a handful of pollywogs out of his hand as she clumsily attempted to add to the jar.

“Watch what you’re doing!” again, he gave her a little shove.

“No! You watch what you’re doing!” she countered.

The two continued on this way until William felt satisfied with his collection. From his pocket he pulled the lid. Earlier, he had tapped holes into it with a nail and Father’s hammer before everyone awoke. Mother wouldn’t mind that he had ruined the lid, but he was not to touch Father’s tools.

“Okay, Sissy, time to go. This time make sure you stay out of the mud. It is going to be bad enough that I bring you home looking like that.” He commanded.

She straggled behind not focused on him or the path. She watched the clouds float effortlessly in the sky and the flies buzzing all around. She marvelled at the cloud of tiny insects hoovering in the air above her. Losing her footing, she tripped over a rock in the path.

“Ow!” she cried, holding her knee, as she sat crumpled on the ground.

“I told you to watch where you’re going!” he wailed. William helped his sister back to her feet and rubbed away some of the dried mud from her face and jacket. A dull pain grew in his stomach, as he sized up his mud-encrusted sister who was now suffering a bruised knee.

“Can I carry the jar?” she asked.

“Now, I know you’re crazy! You’re going to drop it.” He huffed.

“You’ve carried them all this way. They’re mine too. I helped to get them.” Sissy pouted.

“That doesn’t work on me, Sis. Besides you just fell down. You’re likely just going to drop the bottle.” William watched his sister jut out her bottom lip and bat her eyelids at him. “You seriously are more effort than you are worth. You put like two pollywogs in this jar. You can’t really think that they are yours too. Look, tell you what, when we get home, I will get you a jar and give you two.” He chuckled at his wisdom!

“No! I want to share all of them. Let me carry the jar." She demanded, stopping dead in her tracks. Sissy was trying a new tactic! But the stubborn approach didn’t work either.

“Please, William! Let me help, I want to,” returning once again to begging and pleading.

He just stormed off ahead. Wishing she would just disappear. At first Sissy straggled behind her brother who was charging furiously away along the path. But then, she had an idea and sprinted toward her brother, who was almost home. Narrowing the gap, she pulled along side him and grabbed the jar. It slid easily from William’s unknowing hands. Cradling it in her arms, she ran around the corner of the house.

“Hey, what do think you’re doing? You give back my pollywogs! Sissy!.....Sissy!” As he chased her around the corner, the cold air burned his throat and ears.

Thrilled and afraid, she stood up on the cement clothesline pad just beyond the turn. William was coming at top speed and collided into her. Knocking the jar from her hands the two of them fell to the grass below. They stared in shock as the contents of their morning lay smashed on the clothesline pad. Wriggling bodies, blood and shards of glass peppered the cement's surface.

Sissy’s shrill scream and William’s angry shouts set off alarm bells in the house. Father flew out the kitchen door and was before them in minutes.

“What’s going on here?” Sizing up the children, he turned to his girl and gasped, “Sissy, look at the state of you.” Not needing much to incur anger or blame, his eyes went to his eight year-old son. “William? What is going on?” Without waiting he screamed. “Answer me!”

William got up from the ground and stood before his father head hung low. He knew that this was all his fault. He should never have taken Sissy. He should have given her the jar. Why, why, why? But, there was nothing he could do now. Whatever he said, Father would turn it into something else. He knew he couldn’t tell the truth. He was trapped like a pollywog. There was nowhere for him to hide. He watched Father removing his belt. William knew what came next.

“I said, what’s going on? Where’d all this glass come from?” His voice boomed, as he slid the belt from its loops.

William stood frozen. Blood drained from his face. Already, he could feel the cutting edge of that belt. He tried to speak, but nothing came. He knew what to do. Look away, find a spot. Escape.

Father’s face was blood red as he hoovered over the shrunken boy. “What’s that? Can’t remember? Let’s see if this belt can help you.” He raised it ready to strike.

Sissy rose to her feet. “It’ my fault. I did it.”

Father lowered his hand. Surprised. His princess? His sweet child? How could she possibly have caused any of this? No, it was his good for nothing son. The idiot boy who constantly got into trouble.

He chuckled, “No, Sis. You didn’t do this. Don’t let him make you take the blame. Go on inside. I will get to the bottom of this.” She paused. “Go on.” He coaxed his sweet girl.

She walked away. As she opened the door heard the first thwack of the belt coming down on William. Tears stung her eyes. She took off her boots and jacket and went to her room to change out of her mud encrusted clothes. When she returned to the kitchen, Father opened the door and threw William to the floor.

“Did he take your jar, Sis? Is that what happened. Did he push you down to get your jar?”

“No, Father, no.” she pleaded.

“Don’t you worry. I beat the bully out of him. He won’t bother you anymore." Turning angrily to his son, he continued. "William, get a broom and bucket and clean up that bloody mess. You can’t have Mother stepping on glass when she does the laundry. Next time, pick on someone your own size.”

Sissy watched William’s hunched form go to the cleaning cupboard. The scars of the belt burned her soul.

“Come on Sis, I have to run into town. You want to come and get an ice cream?” he looked at his son who was now filling up a bucket at the sink. “William, you’d better have that mess cleaned up before I get back. No glass on the ground, do you hear?”

Sissy reluctantly followed Father out the door to the car. He lifted her and gave a little squeeze before setting her down on the seat and buckling her in like precious cargo.

Patting her leg, he said. “There. Feeling better? You know, you should stay away from William. He's just so mean to you!”

As they pulled out of the yard, William came out the front door. Sissy tried to make eye contact. He didn’t see her. His anger hung about him like an explosive dark cloud, as he bent down to pick up the pieces of his wasted morning. She didn’t see him hacking at the pollywogs with the shards of glass. His somber face held no tears, just anger as he watched them bleed. Pulling up his sleeve he slashed the sharp edge on the top of his forearm. It was then that the rush of tears poured forth as he released all of the anger and pain.

Short Story

About the author

Sherry Ryan

I have ink in my veins. It is a curse and a joy. Reality makes it challenging to devote myself to the pen. I have finally succumbed to my daemon blood and hereby commit myself to making it the reality of my life. Perhaps I will find peace.

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