Bayou-Picayune Podcast, S02 EP28: The Curse of the Frog
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When I was in high school, I knew a boy who went by the nickname “Bwana” because he loved outdoor critters. He used to keep a pet snake, and every morning some of us boys would watch when it was feeding time. He would drag out his cardboard box and pull from his pocket a fresh frog he had just caught and drop it in the box with the snake.
The snake didn’t play with its food. As soon as it saw the frog it would, with one or two quick strikes, swallow the frog headfirst. On several occasions, I watched this nighttime drama, and each time I felt ashamed to be attracted to such a gruesome spectacle. Bwana and the other boys told me I was just being squeamish. There was nothing wrong with watching a snake kill a frog. We were simply watching nature do what nature does. Survival of the fittest and all that. Still, I felt I was indulging in a guilty pleasure with the pet snake.
Then came the night Bwana dropped into the box an extraordinary frog. That is if it is possible for a frog to be extraordinary. I’m going to call this frog, “Freddy,” because to me he was extraordinary and deserving of a name.
For one thing, Freddy was more aware of his surroundings than the other frogs I had seen in the box. He seemed to be aware that we boys were watching him from above, and he reacted almost as if he felt he was on stage, hopping blissfully around inside the cardboard walls and letting out a croak or two as he surveyed his new surroundings.
Snake was coiled up in a corner. But when it heard Freddy’s croak it started slowly too and coil itself. About the time Snake first eyed Freddy, Freddy eyed Snake. But Freddy didn’t react as though he were afraid of the thing.
He acted like he and the black reptile were playing a game. He hopped around like Mohammed Ali. Almost like he was taunting Snake to make a move against him and Snake raising its head attacked. But Freddy hopped away, and Snake banged its head hard against the side of the box. Recovering from its head knocking, Snake found Freddy in another corner of the box and struck again and again.
Freddy jumped, leaving Snake to bang his head hard a second time against the wall of the box. Snake turned a third time and found Freddy bobbing and weaving and ribbiting in another corner, and the third time Snake lashed out. It missed, and banged its head, but one Snake recovered from this third headbanging, the frog was nowhere to be seen. For Freddy had jumped clear out of the box. All of us boys saw Freddy jump out and there he was between us croaking ribbit ribbit. As though he was saying, “I won, I won!”
Sadly though, Freddy didn’t win anything. It wasn’t a game. It was supper time and he was the food.
Bwana picked up the frog and dropped it back in the box. “This,” he said, “has never happened before.”
I don’t know if you can say that frogs have shoulders, but if the part of the frog extending from the head to the front legs shoulders, then Freddy shoulders drop as though he had been cheated. As though he had played the game fair and square had been cheated. Snake struck immediately and fairly narrowly eluded his attack but there wasn’t as much spring in Freddy’s jump this time, maybe because he had used up most of his energy when he jumped clear out of the box.
Or maybe because he had simply lost heart when he realized things were rigged against him. Anyway. Snake struck again and this time it caught Freddy’s right rear leg. I watched in horror as Freddy with one leg in Snake’s mouth hopped around on his other three legs trying to free himself.
This was nature doing what nature does?
It was terrible to look at but at the same time I found myself unable to look away.
With its leg deep in Snake’s mouth, Freddy hopped around on three legs and in doing so delivered a terrible beating to his attacker, desperately pounding Snake’s head against the floor and walls of the box. Snake was not used to his food putting up a fight like this. In all his previous feedings, it swallowed the frog head first and either crushed its head or smothered the poor thing once it was in his mouth. That Freddie hopping around the box on three legs refused to go down easily.
If Snake were to win this battle it would have to swallow Freddy backwards. And, that is exactly what Snake did.
Working his way higher and higher up until Freddie’s whole lay completely disappeared inside Snake’s crushing mouth. Bwana, and the other boys, clearly relished the spectacle. And I too, was secretly relishing it. But like I said I felt I was dabbling in a pet sin against nature’s God. I don’t want to sound theological, but it did not seem right for me to enjoy anyone’s life and death struggle with Snake, even if that someone was only a frog. Anyway, with Freddy’s whole right rear side disappearing inside Snake’s mouth, Snake worked on pulling in the other rear leg.
This time though Snake had to work down from the top of the leg to the foot. As it did, I heard a snap. Snake’s overpowering mouth had broken from his left rear leg by bending it upward unnaturally. Snake continued to chew down the leg until finally, Freddy’s low foot disappeared inside Snake’s mouth.
Still Freddy fought on. Hopping along on his two front legs.
But Snake had the advantage now, swallowing more and more of Freddy’s midsection.
Snake’s head climbed slowly up as Freddy with his front legs tried to hold back the mouth that was swallowing him.
Freddie’s fight was doomed however for, just like the real egg which broke inside the mouth of Snake, first one and then the other Freddy’s front leg snapped, as Snake swallowed the helpless limbs. In its struggle to swallow the frog that was going down with difficulty, Snake had raised the front half of himself almost perpendicular from the floor. Its eyes rising over the poor frog’s head. Though Freddy was still alive, his head was sliding deeper and deeper into that all-consuming enemy, Snake.
The last thing I could see is the frog was being slowly sucked down into the blackness, was a sight that has haunted me ever since.
Freddie’s poor eyes fixed on, me.
Never again did I want to be an eyewitness to nature just being nature. I know it’s probably just my imagination, but whenever I feel I’m being swallowed up by life, or time, those inexorable enemies that suck us all down into oblivion, I remember Freddie’s eyes disappearing into the blackness in that maw.
And I wonder if that frog placed a curse on me for watching him die, and doing nothing.