The Land of the Frogs

Once upon a time there was a lovely maiden who lived….

I am not a maiden.

What?

I am not a maiden. A maiden is a virginal unmarried girl, and while I have no desire to share the more intimate features of my life with you, I can say without equivocation that although I am not married, I am most definitely not a maiden.

Oh. Okay. Well then, once upon a time, there was a lovely damsel who lived…

Again with the virgins! What is up with you? I’m not a damsel either. A damsel is the same thing as a maiden. For pity’s sake! Can’t you get it right? I’m not terribly unhappy that you are calling me lovely. That’s actually quite nice. But the maidens and the damsels and all that. It doesn’t really detract from the story to know I’ve been living my life and have met a few fellows on the way, now does it?

Oh I suppose not. May I continue with my story now?

Okay. Sure. Go ahead. Thanks.

Once upon a time, there was a lovely broad who lived…

What?!?!?!? Broad? Are you joking?

Yes, actually I am. I just wanted to see if you were listening.

I am listening! Do you think I would have stopped you twice already if I was not paying attention? What would give you such an idea? Sheesh!

I don’t know. I’ll continue. Once upon a time there was a lovely lady who lived in a land where the males were frogs. These frogs weren’t the sort you could kiss and they would turn into princes either, they were actual frogs.

Okay. You have to be kidding. Why would I want to live with a bunch of frogs if none of them could turn into princes? What is that all about? I mean, a girl has some taste, you know.

Well the moral was going to be about falling in love for all the right reasons, like integrity, honesty, personality, etcetera, regardless of what the fellow looked like.

That’s all fine and good, but what is supposed to get me in the door? If the guy is froggy, how am I supposed to be attracted to him to discover all these magnificent inner qualities? What about biology? There has to be some reason we developed beauty to ensure the procreation of the species.

This may be true. However, could you allow that if all the men looked like frogs than that is what the women would know and they would find certain of the frogs attractive?

Hmmm. That’s an interesting proposition. Why don’t you continue with your story and I’ll think on it a bit.

That would be good, thanks. Most kind of you. I would like to get past the second or third line, if that is possible.

Sarcastic?

A bit. I continue. So the lady lived in a land where the men appeared as frogs. She had met a few of them and had relationships. But none of the relationships ever seemed to work out. As a younger woman, the most common reason for the failure of her relationships was that the frogs were mostly interested in jumping in the sack. I’m not talking about sex here, but an actual game where the frogs jumped around in sacks.

Okay. That’s dumb.

You’re interrupting.

But it’s stupid. The frogs wanted to jump in the sack and this was an actual game the frogs played? Come on! At least make the thing somewhat plausible. You’ve already got all these guys looking like frogs, which requires we suspend some belief as it is. Now you want us to buy into your pathetic attempt at a pun?

Fine. So the real reason most of her relatonships failed was the frogs wanted to have sex with her because she was gorgeous. There. Does that make you feel better?

Well at least it is more realistic, at least the part about the frogs wanting to have sex.

Is it, now? At least it shows you were right about the whole maiden/damsel thing.

Of course I was. Wait. Are you making me sound like some kind of sex maniac or something because I had sex with frogs who didn’t want anything more than a piece of ass?

That wasn’t my intention.

Well it came off that way.

May I continue?

Yes, certainly.

So as I said, by NO FAULT of the lady, most of the wretched frogs she met in her twenties were only after a roll in the hay and were not interested in a serious relationship based on honesty and communication.

There’s another reason I couldn’t have been a maiden/damsel.

You’re interrupting again. But what are you talking about?

You implied in that last bit that I’m no longer in my twenties. This would mean I’m in my thirties, or yikes! even my forties, God forbid. I would not think a maiden/damsel would be in her thirties or forties.

You’re probably right. The maiden/damsel would be sixteen. There. Are you happy now? Can we please continue? Okay, good. By the time our heroine had passed her twenties, she had been in a few longer-term relationships, but as was previously implied, the frogs involved were not particularly interested in much more than getting laid and watching sports on television. Oh, she’d gone out with a frog in a band and he didn’t watch much television between their acts of wanton lust, but instead spent his time playing gigs with the band and fending off groupies.

You know about him? Yeah, he was hot. Frogs in bands are trouble, let me just tell you that. Okay. Stop rolling your eyes. Go on.

Time rolled on and as she entered her thirties, the relationship failure rate seemed to increase, but for different reasons. The frogs she was meeting had figured out that ladies wanted frogs who were interested in more than sex, so they had learned to play the game of the interested pursuer. They could have long conversations. They could discuss politics and rhetoric, and were quite able to expound on the necessities and drawbacks of the women’s movement. They knew how to give excellent massages, and were quite adept at assuring women that they were interested in something far more meaningful than simple sex could ever provide.

Man, isn’t that the truth.

Come again?

That’s the truth. I’m telling you, I run through the list of guys I’ve been with in the last few years and all of them are fairly remarkable when it comes to talking the talk. They rope you in, slowly and carefully. It’s like they can wait for the big payoff. They don’t jump in, slam, bam, thank you ma’am. They build to a crescendo, that crescendo being them getting laid if they can pull it off.

I know it’s the truth. I’m telling the story, remember?

Oh right. Sorry again.

Thank you. As I was saying, our heroine kept meeting frogs who seemed to be interested in a real relationship based on mutual trust, communication, and all that. Unfortunately, each time things became serious, the frogs would hop off into the ponds and hide under their lily pads, never to be heard from again. This always caught the lady by surprise. One day the frog would be discussing a shared future of dreams and aspirations, the next day he would be gone.

The first few times this happened, the lady was extremely distressed. What in the world is going on here? Where did he go? What happened? She would discuss the disappearances ad nausem with her friends. None of them could figure it out. It just seemed to make no sense. Why would the frogs act like they wanted a long-term relationship then disappear as soon as it seemed likely? Over time, the lady came to expect the disappearances. She was slower to show interest, waiting to see if the frog would hop away at the first sign of real intimacy. She stopped having sex with the frogs unless sex was all she wanted. She…

Oh good. I didn’t want it to sound like I was always so serious. Okay, okay! Put down your eyebrows. I’m listening.

Right. Carrying on then. Our heroine began paying attention and recognized the signs sooner. The runaway frogs were consistent in their reasons for relationships failing. Most of them were unwilling to acknowledge their own shortcomings, but could gloss this over in such a way that at first it appeared they were quite introspective and self-deprecating. They could discuss in great depth their concerns for a previous lover’s issues concerning self-esteem or family dysfunction. They were able to articulate in some detail the meaning behind an ex-girlfriend’s struggles with her weight or body image.

Unfortunately, when the same magnifying glass was turned towards them, the frogs were unable or unwilling to see or discuss their own need for growth. If our heroine observed that perhaps they might deflect any questions on their own development with humor or pointed out during a disagreement that the frog had an amazing ability to find fault with others without acknowledging any responsibility of his own, the frog ran off and jumped in a pond without so much as a backward glance.

She began to realize that the frogs also had a way of projecting their own fears onto her. If they were terrified of expressing anger, for instance, they would claim she was too angry as they peeked out from beneath their lily pads. “Why did you cuss at that driver? How dare you glare at the rude clerk? What is the matter with you, lady? You must have an anger problem!” If they were terrified of expressing affection, they would claim she was too willing to affect in public. “Why would you kiss me here?” the frog would ask. “Are you trying to make people think you want me to be a prince?” Such statements dumbfounded the lady. What in the world were these frogs thinking?

My, that is distressing.

What is distressing?

These frogs you are talking about. They are all so, I don’t know, pitiful somehow. And you haven’t mentioned all the work I’ve done on myself to become a better and stronger person. Don’t you think our readers would like to hear about that?

I’m sure they would, but I thought such things were implicit. Would it make you happier if I mentioned that after each failed attempt you would do a self-analysis to figure out what you learned and how to do things differently next time?

Yes, that would be good. And mention I spent some time with a therapist. Let them know I’m not trying to make this all the frogs’ fault. That would not be the honest thing to do.

Okay. Our heroine went to a therapist and ascertained she was not suffering from any major mental illness. There. Does that make you feel better?

Not exactly, but go on. I want to hear what happens.

Finally, after one particularly heart-wrenching breakup, our heroine decided that it was perhaps best to swear off frogs for a while. Maybe I could take up dressmaking, she thought. Or drums. That’s it. I’ll take up drums. She began banging on the drums at all hours of the day and night. This did not please her neighbors, so she took up rock collecting and underwater floral arranging instead. These were peaceful activities and kept her mind somewhat occupied. However, with time, our heroine grew increasingly bored. Her extra room was filled with rocks of all sorts and her fingers had become rather wrinkly from all the underwater floral arranging she had done.

Excuse me.

Now what? I was on a roll.

Can I ask you something? How come you keep calling me “our heroine.” How come you don’t give me a name?

Because I was trying to keep everyone from developing a preconceived notion of who you are.

I’m me. Why would anyone preconceive about that?

Well the readers don’t know you yet. To them you are just our heroine. Give them a name and they will associate you with every Cinderella or Jennifer they know.

I just thought I should have a name, that’s all.

Being nominally anonymous allows the readers to apply your lessons to all women. Wouldn’t you like that? Plus heroines have a particular aura to them, wouldn’t you agree? There is an implicit beauty in their being a heroine.

That’s a nice thought. I wouldn’t mind being beautiful.

You are beautiful dear, on the inside and the out.

You are so kind.

Thank you. May I continue?

Please do.

One night the lady and a friend went out to view art. They found a place where painters and sculpters and various artists of all sorts had gathered together and were displaying various pieces of their work. As she meandered from one piece of art to another, she noticed a particularly hunky frog following her. She pointed him out to her friend. Do you see him? she asked? Doesn’t it look like he’s following me? Her friend allowed that it did indeed appear as if he were following her. To test her hypothesis, our heroine veered off to view a particularly large, phallic sculpture. She stared at it with consternation. What in the world, she wondered, would inspire someone to carve a giant penis? Wishful thinking?

“It’s hopeful, isn’t it?” a voice next to her asked. She glanced over and noticed the hunky following frog. He had marvelous, bulgy blue eyes and hair that begged for fingers to comb through its soft tendrils. She was amazed a frog could have such fantastic hair. He also had several very attractive red spots on his shoulders.

Yes, she answered, I suppose it has a bit of hope about it. Real dreaming. Sometimes you have to wonder. She noticed that his hands were large, his fingernails trimmed and clean, his skin a warm green.

“Hopeful and silly. I wonder why this kind of thing is still given credence, like it has something unique to say. Like we haven’t all seen such ambitious desperate attempts in the past, even at some high school art show. If I make a sculpture of a giant penis, I will be daring.” He looked directly at her as he spoke, his attention completely engaged. It was hypnotizing.

Yes, pushing the boundaries.

“Unique like everyone else making giant penises.”

Exactly.

Their banter went on for some time. Our heroine discovered that her friend had met an acquaintance and the two were chatting amiably. Following frog continued to follow her, all the while making witty observations about different pieces of art. He took…

So what, is this where she meets someone and falls in love? Because it looks like that is where your heading, and since I’m not in love and haven’t fallen in love, I’m kind of confused. I mean, I know who you are talking about, but it didn’t go anywhere you know.

Are you planning to allow me to finish the story? I know what happens. You know what happens. But no one else does.

Okay, fine. If you want to go through the whole thing, go ahead. Tell them how he came over to my house. Tell them how we had a grand time goofing off but did nothing more than kiss for a while. Then tell them how he didn’t call for several days and didn’t pursue me any further. Then perhaps you can explain why he is any different than any of the others and why we should be spending this much time on him.

Well he was different from the others. When you decided to let him know you were genuinely interested, he responded, didn’t he? And when you finally starting hanging out, the two of you didn’t have any long drawn out conversations about your relationship. You didn’t discuss your future with him. You also had sex with him pretty quickly. And that sex, oooh boy! Twice, sometimes three times a day. It was truly remarkable, his capacity and stamina. Do you forget that you had some difficulty walking normally on certain occasions?

Oh, I know. I remember. Yes, that part was different. But the end result wasn’t. He didn’t fall madly in love with me. I probably could have fallen in love with him, but he wouldn’t have given me a chance to do that. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to have sex. I knew this going in. To expect any more or want any more would have been foolish. And there were his problems with self confidence, and his periodic silent treatments. I guess I just don’t understand why he’s getting more detail than the others.

Because, dear, he is interesting. He is quite funny and absolutely brilliant.

Well, artists often are. And he’s definitely an artist. He’s actually making a living at it, and you can’t say that of many artists.

And he didn’t run and hide under his lily pad. He was fun. I just thought perhaps people would like to hear about your watching movies together, laughing like fiends, going on bizarre roadtrips, and boinking like rabbits. All the other frogs were so, I don’t know, serious. They were much too boring.

I know, I know. Unfortunately, I’m still too cynical about the whole thing. He still opted to go his own way and leave me to mine. And although we didn’t have the little “talk,” I know he was terrified to death of our relationship turning into anything more serious. If you want to know the truth, frankly I’m sick of frogs.

Yes, I know. Perhaps it would be better to tell a different story, the one where you travel the world and have many adventures.

I would like that.

Okay, that is what we’ll do. For now, we’ll leave off frogs. I can see your point. They are a bit pathetic, aren’t they? We’ll focus on your traveling adventures. Maybe you can meet some other species besides frogs, some species that might actually turn into a prince.

I won’t hold my breath.

Me either.

So our heroine traveled the world and met many fascinating people and adventures and lived happily ever after. The End.

That was great.

You liked it?

I did. Thanks a bunch. You painted me in a positive light, I think.

I hope so. I aim to please. Good luck to you.

Thanks, you too.

(This is a piece of fiction.  Any resemblance to any human or frog, living or not, is perhaps likely considering the author’s brain is composed of actual experiences.  However, this is a completely fictional story.  This story is not intended to be seen as a replica of the author’s life.)

Question

Sidenote: It drives me to distraction the way web sites bounce all over the place while loading these days. It looks like a page is loaded and you click on something, but no.  It’s not loaded and the click results in something entirely different than what you wanted, which then forces you to go back, and then wait again for the page to load, making sure it’s completely loaded, which means sitting there. Okay. Long sentence.

In ANY case, my real point here is to state that I am writing a book with various journal entries throughout the book, and I’m wondering, should I put in dates? Or should I just say JOURNAL and then write it in italics so the reader knows it’s a journal entry. Since I’m not using the year because it could be any year (after a certain point when the internet and smart phones exist because the characters use these items), but should I add the month?

Anyone who cares to answer, please do. Thank you.

Venom (fiction)

The one asked the other if she could say what drew her to him in the first place.  Her answers were heartfelt, loving.

He sneered and said he did not believe her, that she was lying.

Later the other asked again if she could say what drew her to him in the first place.  She could not.  All she could remember was the ugly sneer.  It made her want violence.  She imagined her fist connecting with flesh, skin rupturing skin, bones causing breaks in the tissue, blood angling for the surface.  She imagined saliva aimed with sharp precision.  She imagined sarcasm.  All she felt was ire.  She said that the heartfelt answers were gone, that they had been true, but were no longer.

Only bile remained.

Riding in the Morning (Fiction)

I ride my horse nearly every morning, alone, regardless of the weather.  It empties my head, fuzzy yet clear, like that time between waking and sleep when thoughts slip unbidden through the ether into consciousness.  Riding in the morning keeps me in this happy purgatory, lets me dream while awake.  The rhythm is hypnotic.  Even.  These rides for me are like those times in a movie when someone is running through the forest and the camera shows a snippet or a piece of them, but mostly we see the blur of the trees, the movement of running feet, possibly what they are running toward. Or from.

I ride even in the rain,  covering myself with plastic, the studs in my horse’s shoes keeping us from slipping.  In my yellow rain slicker I appear as a golden alien, the crackling of the plastic keeping me from hearing anything beyond the rhythm of the hoofbeats under my body.

My favorite mornings are in early fall, when the possibility of cold and ice tickles, but the day will still be warm.  The air simultaneously lingers and moves.  Later in the day it will hover, but on an early fall morning, the air allows passage.

There is a private road along which I like to ride.  To the west lies a hayfield surrounded by a wooden fence. To the east immediately next to the road is a forest.  Between the road in the forest there is a strip of ground about fifteen feet wide.  The owners of the road keep the grass here mowed.  It is perfect for riding, wide enough to keep the ground from turning to muck, close enough to the tree wall to feel encased, protected.  In summer the trees keep the sun off our backs.  When it rains, they are umbrellas against the full force of the water spilling onto our bodies.  Some days I venture into the forest; others I stick to the road.

One of my favorite parts of these rides is the smells that fill my nostrils, my head, my body.  There is the deep, pungent warmth of the loamy soil from the forest that even in the height of the summer seems always damp.  On the mornings when the owners of the road along which I ride cut the grass, I bask in its sweet, genuine odor.  I ride in the morning and breathe in the smells.  The rides are bliss.

I named my horse Pluto.  Like a mythical beast taken from the novel of a school girl, his legs are long and graceful, his coat the color of ebony, his tail full and wavy.  My riding friends envy Pluto’s tail.  Many horses have thin and wispy tails. Their owners cover them in tail bags and pick out tangles with their fingers in an effort to ensure every hair is protected.  Pluto’s tail requires no such coddling; it is coarse and unruly.

On this fall morning, I ride out early, close to dawn.  Through the clouds, the moon still hovers near the edge of the horizon.  The air is chilly, promising it will soon overtake any hints of summer warmth.  I start slowly, warming Pluto’s muscles and my own.  I am not wearing a heavy jacket, my rain slicker tied at my waist.  Although the wind is cold enough I can see my breath and the grey sky is low enough that rain seems imminent, I know the ride will heat both of us soon enough.

As I turn down the lane next to the hayfield, I nudge Pluto into a canter.  He kicks a bit in anticipation. Cold air makes him fresh and excitable.  As we settle into a rhythm, the smell of grass and falling leaves fills my nostrils, the air numbs my cheeks.  I reach up and press my helmet more firmly onto my forehead, a feeble attempt to keep the cold at bay.

I want to know the future, I think as I squeeze Pluto into a canter.  He responds with a kick to the side, pulling down before settling into an easy rhythm.  Or maybe not.  Do I really want to know what is going to happen?  Do I really want to know anything beyond the sound of Pluto’s breathing, his hoofbeats in the grass, the trees flying by?  What would I do if I knew that at the end of the road I would fall, hit my head, and die?  Would I divert my path?  Would I want to know the specifics of every day until the end of my life?  Wouldn’t that be boring?  Where would come the joy in discovering something new if I knew everything in advance?

I don’t think I want to know the future, just that my life will turn out okay.  I think that is generally what people are after when they think they want to know what is going to happen.  Only life doesn’t always give us what we want or we don’t take the steps to get there.  If we knew the future and it was not good, could we change it?  I suppose part of what we would do depends on how we discovered what the future would be.  A crystal ball?  A dream?

Pluto snorts and pulls on the reins.  I shake my head to dispel these thoughts.  Too serious.  I gather my reins and ask Pluto to slow to a trot, then a walk.  Breathing heavily, he tosses his head, then turns and rubs his foamy muzzle on his shoulder leaving a gauzy strip of green goo along his wet skin.  We are both warm now, although it has begun to drizzle.

I turn from the grass to ride into the forest.  The leaves are starting to turn and the underbrush is dry, allowing us access into places that only a few weeks ago were covered in vegetation.  Pluto picks his way over the brush and through the trees.  Every so often he stops, letting me know that the way is not clear.  I allow him to guide us along altering and designing our trail as we go, only keeping a slight feel in the reins.

The rain is increasing, but the leaves overhead block most of the moisture.  I untie the yellow raincoat from my waist and cover myself against the wetness, pulling the hood over my helmet.  It muffles the sound of the rain dripping in the forest.  Pluto’s footfalls reverberate within the plastic coating, mixing with its crinkling.

I check my watch, surprised to learn that I have been riding for over an hour.  I should probably head back, but I don’t have anything to do this morning and I’m enjoying the solitude.  We are deep enough into the forest I know I am going to have to rely on Pluto to ensure our return.  I have done this before, this delving into the forest, buried deep within its underbelly.

I hear birds chirping above me. It strikes me as odd that birds would hang out and sing in the rain, but that is exactly what they are doing.  Don’t they get wet?  Do wet feathers work?  It seems to me that wet feathers would not fly very well, although I suppose the birds do not need to fly to sit on the branches and sing.
In the distance I see something white bobbing on the edge of the creek.  In the grey light, but against the reeds and grasses at the edge of the water nearly in the mud, the white glows.  It is drizzling harder now and the edge of my hood makes seeing difficult.  The folds and creases in the plastic on the raincoat cause the water to dribble off the front rim at odd angles.  With my hood up, I am enclosed in a water tunnel.  It is like seeing through a waterfall.

What is that?

I ride closer.  Whatever is lying there is lumpish and round.  Pluto is not impressed.  He keeps snorting and trying to back away.  I can see the sclera of his eye.  He doesn’t know what this thing is but he wants nothing to do with it.  Yet I am curious.  I squeeze him forward and he obeys.  I want to see.
I dismount and stare, pulling Pluto along behind me.  My hood falls back.  I feel the water begin to take over, but I ignore it and proceed.

Before me, tucked among the reeds, muddy water swirling around his ankles, is a dead man.  A pale, trapped, and hideously distended dead man.  Face up, his eyes are like squinty raisins in the bloated flesh of his face, arms swelling out the ends of the short sleeves of his shirt with its lower buttons popped, his bulging belly protruding above his belt.  He is grotesque.

Pluto snorts and paws, pulling back on the reins, yanking me off balance in the slippery mud along the bank.  I turn and pat him, cooing softly, telling him he is okay.  It is starting to rain harder.  The water sluices down the back of my neck, its rivulets curving between my shoulder blades.  My saddle is saturated, yet I want Pluto to mellow so I can go back to look at the man.

I have a friend who drowned in the Thailand tsunami, pulled into the sea by a vicious undertow during her Christmas vacation.  Is this how she looked after she died?  Like this doughy sausage person, a human loaf too big for its pan, her swimsuit cutting into her flesh, folds of it oozing around the seams?  Were her fingers so swollen they no longer really fit her hands?

It is then that I notice movement beneath the pale whiteness of the man’s thin shirt and see a slithery black thing scuttle across his belly.  Some creatures have already discovered the corpulent smorgasbord.  He is quite a feast, in spite of the water and damp.

Revulsed, I turn away.  Thoughts of salt water bring me hope that dear Angie was not eaten by water bugs, but I am deluding myself.  Sharks and fishes do not notice the salinity.  Her bones might have survived, floating to the ocean floor after the seizure of her flesh, but even these were probably dissolved in something’s stomach acid.  If she drifted ashore in aftermath of the tsunami, in the dense and humid heat of the jungle, more animals than these enjoyed a putrefying meal.

I turn away.  The water moving down my back has reached the top of my pants where my shirt is tucked in.  I can feel it creeping slowly through the fabric.  It is winning.  As I step closer, my foot sinks into the mud.  The edge of the creek is unclear, water and soil combining to create the illusion of solidity.

The stream eddies and swirls around his shoulders, bits of sticks and leaves collected along his edges.  On his neck I see a slug or a leech, but leeches need something living, don’t they?  It is firmly attached, slimy and full, whatever it is.

What to do about this horrendous thing, I do not know.  I would not be able to move him even if I could let Pluto go, which isn’t an option because he’ll leave me stranded here in these woods in favor of the warm and dry barn.  I can hardly blame him.  He can probably smell things I am not capable of.  In this I am glad for the rain; any smells of putrefaction have been rinsed away.

Once I leave, things will be different. I will ride back to the barn and find the barn manager and tell her what I discovered out in the woods.  She will stare at me in disbelief and ask questions, but not many because she is quiet that way.  We will go to the office and phone the authorities together.  They will arrive and want me to try and retrace my steps here.  I may or may not go with them, but if I do, I will be kept at a distance as they mill about him, circling like vultures.  Many people will ask me the same questions over and over, police in uniforms, detectives in regular clothes, everyone in raincoats and slickers.  I will be treated like the victim for having seen him even though I am not the one who has been harmed, the one who is dead.

It will continue to rain in pieces.  I will have to call my office and my husband.  Someone will offer me their mobile phone to make the calls because I have not yet replaced the one I lost riding out here in the woods.  My husband will tut and ask me if I’m okay, but he knows me and knows this would not bother me as much as it would others.  He will not treat me like a victim.

Throughout the day people will hear what I found on my ride in the woods.  First other boarders at the barn, then friends will hear from others, and coworkers will hear at the office.  Everyone will talk about this, everyone will ask, and in the answering I will lose this moment.  The repetition will grind it from my brain.

When the story comes out in the paper, as it most certainly will in this rather small place with nothing much going on, I will be for a moment a local celebrity.  People will talk about it and ooh and ah and wrinkle their noses in disgust, grateful they were not the ones who found a dead man.

Yet I do not want to be celebrated.  I did nothing.  I am not the one who is dead.  My life is not the one that is over.  My life wasn’t stolen by a wave as I lay on a beach at Christmas.  I am not the one lying swollen, being eaten by leeches, dead and unknown in muddy creek waters.

I stand there on the water’s edge and consider briefly telling no one, leaving this man to decompose in the water, his bones left for discovery by another at some point in the spring, the body no longer distended, the creatures no longer slithering under his shirt.  But I know this is not what I will do.

Pluto pulls at the reins, trying to nibble at the growing things near our feet.  I tug him closer and pat his wet neck. He rubs his head on my arm, knocking me off balance.  I step towards the man to right myself.  His face continues to stare, the swollen, raisin eyes meaningless without life behind them.

I reach down and run my finger along his arm.  I feel nothing.  He is not there, only this wretched ending of him.  I turn and gather my reins, place my foot in the wet stirrup, struggling not to slip as I clamber up on Pluto’s back. He takes a step to the side.  I hold him steady, pause, look down once more at the man who is not there, then turn and ride home.