It happens fast. I pull up my pajamas, press the button, a diamond shape, two tiny legs unfurling, kicking, whoosh. Gone. I stare down at the empty bowl. I’ve killed a frog. The frog was in the toilet.
I’m minding a friend’s house on Mt Tamborine, a rainforest sanctuary to unblock a novelist with a good idea but no voice. Earlier, the sun rose as an orange ball over the sea, touching Australia and me at the same time. I felt present in the moment, eager to start work.
I tell myself the frog wasn’t significant, not green like the Energex ‘we choose’ frog on the fridge, but brown, like a toad. But that doesn’t work. This is wilderness. The frog wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t significant.
Over breakfast, guilt gives way to something darker. Do frogs like toilets? I was sitting on that toilet. Was the frog watching? I mustn’t go there, I decide. I mustn’t think about what might have happened if the frog had… I’m here to start a novel. The frog’s dead. I’m calm. I sit at the table I placed by the window last night, my pen, notebook and dictionary like safe friends around me. I look out to mist in a valley of gums, hear a sweet butcher bird and take a deep breath. Calm. The first sentence is always the worst. Just remember, character leads to action. Frog went a courtin’… Uh huh.
I can’t get the frog out of my mind. Among my friend’s books, I find a guide to local wildlife. Over lunch, I decide I killed a broad-palmed rocket frog, a male given its small size, or a red-groined toadlet. I try to remember a groin but all I see are those sucker feet and a little gold eyelid blinking disbelief. I’d feel better about murdering a toadlet, I think.
Evening brings clouds grumpy enough to storm and frogs, hundreds of frogs, who sing out of time in the garden. A gust sets the verandah chimes chattering. The door slams. The lights flicker. But the clouds march on, someone else’s storm. I go to bed in such darkness I can’t see my hand, the silence broken by an owl who calls ‘Bookbook Bookbook’, as if I need reminding. I sleep poorly, dream uncomfortably and wake feeling weak.
I sneak into the toilet and press the button. The diamond shape, the desperate legs. O God, I’ve flushed another frog.
'You’re not going to believe this,' I tell the local Land for Wildlife rep. I’m right, she doesn’t believe it, she tells me it’s six a.m. 'I’ve murdered two frogs,' I blurt, and start to describe them. 'What?' I say. 'They’re territorial,' she’s saying. 'It’s not two frogs, it’s the same frog. They hunt at night and rest during the day.' The phone clicks.
The same frog? Of course, same size, same colour, same frog. I haven’t murdered the frog. The frog lives. In the toilet?
For three mornings, I hold a strainer in the bowl as I flush, but the frog slips between strainer and bowl into the S-bend. Day four, I do catch him, but he dives back in as I’m lifting the strainer. I start to suspect he’s enjoying himself. Day five, I spy a fat little foot under the rim. Day six, I think he’s gone until I lift the lid off the tank and find him nestled against the water stopper, fast asleep. All week, I use the park toilets or pee in the shower.
Day seven, I roll my sleeve and reach into the tank. Gingerly, I lift him in two cupped hands, wet and shaking (both of us), his heart beating fast as a baby’s. I take a peek. He’s an inch-and-a-half long, and although I can’t see his palms, I feel sure he’s a broad-palmed rocket frog. He’s dun on top with black blotches that run from his tiny nostrils, past big black eyes, and along his sides, like speed stripes. His head is pointy. His blink is slow, almost thoughtful.
It’s a half-hour drive and he sits beside me in my lunchbox, my lunch in a plastic bag. A mile walk from the carpark, we come to the creek I know he’ll like. I say goodbye and have feelings I’d rather not go into.
By the time I return to the house, it’s evening and the full moon stares back at me implacably. I go to the work table and the blank first page. I mourn the wasted week, but feel sure tomorrow will be better.
After dinner, a bat the size of a toddler’s fist flies in through the open window soundlessly, negotiates two corners without hitting anything, and disappears into the dark bathroom.