Frog Legs

Hey there now. A fellow frog-gigger, I see. This pond has some good pickings, but it ain’t nothin’ like the waters of Suamp county. No, not Swamp County—Suamp County. Never heard of it? Course not! And I bet you ain’t never heard of Joseph Willet, neither. Lucky you. He was what Suamp County was known for, among its locals, anyway. There weren’t no knowing worth knowing unless it was knowing of Joseph Willet.
Joseph Willet was known as the handsomest young man in all of Suamp County. He had a hammer chin, dark black hair, the straightest teeth ever known in that tobacco-chewin’, moonshine-chuggin’ bottomland. He had his choice of women, and consequently had the choicest women, and he was envied by every man with sense enough to think of his own shabby lot in life in the shadow of that sunny son-of-a-buck. But young Joseph had his troubles, too, and, like himself, they weren’t your ordinary run-of-the-pondmill troubles. They were damn near biblical.
It happend one day that he was out near the swamp, gigging for a living, as we all did back then. I was with him, and a couple of other boys, in his ol’ pontoon. We had quite the haul that night, and stayed out till mornin’, fillin’ our buckets and bringin’ ‘em back ‘n’ forth to the dock. It was as daylight broke that we reckoned we had had enough and so docked one final time. Me and the other boys were estimatin’ how many pounds of frogs we’d gotten ourselves while Joseph was securin’ his pontoon to the dock with his rope. Ain’t nobody ever wrapped cord fast as Joseph did. Some of ‘em women in town would have fainted to see his biceps flexin’ as he worked ‘em on that needsome task.
Nonetheless, he was only half-done securin’ it when he happened to see a frog perchin’ on his boat. The audacity of the frog was what halted him. I reckon he didn’t know if it had hopped up there when we docked or had been perched there all the while we was busy in our humble profession. Whatever the case, ol’ Joseph looked at that frog with ire in his eyes, and also with mischief.
“Look here,” he told us, and we obeyed, because you always obeyed Joseph Willet. Back then, anyway. “How much you wanna’ bet I can knock that frog off with a spit?”
We knew better than bettin’ anythin’ against Joseph, so we just grinned and told him to do as he liked. And he did. He hacked up a loogy— never mind you how big— and reared back and spat at the frog, knocking it clear off the rim of the boat and we all startin’ roarin’ with laughter. And then we stopped, cold in our chuckle-headed idiocy. For the frog landed on the deck, and consign me to the nuthouse if it didn’t go and suddenly bloom into a woman! Or half-bloom, so to speak, for the naked girl weren’t but half and half, frog and woman. I swear by the three nails that Teed Jesus it did! She was something to see! Faintest nub of a nose with slitted nostrils always flaring and closing as she breathed through ‘em, and lank black hair, slimy and matted and clingin’ to her wide head, and whatever else it happened to touch, like pond algae, and nearly so green, and bulging golden eyes that locked onto Joseph as if he was Christ come again. Her fingers and toes were webbed, the latter being so long she could have skied with ‘em, and all of her body either lime green with dark stripes, or pale white, such as her chest and neck and belly.
Me and the boys was all dumbstruck as a pair of donkeys that up’d and kick each other in the nuts. But not Joseph Willet. He saw her layin’ there, naked and all a’sprawl on his boat as if God had just made her— in a fit of indecision— and he ran inside his house and fetched his other pair of coveralls. I should say that— and not unkindly, you see—while he was seein’ to her, his boat’s rope unwound itself and his pontoon drifted out toward the salt marshes. I guess you could have said his ship had lit’ally sailed out to sea. But he didn’t mind none of that then, even if he did later on. He just took his time and gently put her in ‘em coveralls, though they was too big and long for her strange body. That cumbrousness didn’t stop her none, though, after he had let her go from dressin’ her. She squatted down, contractin’ her doubly-long legs, as was her wont, and she hopped about, just like a damn frog. From then on, that woman was inseparable from Joseph, even for all his tryin’. Her eyes bulged, as I might ‘ave said, or might not ‘ave said, and were golden, the pupils more in proportion to a normal woman’s as they rolled about in those large round whites, and they ever went anywhere with half so much light as they went to Joseph.
And why wouldn’t they? It was the fairytale come true! Or half come true, as it were, and inverted as a snake-skin boot inside out and backwards. It was all sorts of muddied up, on account of Joseph breakin’ her curse with his spit instead of a kiss. Course, I don’t reckon I can say where she came from, neither. There ain’t no kingdoms ‘round there, and never had been. It’s goddamn swampland and river bottom! She must have floated a long ways away.
Anyway, Joseph tried to kiss her afterwards, and make her wholly woman by pressing his lips against her wide, lipless mouth, but Fate wasn’t havin’ any of it. The girl’s eyes bulged in loving admiration of him all the same, and she hopped after him, as I said,, with her long legs foldin’ and springin’ under her and standin’ up like a real woman only when she was of a mind to hug him.
She had no human speech, her human brain but only halfway transformed, but we all knew she likely been turned by a witch long ago, or some such moonshine. And now Joseph was obligated to her, as these things were, and so him being a young man of honor he did her right, putting her in some clothes borrowed from his sister and takin’ her to Preacher Tinnell’s chapel for a brief ceremony. She did not stand most of the time, squatting down next to Joseph’s feet instead. Preacher Tinnell had some reservations, as we all did, but Joseph was a man set upon his path and so the goodly Preacher carried through it anyhow, hoping to sanctify the two of ‘em before it was too late and this abomination should stick in the craw of God overlong.
Only a few of us attended the wedding, it being so slapdash, but rumor always flies fast when the word is peculiar, and soon everybody was talkin’ about it. The women were downright vicious with their gossip, as it was they resented the frog-girl for what she happened to have: Joseph, with all his straight teeth. The men, also being resentful of Joseph, laughed at his luck and congratulated themselves on his being out of the way, now. I often heard them talkin’ unseemly when I visited them, sayin’ there was a lot of good “frog-giggin’” goin’ on near Joseph’s pond. They’d make gestures and faces and I laughed along with the rest of ‘em, though it shames me to say so today. I knew Joseph well, and knew he hadn’t touched that frog girl one bit other than tryin’ to kiss her right. He had married her out of tradition, and tradition was strong and ‘onorable in these parts. Least, once upon a time it was. Nothin’ stronger to compel a man than tradition.
That is to say, other than, perhaps, the need of settlin’ an eye for an eye.
But the sad truth was that his new bride disgusted Joseph. Not only did she look like a frog and a woman all mixed up, but she acted like it, too. She caught bugs all the livelong day with her tongue, snatchin’ ‘em out of the air like a sniper. The human side of her would try cookin’ for Joseph, only she’d do it with the whatnot the frog-side favored. The other boys laughed about this, too, when they heard him complainin’ one day about her cookin’, but I’ll tell you one thing: you never saw no mosquitoes and horseflies around Joseph’s land much after she came. Who could think meanly on that? I know I don’t like havin’ my ass bitten by bugs every minute of every hour of every day! No, sir!
And no one could say Joseph and his bride didn’t try to do right by each other. They looked after one another, which is more than what I could say about the rest of ‘em two-timin’ lovers in Suamp County. Even Joseph forewent his womanizin’ for his new bride’s sake. Whatever else might be said, he tried to be a good husband to her. And the more’s the pity! I noticed— and I don’t doubt Joseph noticed— that his new bride was aware of what was wrong with her sometimes. Often she kept her lank green algae hair draped over most of her face, as if she was keen aware how her eyes and nose weren’t “right” and bothered people. She rarely went to town, stayin’ instead on Joseph’s marshland and waitin’ for him to come home. She never leapt so high as when he come back from town. And how many husbands can say that of their wives?
And I’ll say one more thing on the matter of her love: her eyes shined bright gold beneath her slimy dark bangs whenever she looked upon her husband. There weren’t no fakin’ that shimmer. No, sir! And here’s another secret: Joseph, the pride of Suamp County, didn’t give her cause to fault him, for he smiled at her more often than he had any reason to.
Still, Joseph liked to drink, as well all did in Suamp County. There wasn’t much else to do there, really, other than workin’ and survivin’. One night he and I was drinkin’ on his porch. Nobody else was there, except his wife, but she always stayed in the cabin when he was drinkin’. She didn’t like the smell or somethin’. Anyhow, Joseph got to drinkin’, and so got to hankerin’ after a woman, as he always did when he was drinkin’. He hadn’t touched a woman since marryin’ his frog-girl and he was damn restless. The problem was that there was no willin’ woman to take him on account all of ‘em in Suamp thought the lesser of him for takin’ the frog-girl as his wife (and not any of ‘em). And, as I said, I don’t think even drink would have compelled the self-righteous fool to break a religious vow (even if plenty in the Bible did it all the time).
As I said, he was restless like a bitch-cat in heat. Nothin’ was holdin’ his hankerin’ back but opportunity. But then his girl came out on the deck, offerin’ him a pie made of fish and mice, and he got to lookin’ at her— more than he ever could of looked at that godforsaken pie—and as his drink turned to lust he saw she had haunches more or less like a woman’s, never mind the elongated ankles and toes and the green of all that, and she had pale breasts, even if the nipples stuck up in the air like toadstools and were as dark green as her algae hair, and her webbed fingers were dainty enough, and she had no teeth, which, I suppose were all the better for it when indulging the carnal flesh, and so she was well enough a woman, besides all those peculiar exemptions, to be hankered after. So, he hankered after her, and took her to bed while I left to mind my own damn business and drink myself into oblivion over what was happenin’ then and there at that moment. Yet, I don’t blush to say that even now I imagine him hunkerin’ down on her, as a frog might another frog, and she received him willingly enough, and even gave it a go with her own hunchin’ on him, and, in sooner time than he would have thought, how he begot child upon her, the two of ‘em layin’ down in whatever sweat and slime was conducive to their fornicatin’.
And from then on, every night was one where Joseph took his passions to her, never needin’ again a drink to grease his gears, for he never bought none from me no more! Hell, he rarely invited me or the giggin’ boys over again after that. Don’t know if it was from embarrassment or from not havin’ the time or energy to entertain company with a friendly word. What I do know is that his frog-woman birthed several hundred eggs in that pond of his, away from predators. I seen ‘em. Clear as day through the swamp canopy! They startled me near to an early grave, comin’ upon ‘em without warnin’. But I thought they was cute enough when they hatched and took to the water. You could say they was all happy there; happy as tadpoles in a mud hole. But it had to end. Every blasphemy has to end sooner or later, even Eden.
The bad business started when the kids grew legs and lost ‘em tails and started comin’ on land. Really it started before that, with the envy and jealousy of Suamp County, but that weren’t the trigger of it. True, that place had always been backwards—backwards and back-looking and backwoods and backwater. It never had no tolerance for things that were different. And boy were those kids different! They could do all sorts of things the other kids couldn’t. Out-swim gators in the swamp, leap from one tree to another, play Tag with their tongues from waaaaay far away. Unlike their mother, these kids could talk and they talked to animals just as good as they did any people tryin’ to speak to ‘em. They helped their daddy catch fish in the deeper parts of the swamp, like gar and carp and whatever other big fish they could get their webbed hands on. They also found pearls for their momma, divin’ deep into the sea and comin’ up with a fortune’s worth of precious things. Joseph gave such things to his wife, or sold them to outsiders, and though he had lots of wealth, on account of his wife and his children, he never moved away or flaunted it to the rest of us. He even gave a hefty sum to the Preacher Tinnell’s Church, all the while grinnin’ his straight teeth as if he never deviled nobody.
All the same, my fellow Suampians became wroth with resentment. It seemed to ‘em that his wife and children were spawn of the Devil, and that good-lookin’, straight-toothed Joseph was the Devil in question. Not that I ever suspected it. No, sir! Not me.
Then came the day that one of Joseph’s many sons got his leg caught in a bear trap that had never existed in that part of the woods beforehand. It was right suspicious, those circumstances, and because his bones hadn’t fully hardened, the poor boy lost his leg in a single snap of that rusty gator. His brothers and sisters carried him home. While Joseph and his wife were tendin’ to their dyin’ son, the bear-trap, and the boy’s leg, disappeared. Don’t ask me how. I won’t give you nothin’ but soft morass to stand on. I’m not one for conjecture, neither, or gossip. All right! All right. Some say Joseph’s long-time Suamp County rival, Cleetus White, was the one that set that trap and took off with that leg. It certainly makes enough sense to me. But the worst ol’ Cleetus did to Joseph and his family was to come after they had already buried that boy in the soft, muddy ground.
What a mind for vengeance Cleetus must have had. Was it conscious, though, or subconscious that led him astray like it did? I imagine it was a little of both; like seein’ a gator’s head in the water and watchin’ it float over to you, and goin’ out to meet it instead of fleein’ in the other direction like any sensible person would do. But Cleetus was strange even by Suamp County standards. He had a mind for vengeance. Slow, like that gator, and then springin’ forth all at once. Once he got you in his death roll there was nothin’ helpin’ for it.
I can even imagine him now, lookin’ at that leg and sayin’ “That looks just like a frog leg,” and then he starts thinkin’, “That’s an awfully big frog leg,”, and then he thinks,”I bet it taste just like a frog leg”, and so he heats up his deep fryer and chops that poor boy’s leg up, and eats it. The hankerin’ for it then got hold of his head like a gator and wouldn’t let go. He had to eat more of it, and he had to share it so others could know what he knew. It would get ‘em on his side. And so he did just that.
That’s how I imagine it. Maybe Cleetus was jealous of ol’ Joseph and his wealth, as he was jealous of everythin’ Joseph had. Maybe Joseph never thought to see Cleetus as nothin’ but another well-meanin’ neighbor, too beneath him to be a threat. And maybe Cleetus wanted revenge for that slight. However it really happened, it happened that several people got a taste of that boy’s leg during the Church Sunday lunch. And when they got a taste of it, they got a hankerin’ for it, just as Cleetus did. And by hankerin’ for it, I mean they wanted to eat it more badly than any fried catfish they usually slapped with grease and breading and threw in a fryer for Jesus. I’d even wager that their hatred of Joseph and his family was what imparted such flavor. Frog legs never tasted so good to me before I had me a bit of that leg. I’ll promise you that!
The night of the raid was spontaneous and without a leader. We all just sorta’ converged on Joseph’s land in the middle of the night, surrounding the pond, where his children slept, and lettin’ none of ‘em escape. We took his wife, too. He tried to stop us, but shotguns had better say than anything he tried to do that night. We left him in a pool of blood on the porch, and so far as I know he is still rottin’ there. A lot o’ good his straight teeth did him that day!
As for the rest of us Suampians, we fried up every one of those children and ate ourselves stupid. Afterwards, the hankerin’ remained, but since we had no frog-people to satisfy it, we tried regular ol’ frog legs. They didn’t do no good for it, so we thought plain ol’ people would do just well enough. We began to snatch each other’s children, in turns, and then the elderly, and finally each other. It was cannibalism run amok, and it didn’t satisfy nobody at all, yet we was set in it. At the end of the year only one person remained, and he left Suamp County for good, tryin’ to leave the whole fiasco behind him.
So. That’s why you ain’t never heard of Suamp County. I don’t miss it much, to be honest, but I feel real bad ‘bout what happened to Joseph and his family. If we had only left a few alive to breed then we could ‘ave eaten ‘em special frog legs from now to kingdom come. But when you get a hankerin’ for something, you never can control yourself much. You eat till there ain’t no more left. And now there’s nothin’ left.
You donna’ believe me, do you? Well, I promise by my great-great-great-grandfather Louis Clay White that it happened. Sure, there are things I ain’t so square on no more. As I said, I donna’ know if Cleetus just forgot that he put that bear trap out there, where the Willet children always went playin’, or not. I also don’t know if Cleetus got the idea in his head before or after eatin’ that leg. Maybe he just hated Joseph for all the wealth he brought to Suamp County with his devil-spawn kids, and thought he’d get him good. Maybe the frog fairytale comin’ true was the last straw, even if it only came half-true. Maybe it was the way Joseph’s straight teeth grinned as if God himself wasn’t makin’ a fool out of him with his half-frog wife. Who knows? I donna’ know, myself.
Slim pickings tonight, ain’t it? Real shame, too. I got a hankerin’ for it somethin’ fierce. By the way, you got a nice set of legs on you…

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