Fat Frog Skinny Frog


While packing up the flat in preparation for the move, I found this butterfly specimen from my Nabokov-obsessed days. I also found a stack of short stories. Here's one. It's a sad, somewhat indulgent but romantic little story "Fat Frog Skinny Frog", the kind that that young people at 25 would write.


Frogs appeared on earth almost 180 million years ago. They therefore deserve some of our attention. We might talk about the weather, the meal we are going to have, that boy or that girl so and so is going to marry, and how our hair grow long - but frogs with their 180 million years of existence do not appear much in our conversations. 

The fact that we do not speak of them does not mean they do not exist. They live in ponds, on trees, underground, and once, not too long ago, there lived two frogs in a well. This story is about these two frogs in the well: Fat Frog and Skinny Frog.

It is not clear how they got there. In the history of the world, it was once said God made frogs fall from the sky. But I can safely say that Fat Frog and Skinny Frog did not fall from the sky and into the well. The wall of concrete around the well was too tall for both frogs to leap over. And both frogs had no memory of how they got there. It must be a child (adults surely had not the time nor cruelty for this) dropped this pair of tadpoles into the well. This would explain why both frogs had no memory of life beyond the well. It could also be that the child grasped both fully grown frogs in his or her hand and threw them down the well. And if so, they would have hurt their heads in that great fall and all memory would have been knocked out.

I would like to believe that memories to a frog are not so important. 

A frog's life is not so long as to be measured by decades. And I doubt that frogs used the same measure of years and minutes. But if they had some knowledge of the three months they spent in the well, they would have thought that this longest three months was a most blissful existence.

This bliss, contrary to popular misjudgments about frogs in wells, was not built on their ignorance of a life outside of the well - of wars and failed treaties, of reluctant parents and the untimely passing of children. Their bliss did not arise from an extravagance of wealth or experience. They did not derive happiness from the contemplation of a better future or even the capture of a beautiful past. It was indeed hard to discern the source of their bliss. For now, it may be sufficient to say that Fat Frog and Skinny Frog were content with the circular world they surveyed; that like children who place their eyes only on each other, they possessed the moment's pleasure.

Mornings are when frogs sleep. So in the daily lives of Fat Frog and Skinny Frog, afternoons and nights were the only times they were awake and could tell each other stories, for storytelling was all they did. In the afternoon, Fat Frog would begin its story, and in the night, Skinny Frog resumed its telling.

All their stories were circular, for the well was so.

Far Frog told of the round pool of water and the rocks that lined its circumference. When Far Frog looked at Skinny Frog, it would speak of how there was so much space there existed in the world for only two frogs. Skinny Frog spoke of the water that skimmed the edges of the world and the rocks that helped contain it. It looked at Fat Frog and told of how wonderful it was that two frogs did not exhaust the space in this world.

On the rocks were cracks that held the most varied grains and colours. And against the wall of the well, the water would sometimes make a dance of gentle curves and laps. The rocks that formed the wall leaned on one another in an endless succession. The water encountered no corners. In this way the well itself seemed singular yet contained multitudes. Could they ever finish telling the story of each ripple, stone, crack and speck of dust? In it they found every nuance of feeling, all prosperity and paucity, every you and I. Held in the circularity of the well, it was possible to speak of "enough", tenuous yet inexhaustible.

But what if, one day, a stone or object not yet found in the well, fell into it?

Let us say that one day, a crow flew by and in its own attempt to speak, a brilliant stone that was held in its beak fell. What a ripple it would cause in the well as this stone hit the water's surface. It was so mighty a ripple that Far Frog paused in the middle of its story. The two frogs looked in the direction of the ripple, and for the first time, they laid eyes on their wavering reflection. 

"Oh look. Two frogs have come to join us in the well." Skinny Frog exclaimed.

"Yes," Far Frog agreed. 

They did not know what to do with this new discovery. They sat staring at their reflection in silence, waiting for either of the new new frogs to speak.

"Hello!" Skinny Frog could not contain its curiosity any longer. "Who are you? Why are you here? Did you just appear? Where did you come from?"

The two new frogs did not reply, although it looked as if the skinnier one had moved its lips. Skinny Frog continued speaking at the reflection, first directing the questions to the fatter one, then to the skinnier one. It was only two days later that Skinny Frog came to the conclusion that the two new frogs were but reflections of themselves.

This revelation stunned Fat Frog. 

"Oh, that is you." Fat Frog pointed at the skinnier reflection, "and that is me." Skinny Frog registered their differences but kept quiet, while Far Frog continued, "Strange how I am almost twice your size...and look, I have a darker spot between my eyes. And I am closer to the rocks than you are. You have a lot more space, don't you, there, to the left of you."

Skinny Frog quickly moved to make up for this disparity in how space was distributed between them, but this altered its view of the well. Skinny Frog looked around it and thought that the stones no longer stood side by side in an endless loop and the water no longer skirted the edgeless edge. No matter how much Skinny Frog shifted, and no matter how much Fat Frog held its breath to appear smaller, they could not achieve an ideal symmetry in their world. 

At about this time, the rains returned from their three months sojourn in another part of the world. 

For the first time, the frogs felt the cold water on their backs. The rain fell into their eyes and stained their faces. They wondered why their well was falling on them and looked up. That night, Skinny Frog looked in the direction of the falling rain and saw that there was another well above them! In fact, there was two. One was contained in an outer ring of grey, Another, must smaller, pale and luminous, floated above. 

"What is that?" Skinny Frog wondered aloud.

Far Frog said without thinking, "the moon in the sky."

"The moon in the sky - how do you know that?" 

Far Frog could not answer Skinny Frog, but that very night, Fat Frog dreamt of the moon and the knowledge of its name. In its dream, Fat Frog saw that it used to live in the moon. And what a life it was surrounded by its beauty! 

From then on, in the afternoons, Fat Frog would speak to Skinny Frog of this moon that would lose and assume a circularity, each time more perfect than the last. As Skinny Frog listened to Fat Frog speak of the indeterminate moon, it would be moving restlessly about, trying to regain the symmetry of its well. At night, Fat Frog leapt as high as it could to try and return to the moon, while Skinny Frog would begin speaking of the brokenness of its view. Both stopped telling each other their circular stories.

This went on for months, maybe even.a year. In its restlessness Skinny Frog starved, and its strife Far Frog wearied. They both died shortly after.

It is not clear whether they had merely lived the span of a frog's life, or they died prematurely from starvation or weariness or both.Death, however, is certain. The well, the sky, the rain, the rocks, the moon -- these are also certain; they survive the death of frogs and outlive even their decay. This is why we continue to talk of wells and moons and skies and rain, but we don't have many stories of frogs, do we?

I will not let the frogs be forgotten. They will be remembered in the generosity of these words - and may fiction, the fantastic and the real, surround and embrace their short lives and give them the longest kiss. 


Popular posts from this blog

miracle man

on a Hou Hsiao Hsien movie set

fear not history

Saying goodbye


Taiwan Number 8

J for Jampulets