Another Chicago Magazine

Two Stories by Ben Loory

The Frog and the Bird

A frog was hopping along one day– he was a young frog, and hadn’t seen much– and he wasn’t really looking where he was going, and abruptly, he fell in a hole.

The hole was deep– very, very deep– especially for such a small frog.

He tried hopping out, but had to give up. He knew he could never hop that high.

He looked around the hole, but there was no other exit– there was just no way out.

Help me! cried the frog, at the top of his lungs.

But only the wind blew by.

Help me! cried the frog. Please, someone, please!

But no one answered his call.

And it was only when the frog finally started to cry that a shadow fell across the hole.

And as soon as the shadow fell, the frog got a bad feeling. He stopped and wiped his eyes and looked up.

The shadow resolved into the shape of a bird.

A bird with a long, sharp bill.

Uh-oh, said the frog, as the bill came jabbing down. It came rattling and stabbing into the hole. It was snapping and biting, trying to get the frog.

Stop! cried the frog. Stop! Leave me alone!

But the bird didn’t stop– its bill just kept coming. The frog hopped about, trying to stay out of range. He kept bumping and smashing against the walls of the hole.

I’m too young to die! he kept saying.

But the bird didn’t care– the bird just ignored him. It was way too intent on its work. It kept jabbing and stabbing. It was so hungry! So hungry! It just wanted to eat the frog up!

But after a while, the frog finally realized that the hole was just a little too deep– no matter how far down the bird jabbed its beak into the hole, it couldn’t reach.

Especially if the frog cowered in the corner, and lay flat against the bottom, which he did.

And finally, the bird realized it was hopeless, too.

Stand up so I can eat you, it said.

No! said the frog. I’m not going to do that.

Oh come on, why not? said the bird. You’re just gonna die in this hole anyway. And I’m hungry!

I hope you starve! said the frog.

That made the bird mad. It jabbed its beak down again and it snapped and snicked and snapped at the frog’s head.

All right! I’m sorry! Stop! said the frog.

I’m gonna crunch your bones! the bird said.

But that’s all I am! said the frog. I’m just bones! You don’t want me– I’m still underdeveloped! Go and find yourself an all-grown-up frog! They’ll taste much better, I promise!

The bird stopped jabbing. It peered down into the hole.

Step into the light, it said.

The frog thought about it. Then, slowly, he moved forward– though he made sure he was still out of reach.

The bird peered down at the frog for a bit.

It’s true, you’re pretty skinny, it said.

Yeah, said the frog.

He sucked in his gut.

I’m pretty much nothing, he said.

The bird thought a moment. It made a look of distaste.

All right, forget it, it said.

And it turned from the hole and started to walk away.

Wait, wait! Come back! the frog said.

The bird came back. It peered into the hole.

Well, what now? it said.

You can’t just leave me down here! said the frog.

Oh yeah? Why not? said the bird.

It’s not right, said the frog. I’ll die if you leave me here!

So what do I care? said the bird. You didn’t care if I starved to death.

It’s not the same thing! said the frog.

Isn’t it? said the bird. I don’t see how it’s different. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to go live.

Wait! said the frog.

What? said the bird.

Maybe we can make a deal, the frog said.

A deal? said the bird. Like, what kind of deal?

How’s about this, said the frog. You help me out of this hole– and then you let me live– and you can eat me when I’m all grown up.

That way, he said, at least I can live a bit. See what life is all about.

Life is about eating, said the bird, and that’s all. I can tell you that right now.

Maybe, said the frog. I really wouldn’t know. But how’s about it, do we have a deal?

How long does it take you to get grown up? said the bird.

Oh, said the frog. About a year.

The bird thought about it.

One year? it said.

One year, said the frog. That’s all.

And you’ll get really big? And juicy? said the bird.

My parents were huge, said the frog.

All right, said the bird, and stuck its beak down in the hole, and the frog reached up and grabbed hold, and the bird raised him up and out of the hole and set him gently on the ground.

Thank you, said the frog, brushing himself off.

A year is a year, said the bird.

I know, said the frog. I’ll see you then.

And he turned and started to hop off.

Hey, said the bird. Where do you think you’re going?

What do you mean? said the frog.

I’m not stupid, said the bird. You can’t just run away. I’m not letting you out of my sight.

Well, said the frog. If that’s what you want.

That’s what I want, said the bird.

The two of them looked at each other for a bit.

So what’s your name? said the frog.

My name? said the bird. What does that matter?

If we’re gonna travel together, said the frog, I should probably know– I mean, what if there’s an avalanche and I have to tell you to move?

Seems unlikely, said the bird. But it’s Elisander.

Elisander, said the frog. Wow.

Shut up, said the bird. And you? What’s yours?

Oh, it’s just Henry, said the frog.

Well, then, Henry, said the bird, what’s the plan? Where do you want to go first?

I don’t know, said the frog. What place is good?

Well, there’s the lake, said the bird.

So the frog and the bird went down to the lake. They stood for a while on the shore. The bird reached in and pulled out a fish.

I like those too, said the frog.

So the frog went in and gobbled up a fish. He climbed back onto the bank and burped.

After that, the two of them wandered about.

Where are you from? said the bird.

Texas, said the frog. What about you?

They called it Minnesota, said the bird.

I haven’t been there, said the frog. Is it nice?

I don’t know, nice enough, said the bird.

They talked a bit more, about this and about that, and later, when it got dark, they settled down. They spent the night inside an old tree.

In the morning, they got up and moved on.

The two traveled together all over the place. They traveled mostly north through the spring. They spent the summer and fall in the mountains. And in the winter, they went south again.

The frog saw and learned about all kinds of things. He got pretty good at singing songs.

Sing the one about the bird again, the bird often said. You know how much I like that one.

And meanwhile, of course, the frog was getting older– older, and bigger, too. He was getting visibly fatter every single day.

They didn’t talk about it, but they knew.

And finally, one day, early in the spring, the frog stopped hopping and cleared his throat.

Hey listen, he said, Elisander– there’s something we gotta talk about.

Yeah? said the bird. And what would that be?

Well, it’s been a year, the frog said. You kept up your end, and now I’ll keep mine. And thanks for being such a friend.

Friend? said the bird, looking at the frog askance– and eyeing his plump, juicy rolls.

You’re going to be so delicious, it said. I’ve been waiting for this for so long!

And the frog closed his eyes, and the bird opened its beak– and it reached out and gobbled the frog up.

Then it spat him back out!

And the two of them laughed, and they went and ate ants from a hollow log.


The Woman, the Letter, the Mirror, and the Door

One day the woman gets a letter in the mail. She opens it up and starts to read.

I am your long-lost twin, the letter says. Please, would you like to meet me?

The woman takes a breath. She stares at the letter. She has always wanted to meet her long-lost twin. But still, she finds her hands are shaking.

She gets up and goes into the bathroom.

Should I go? says the woman, to the woman in the mirror. Should I go? Should I meet my long-lost twin?

The woman in the mirror considers for a moment.

Then she simply shakes her head.

The woman tears the letter up and throws it in the trash. She tries to go on with her life. She sits in her house and acts like nothing’s happened.

But a week later, another letter arrives.

Please, the letter says. I’ve waited my whole life. I’d really like to meet you while there’s still time.

The woman turns her head in the direction of the bathroom.

Then she grabs her keys and quickly sneaks outside.

The woman drives across town to the address on the letter. She parks outside and stares at the house. She opens her compact to check on her makeup– and finds the woman in the mirror staring back.

What are you doing? says the woman in the mirror.

I’m going to meet my long-lost twin, the woman says.

No you’re not, the woman in the mirror says loudly. You’re going straight home, right now.

No I’m not! says the woman. I’m tired of doing what you say. And I’m tired of always being alone.

You always were selfish, says the woman in the mirror.

In answer, the woman clicks the compact shut.

She opens the car door and stands looking at the house. She walks up the walk and rings the bell.

After a while, footsteps can be heard.

The door opens, and a man is standing there.

The man and the woman look at each other. They look almost exactly alike. After a while, the man starts to smile.

Would you like to come in? he says.

The woman goes inside. She stands there in wonder. The inside of the house looks exactly like her own. The woman can’t believe it. She looks at the man.

What’s the matter? he says. Is something wrong?

No, says the woman.

She looks toward the bathroom.

Do you have one too? she says.

One what? says the man.

The woman looks at him.

Oh, she says. Nevermind.

The two sit on the couch. The man talks for a while, but the woman finds she can’t concentrate.

Will you excuse me a minute? she says, putting down her cup.

Oh yes, of course, the man says.

The woman stands up and goes into the bathroom. For a moment, she stands staring at the floor.

Then she steels herself and looks up, into the mirror.

But the woman in the mirror isn’t there.

There’s nothing there, in fact, on the other side of the mirror — it’s just the bathroom, empty, with no one in it. The woman looks down at herself to be sure.

Then she stretches one hand toward the mirror.

The mirror gives a ripple as her hand moves right through it– and then, there it is, on the other side. The woman pulls it back, stares at it a moment.

Then she climbs up onto the sink.

One leg first, and then the other, and then the rest of her, the woman moves through the mirror’s frame.

She emerges into the other bathroom.

Then she turns, and looks in the mirror again.

And now, there in the mirror, the woman sees herself– just her reflection looking back.

Hello? she says– and her other lips move, too.

Then both of them begin to laugh.

Everything okay? says a voice.

The woman, startled, turns. She realizes her brother’s outside the door.

Oh yes, she says. I’ll be out in a minute.

Actually, come in here! she calls out.

The knobs turns, and the door opens, and her brother’s face appears.

Come here, come here, the woman says.

He walks into the room. They stand before the mirror.

Just look at this, she says.

For a moment, the two of them stand looking at each other.

Then he smiles, and she smiles, too.

Can I tell you, he says, how I finally found you?

And she says yes.

And her reflection says it, too.