I think we should get married, he says.
He is facing you, but you’re not looking at his face. You’re watching his reflection in the mirrored pie case. Smoke tendrils upward through the heaps of warm whipped cream, curling over the half-eaten mounds of meringue. Did you hear me? He says. You say yes.
He repeats himself anyway. We should get married, he says. His parents sit beside him, also smoking. They are a certain kind of parent. You don’t get it. You can’t get over the fact that they are still here, smoking. They’re the kind of parents who follow their children everywhere. They’re bored. They stir their red splatters of ketchup around in the egg yolks.
They dabble the mix like it’s bonfire fuel for the crisp twig-like stacks of potatoes.
You look at yourself in the mirror this time. You imagine yourself as a pie.
You tell him, you’re just kidding, right? He frowns. You frown back. Why?
He looks at his father who looks at his mother who looks at your freckles and nods.
He says, because you’re the most beautiful girl in the world.
Am I really? You ask. He says, yes.
Really really? You ask. Look around you, he says. Do you see anyone who looks better?
You look around. You feel like your skin is absorbing the grease from his parents’ eggs. They’re channeling the grease and sending signals through your pores.
You’re in a restaurant called Spring View. You’re in the far back corner booth. There’s a series of framed brown-toned pictures of pheasants along the left wall. The series repeats itself on the right wall, same order. There’s a long strip of window. Across from the window, a strip mall.
The walls are painted peeling strips of forest green. The forest is so dark it’s turning black.
The name Spring View makes you think of catching frogs. Every year, the spring rains flood your basement window wells. The waves of flooded frogs splash up against the glass. You see them blinking at you. You blink back.
You see their webbed hands flattening, defining the space in between you.
You’re a compassionate girl, so every spring you try to save the frogs. They burrow into crevices of muddy rotting leaves. You spend hours in your rain boots, scooping the frogs into bright plastic buckets. You stomp in your boots. You kneel down in the dirt to look deep into corners. When your bucket’s full of frogs, you scurry back up the side of the window well.
Your scraping boots probably squish up some frogs along the way. You pretend not to notice.
Once you save the frogs, you’re never sure quite what to do with them. There’s no water nearby and you can’t really tell where they come from. You release them in the tall grass that surrounds the tall dark woods. As you head off to clean out the buckets, birds of prey swoop down to swallow them. Sometimes you find the frog guts strewn around your backyard. You step over them and pretend not to know what they are.
Well, says his mom, are you two getting married or what? She stubs out her cigarette, smearing the nicotine ring on the green glass ashtray.
I still don’t know, you tell her. You look down. I need some time to think.
You don’t need time to think, she says. That’s why God made you beautiful.
One year, the rain comes hard, and the window wells fill up with more frogs than usual. They peer at you from froggy piles, climbing over each other to get a good look. You are the most beautiful girl in the world, after all.
You pour all the frogs into dozens of buckets and line them up on the back deck. The sun comes out. The sun’s brightness clouds up your beautiful head. You wander upstairs thinking you still need to curl your hair. You spend the whole afternoon watching the curls getting smaller and smaller, the light reflecting off the little spirals.
When you’re done, you step onto the deck to flounce out your curls in the open air. Then, you notice the buckets of frog bodies dried up, their little bones all poking out. Their ribs are tearing through their leathered skin, their stick arms frozen and outstretched in terror. A tear slips down your cheek. The tear leaves a flesh-colored streak in your bubble pink blush.
You toss the frogs into the woods from the usual spot. This year, you tell yourself you’re feeding jerky to the birds.
You decide to get married. Your wedding takes place in the spring. You have the ceremony inside on the top floor of the building. You tell him you’re scared of your new satin shoes getting wet.
Your hair is pinned back tight and smoothly ironed out. It’s twirled up in the back like a crisp twist of hardened caramel candy. You look out the window and think of the frogs getting trapped, getting eaten, and trod upon. You try to hold back your tears so you won’t stain your makeup. You have to stay pretty, today of all days. You let your thoughts get stuck up in the glue haze of your hairspray.
You look up and you realize the priest is staring at you. He’s bug-eyed. His lips aren’t moving. He waits for your lips to take their place. He snatches a peek at your cleavage before you snap out of it.
Oh, you say, I’m sorry. Yes. Of course. Of course. I do.
That year, somehow the window wells burst open. All the fountains of frogs and the mud and the rotting leaves, sludge, stones, and frog guts pour into the basement. They hop around, getting green slime on the walls, soaking shit through floor, croaking, chirping. They look for the beautiful girl. Where did she go?
They don’t know what they’ll do when they find her. They don’t plan that far in advance.
The frogs don’t understand that you have moved away. They have no way of knowing that the wells extend into the house. The frogs have no way to get into the woods without the most beautiful girl in the world. The frogs don’t understand that they’ll probably die either way.
You hate the way the smell of smoke clings to your hair. You tell him, can’t you and your parents go smoke somewhere else? He says, the smell is never really bad if you’re the one who makes it. Here, he says. He lights a cigarette and puts it in your mouth.
But won’t I get addicted? You ask, knowing that you will.
He smiles. I don’t think you can get addicted from one cigarette.
You do get addicted from one cigarette. You sit around the Spring View in the back booth with his parents. You start to notice all the withered spots around his mother’s jaw line. You decide to think they’re bits of food that stuck there.
You look at yourself in the mirrored pie case. All the pies have been eaten away. It’s just you, sucking in your cheeks. You exhale through your nose. Your bubble blush has been replaced with shallow grayish hollows.
He looks at you through half slit eyes as if to say he’s sorry, but his parents both still have the same expression.
He speaks to your reflection in the pie mirror when he breathes in, stubs his cigarette, and says we should have kids.
< Megan Boyle
Molly Gaudry >