Not an Odalisque


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A short story, in case Chirurotsu drops in seeking fiction.


The Toad squats at the front of the classroom. His only animate parts are his eyeballs. At least once he must have moved his hand, because Geoffrey was marked on the forehead, mid-whisper, with chalk at high velocity, but no one witnessed its takeoff or flight. It is the last week of term, and thirty boys ooze sweat and restlessness in a sun cage, memorising Latin verbs.

The Toad’s vigilance can’t defeat us this time. We have a plan. Once an hour The Toad fills his pipe. This requires him to shift his gaze, momentarily, to his tin and tobacco. A short window for action.

This plan has been months in the making. In Spring, Jeremy spotted the breeding toads and called us to share in the grotesque event. Sam had the idea.

Every one of us has a toad, spawned of the copulation we witnessed, hidden in a desk or a pocket. The Toad puts one significant glance out into the room and opens the lid of his desk. Every boy withdraws his toad and, suddenly, thirty toads are loose in the room. Jeremy, struggling, drops his toad box with a clatter and we all freeze. A toad hops from the hands of a still boy. The desk lid stays up and a board rubber flies past my head to clip Jeremy on the ear.

There isn’t a hand or eye out of place when The Toad closes the desk lid. Several seconds pass before he spots a greeny-brown movement in the shadows.

We have high hopes for Sam’s toad. It is the biggest, the wartiest, the most knobbled and gnarled of any of our specimens. The first toad released, it made a great bound towards The Toad’s desk. Now, however, it skulks in the shade behind his chair. Geoffrey’s toad, on the other hand, small and weedy as it is, makes steady progress through the room. Up the left aisle, onto Arthur’s empty chair and then his desk. It sits still for a moment, half hidden in the ink well. The Toad’s eyes fall directly on it, but are drawn quickly to a stirring at the back of the room.

Geoffrey’s toad is eyeing The Toad’s desk. The Toad’s composure is becoming compromised, his eyes dart between half-seen movements and stillnesses about the room. Unsure of what he sees, he unclamps his pipe from his teeth, and sets it down on the top of his desk, then leans forward to peer into the shadows. Out of the corners of our eyes we watch Geoffrey‘s toad. The gulf between the desks and the threat of its detection make the sweat pour from our hands onto our slippery pens. As The Toad begins to sink back to his seat Geoffrey’s hero makes a frog-like leap onto the desk, landing on the very edge and scrabbling up. Scuttling along the desk the tiny toad mounts the pipe.

At first only Sam and I seem to have noticed. In horror, we both fix our gaze on the pipe as The Toad reaches forward. It rises above the desk. Our stares have alerted the others, by the time it reaches The Toad’s mouth, every eye in the room is fixed on The Toad’s face. He glares back, until we bow our heads, then, lighting a match, he brings a flame to the bowl of the pipe. Geoffrey’s toad, feeling its posterior singe, gives a reedy croak and leaps forward into The Toad’s face.

The Toad, making a reedy croak himself, flings his pipe away and bats at the toad falling from his nose. The match, the pipe and its contents bounce and scatter over Sam’s desk, igniting his Latin verbs to a smoulder then to leaping flames. Boys jostling away from the fire trip over each other’s toads, and The Toad himself, raking his surroundings for the amphibian attacker, brings a broad, leather sole down on Sam’s monster. Jeremy, running from the room, yells ‘fire!’ continuously, increasing his speed and volume until he reaches the headmaster’s office. By the time he returns, a crowd of pupils and teachers blocks the door. As the headmaster begins to wade through the crowd, the Toad spots Geoffrey’s innocent amphibian and lunges at it with a shout. He emerges in time to see the Toad slip on the slimy remains of Sam’s monstrous beast and fall into a knot of whole and trampled toads.

For one glorious day, the toad work did not squat on our lives.


Written by Not an Odalisque

December 17, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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