It was five feet away. The giant toad, right in front of Rafe. All kids knew about the giant toad. Older kids told younger kids and scared the littlest ones with wide grins, growls, and stuck out tongues. Nobody’d ever seen it, and even if they said they had, no one survived the playground interrogation that followed. Cindy boasted that she’d seen it. She was only four.
“It hop hop hopped across the street,” she insisted, “Right in front of our car!”
“Did your mom see it? Come on let’s go ask your mom,” the playground kids demanded. It never stopped after that. She was Toad Girl from then on.
Because of all the nastiness he would face, Rafe was not happy to see it. He was alone on the path, which was good. However, he wasn’t one to keep things inside, and knew that he would be confronted by playground lawyers and school bullies if he should utter a word about this…He was even hesitant to say ‘toad’ in his mind in case it stuck and he would have to say it to relieve the pressure of holding it in.
Rafe had come by this spot on the deer path leading to the creek hundreds of times before. It had always been a large mossy spot. Now, sitting on this moss, was the giant toad. As toads go, Rafe thought, this wasn’t much different, only bigger. Big grin, round eyes, sitting on all fours, with its back like a right triangle.
“His tongue will dart out and git you, and swallow you whole,” the older kids said to younger ones.
But this toad just sat. Its size was such that five feet away, Rafe was not safe from its tongue. Yet, somehow this giant toad didn’t frighten him.
“I hear you grant wishes,” Rafe said, not expecting any answer.
“Wow, that was quick,” said the giant toad, “Greed is taught early in your generation, Raphael.”
Rafe stepped back a step. Its mouth hadn’t moved. Toads can’t talk. He looked around for big kids in bushes, but saw nothing. He regained some composure and responded, “Wait, how do you know the name Raphael, only mom calls me that.”
“I have known you since you were just a wobbly thing holding your mother’s hand as she walked you down to the creek for your first swim,” said the giant toad, “I believe a white butterfly fascinated you and you let go of mother’s hand, grasped for the insect, then fell unceremoniously on your bottom.”
Rafe stared. However, he was not to be intimidated by this all-knowing giant. “Whatever…What do they call you, anyway?” Rafe asked.
“Your Majesty,” said the monarch.
“Are you a king or something?” asked Rafe.
“A Queen, Raphael. Isn’t it obvious?” asked the Toad Queen.
“Not really,” said Rafe, “and don’t call me Raphael. I don’t like Raphael, it’s a dumb name.”
“To the contrary, my young, man, Raphael takes three big leaps as it pronounces itself. Ralph-a-el. See how it bounds along the path like a deer? You try it.”
Rafe shook his head. He was sure only about some things, and this was one he was most sure about, and that he was Rafe. Rafe believed Raphael was his mother’s way of torturing him. But he wasn’t going to stop her because, well because, that’s who she was and he was all right about that.
“You’re about ten now, is that it?” asked the Toad Queen.
“Ten in June and old enough for my own bike, not Stuart’s old broken one,” said Rafe.
“Ah, Stuart. He doesn’t come here anymore. He has other interests now,” said the Toad Queen.
“Yeah, football. About that bike. You do give for wishes, right?” asked Rafe.
A sigh wafted through the forest. It stank like mud at low tide in the marshes where the forest creek emptied out. “Such a small wish for a small boy. Others have dreamed much bigger than you,” said the Toad Queen.
“It is certainly not my wish,” said Rafe, “I was just testing you to see if you were what everyone says you are. If you’re a Queen, show me something Queenly.”
“Queenly! A word filled with contempt. Something spat out that says nothing because it presumes to already know of what it speaks. Yet again, it is full of ignorance about the subject. It’s a throw-away, an undignified utterance from someone who has but a small and insignificant mind. Queenly. Come on, do better, or I will end this conversation,” said the Queen.
“Sorry your majesty,” Rafe mumbled. He went into a quiet place. He defied the world, sometimes too much, and his quiet place was where he could reflect and then move forward, less belligerently. “It is, Your Majesty, just that, well, I would like to live forever,” said Rafe.
“Forever? And what meaning do you give forever?” asked the Toad Queen.
“Well,” said Rafe, “Like not dying. Gram died just before Christmas. She was the best Gram anyone could have and she loved being Gram. Then one day they found her in her chair. We had a funeral and all, but she’s gone for good. I don’t want that for me. I want to keep going on.”
“Well,” said the Toad Queen, “The question of forever is one of the biggest, because, you see, it has no end. Now, what if you could see your Gram again?” asked the Toad Queen.
“Can you make that happen?” asked Rafe.
“No, that is beyond my powers. There are some that say we all will be reunited with long dead relatives and friends when we die,” said the Toad Queen.
“I don’t buy that stuff,” said Rafe, “I just think that when you die, you die and are gone. The only thing that is left of you is your bones and thoughts in people’s heads. Then they die and you’re gone for good. That’s why I want to live forever.”
“I do see your point, Raphael. However, one must consider just what it means to live forever. Would you live forever as a ten-year-old boy? Would you be a Gram? Just who would be living forever?” asked the Toad Queen.
“I suppose I don’t want to be old like Gram because she had trouble walking and said her bones ached. Being a kid isn’t all that great. Uh…fourth grade over and over again? How horrible!” said Rafe.
“I sympathize with you on that one. What you have just discovered is the second problem. First you must decide who you will be when you will live forever, and then, second, what will you do? How do you keep from getting bored with life that seems to go on and on? You’ve been bored. You got that video game that everyone wanted, and by day’s end it was set aside, never to be looked at again,” said the Toad Queen.
“Its batteries are probably dead. Anyway, it was a stupid game,” said Rafe.
“A stupid game. Well, how many stupid games will you play if you have forever to live? What if you did everything once, and those things you liked you did again and again until even your most favorite activities bored you? What would you do then if there is nothing more you wanted to do?” asked the Toad Queen.
“I suppose, nothing,” said Rafe.
“And for how long would you do nothing before you wanted to stop doing nothing?” asked the Toad Queen.
“I guess I would just want to die,” said Rafe.
“You can’t die.” said the Toad Queen.
“Yeah,” said Rafe, “I get it now. It doesn’t have to be forever, does it? It just has to be long enough, whatever that is.”
“Was Gram long enough?” asked the Toad Queen.
“For her, I dunno. For me, no,” said Rafe.
“That’s the problem with life, there’s never enough. That’s why some people pine for more, the greatest more…immortality, and never get it. They waste time wishing for it while their own life ticks away. So, is your wish to live forever, or have you another?” asked the Toad Queen.
“No, not any more. You know, Your Majesty, this may sound stupid, but I don’t want to just ask and get, because I’ll just get something I will regret asking for,” said Rafe.
“Raphael, very wise…Sorry to be rude, but I must be off. I hear more children coming and you and I know they mustn’t see us,” said the Toad Queen, who then sprang gracefully across the path and into the woods beyond. Rafe wasn’t so much puzzled by her quick escape, but that he was now strangely calm. He didn’t lash out when the high schoolers taunted him on their way by. He thought to himself that this surely was a better way of looking at the world. “Through toad eyes,” he said to himself and smiled. Of course, he never mentioned the Toad Queen to anyone.