Alphus Gibb kept to himself mostly, and his birds, and his fireplace. He liked to warm himself with tea and hot chocolate. His mother believed that peppermint tea would cure anything, from menstrual cramps to bloody noses, and Alphus had inherited this drinking habit.
One day, his half-sister Suzan, who lived in the next town over, called his phone. “Hello Alphus,” she said. “This is your sister, Suzan. I was wondering if you’d be interested in a pet frog.” Pet frog! Suzan was a biologist. She had wanted to study the absurdities of life since the operation that had made her Alphus’s “half” sister.
Suzan was born a conjoined identical twin. She and Lisa were attached at the hip, well, pelvis. One of them facing forward and the other backward. Or both facing forward, from their individual perspectives, and both of their sisters facing back. Masha, their mother, decided that they were okay just like that. “If they can survive, then how is it logical to separate them?” She reasoned. She also figured it would be easier for her this way, only having to keep track of one, besides Alphus, of course.
The girls were four when Alphus was born. When they were ten, the girls started getting very sick. Lisa looked the worse for it. They were both fatigued and pale. Black splotches started appearing all over their body, and from these splotches hard nubbins started to form. As the weeks passed, these nubbins started becoming all-out horns. Little horns everywhere. After about a year of this, Masha took her children to the doctor.
The doctor was quite pleased that Alphus’s eyes were completely open after being shut for the first couple years of his life. Now they were sleepy-looking and a darling shade of blue. The doctor was less pleased about the sisters’ horny condition.
“Now Masha, why didn’t you come to see me sooner?” The doctor asked. Masha looked at him with compassion and tried to help him understand, “Dr. Hootzenhouse, I am under the impression that adversity is the good soil of character. I didn’t want to rob my girls of that. It is only practical to start growing their thick skin early. It helps tremendously in dealing with the world.”
Doctor Hootzenhouse gave his customary nod of ascent. Still, he said, “And despite all that, I am glad you brought them in. Your girls have a severe case of Raptor Pocks. It’s got their innards in a pickle; the livers, both, are weak. Hearts are palpitating. Lisa’s spleen has run dry. And they’ve developed eczema, which is unrelated. The only cure for this is eggs.”
“Eggs?” said Masha.
“Yes, eggs” replied the doctor, “scrambled, poached, in a tortilla, on Sundays, through the holidays, before church and after, over easy, dry, with bacon, with Mr. Benedict, nested, sunny side up, in the rain, hard boiled, omelets, even deviled if you are willing to put in the work. And don’t forget drowsy eggs and brown eggs and eggs put in a stack and ones in your back pack and those cooked on the sidewalk and frozen and pickled and whipped into jelly. And put a little bit of egg in your salads; I find that delicious.”
“Do they have to be chicken eggs?” said Masha.
“I think that’s your best bet.”
When I was a boy I ate four dozen eggs thought Alphus.
So they ate eggs in all the ways the doctor had suggested. Alphus resented this. His affinity towards things Beauty and the Beast did not extend to the character Gaston. His neck looked like stretched silly putty, the shape of his head was gross, and he did and said nasty things. That his family was embracing Gaston’s eating habits stressed Alphus immensely.
In not too long, the eggs had helped – the girls shed their horns, leaving sharp things all over the carpet – but their cholesterol went through the roof.
Lisa eventually complained of a pain in her calf. When that pain got extreme, the family went back to see doctor Hootzenhouse. The doctor predicted a blood clot in her leg, and suggested that they go to the hospital in the next town.
The town next to what was to become snow country, America was over two hours away. The four, or three, depending on how you look at it, piled into Masha’s economy-sized car. By the time they arrived, the parking lot of the hospital was dark, and it was raining. The lights of the emergency room reflected gold and silver off the puddles. Alphus sat in the front seat of the car; his chest was tight. Everyone had been very quiet. The car had bumped violently as Masha had pulled off the main road.
“Alright Lisa, Suzan, take off your seatbelt” she said before stopping the car. Masha could be very efficient in times of obvious crisis. Alphus watched his mother rush through the emergency room doors that slid open with a pressurized woosh, her arms around his sisters’ waist. She had left the car door open. The entrance to the hospital was lit up all the way around. It had an aura or halo like it was the subject of some medieval painting. Fluorescent light shone from within and the doors accepted his mother and sisters like gracious sliding jaws. He got out and wandered in after them.
He waited in the room with the shiny floors until he fell asleep. When he woke, Masha told him that surgeons had cut his sisters apart. A nurse with short hair stared at him with a sad face. Alphus felt strange to have her looking at him like that. The clot in Lisa’s leg had traveled to her heart, and it was the doctors’ opinion that Suzan’s heart could not pump enough blood for both of them. When they had been separated, Lisa had died. As far as Alphus understood, she had just gone away somewhere. He only saw the one half-sister anymore.
Would Alphus like a pet frog? He had never had a pet before. He wanted his first pet to be perfect. He had considered goldfish, iguanas, puppies, mice, he’d even gone to the store to hold some of them. But he had been unable to make a decision, not knowing which one of them would be perfect.
“A frog would be nice” Alphus said.
“Perfect. I’ll have someone bring it over to you.”
In a few days the messenger arrived. The doorbell rang, and when Alphus answered it, he found a lidded cup sitting on his door mat. He peered into the sip hole to see what was inside.
Alphus was worried the frog would hop away as soon as he opened the cup. He tipped it in the bottom of his largest Tupperware container, holding his breath. He felt slightly dizzy knowing the next couple of minutes were completely unpredictable, worried that the frog might startle him.
Alphus tilted the lid off the cup. Nothing came out. He poured the frog out. It slid out on its back – nose then belly then legs. It’s underbelly was grayish pink, stillborn. Alphus did not understand. It lay there like it had no care for the world using its bulbous eyes as a prop.
Alphus set about making its new home more comfortable. He added some mancala stones for their pretty red and pink colors and some water. He thought that frogs liked water. The frog lay on its back and stretched out its hind legs until all its joints were extended.
Alphus watched it from morning to night. He wanted to get acquainted with it, wanted to know what it was like. It was his pet, his first pet.
In a week, Suzan called to check in. When Alphus told her about how it was acting (Well, I think it’s sort of shy…), she told him to let it go in the backyard.
Alphus could not see the benefit in this. “Alphus,” Suzan explained, “in biology we learn that sometimes after something bad happens, animals stop moving just like your frog. They don’t respond when you talk to them; they won’t eat the food you set out for them. It’s best if you just throw it into the backyard.”
“It’ll be in a better place” she added.
Alphus was sorry about this. He wrapped his burgundy robe around him and stepped onto the end of the porch. The yard of snow was spread in front of him. He bent his head over his frog, and it was then that he noticed the smell. It was putrid; he felt like retching. Alphus held on to the container and hurled his frog away. The frog flew, the stiff hind legs tumbling over forelegs over nose, body, belly, eyes. The pretty stones flew too, disappearing into the long-dead raspberry bushes.
Alphus went inside and cried a little bit. He decided he wanted nothing more to do with biology; Suzan could keep it to herself.
Outside, the quail cult had its first quaily sacrifice. They pecked the frog’s body with no remorse, and the frog didn’t mind either because it was