Ribbitt, the Frog Who Couldn’t
by David Adès
Once upon a pond — or perhaps it was a pool, a lake, a swamp or a marsh, for this was in the wetlands where water lay everywhere in ponds and pools and lakes and swamps and marshes and there was little place for footprints — there lived a great colony of frogs in a place they called Ribbittsville.
There were other colonies around, with equally predictable names: Croakertown, Hopalong and Jumpit to name some of them.
Frogs aren’t particularly imaginative when it comes to naming things. This was true of their names, too. Most were called Ribbitt or Croaker or Hoppy or variations of such names. One particularly languorous frog took the name Hippy Happy Hoppy, but he was an eccentric, one of those who want to be an exception to the rule. No one paid him much attention, but then no one much minded him either, and he happily joined the nightly chorus.
The most common name was Ribbitt, which for some reason, despite its commonness, was regarded by its bearers as a name of considerable pride. This was true in every case but one. For there was one young frog called Ribbitt who couldn’t. Try as he might, he just couldn’t ribbitt. He couldn’t croak.
He could hop with the best of them; there was nothing wrong with his movement. There was nothing wrong with his appearance. There was really nothing wrong with him at all, except that he couldn’t find his voice. That failing — for he regarded it as such, and he knew that the rest of Ribbittsville, whether it was ever mentioned or not, also regarded it as such — was a catastrophe that weighed heavily upon him.
Ribbitt was unhappy. Ribbitt was sad. He was down in his froggy mouth and his froggy face grew longer and longer.
Ribbitt was surrounded by frogs, and yet he felt utterly alone. It wasn’t that other frogs avoided him. Some would approach him and give a companionable croak. They would wait expectantly for a response that he was unable to make, before they eventually hopped away, leaving behind an air of mild reproach.
Others, who knew that Ribbitt was unable to croak, settled themselves beside him and maintained their own silence. They were sociable, these frogs, and not judgmental.
The problem was that Ribbitt was so overcome by shame that behind his silence — his inability to ribbitt or croak — grew another silence, deliberate and purposeful. It was he who was avoiding them.
Feeling himself outcast, he made himself outcast. His mouth turned further downwards, his face grew even longer and even his hops seemed to lose their spring. Lost in himself, he began to diminish.
Despite this, Ribbitt did not leave the colony. He did not look for a place where he could be truly alone. Glum, morose, isolated, alone, he remained in the presence of frogs. They were all around him, and he remained visible, even if he felt invisible.
In one version of this story, things could have carried on this way until Ribbitt became so diminished that he disappeared altogether. Not in this version though.
Ribbitt was a young and healthy frog. He was strong and agile. For all his despair he ate well. The frog colonies flourished because there was nothing to prevent them and so much to sustain them in these waters that physically Ribbitt flourished, too.
One day Ribbitt was minding his own business, looking downcast as usual, when there was a loud plop nearby.
Ribbitt turned and saw a young frog sitting before him. He had long given up on friendship and, following a now established habit, turned to hop away from her. She jumped and sat before him again, impeding him. She opened her mouth as if to croak, but, before she could do so, Ribbitt jumped again. Lightning-fast, she matched his jump and landed again in front of him.
Unnerved, Ribbitt paused to gather himself. His guard momentarily breached, he allowed himself fleeting admiration at her speed and the precision of her jumping before being swamped by consternation. She was watching him with unwavering eyes.
The frog knew about Ribbitt.
Unnoticed, she had been watching him for some time. She knew of his misery, and she knew also that beneath his misery lay something else, something that perhaps she alone could uncover. She knew her own heart too, and her heart had set her upon a course she would not oppose, a course that insisted that Ribbitt notice her as she had noticed him.
Ribbitt’s legs tensed. Reflexively he jumped again. Once more she matched his jump and plopped in front of him. This time he didn’t wait, but jumped immediately. She anticipated everything about the jump: its speed, length, direction and, with her speed, had managed to pre-empt it, turning in the air as she also jumped. Ribbitt landed on top of her.
Even as he was registering the shock of what had just happened, Ribbitt felt an unaccustomed physiological response to the sense of her body beneath him. Before he could respond to that, he heard a voice in his head.
‘This is awkward’, the voice said, with the hint of a trap having been set.
Ribbitt jumped then, not entirely by design. He turned around and faced her, noticing for the first time that she was a fine frog, with the body of an athlete and just the right mottling of her skin. There was a certain satisfaction on her face. Oh yes, he had noticed her all right.
Hearing a voice in his head was a completely new experience for Ribbitt, and it terrified him. This frog and that voice had crashed through his solitude, crashed through every barrier he had lived with for so long. The world was suddenly a different place.
‘The name is Croakette,’ the voice resumed, ‘with the emphasis on ette.’ She opened her mouth again as if to croak, but no sound emerged. ‘You see’, she continued, ‘I can’t croak either. Or ribbitt. As it happens, I have developed some other skills.’ There was a tinkle of satisfaction in her voice, of mild self-mockery at her understatement.
Ribbitt faced Croakette seemingly paralysed. The darkness lifted. Light blazed in Ribbitt’s heart where it had not blazed before. Croakette appeared to him then as if under a blazing light, headstrong, irreverent, magnificent, undeniably beautiful. ‘Oh’, he thought to himself, ‘my Ribbittsin, my beautiful Ribbittsin.’
‘I heard that,’ came Croakette’s immediate response.
Copyright © 2014 by David Adès