Gateways: “Don’t Worry About the Frogs” by Eliza Marley read by Gaby Fernandez

TRANSCRIPT: Eliza Marley lives in Rogers Park and spends her time drinking tea by the lake when it’s not closed and watching old horror movies. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s creative writing program. She is a writer of magic realism and likes to explore the folds in the fabric of reality and how they become see-through if you hold them up to a light.

Something needed to be done about the croaking. The constant noise from beneath Sandy’s window had been driving her insane for days. Sandy’s apartment was bare, possessions still packaged in cardboard boxes, mattress on the floor in a corner. There was nothing to do but lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and listen to the croaking. She had closed the window already, but the frogs were still there, calling out to anyone who would listen. Sandy started to look for an empty container. 

She had a soup pot buried somewhere, that would be perfect. Or a cassurel tray. But for now, a shoe box that had held CDs would have to do. The frogs had been eggs when Sandy moved in, a few weeks ago. A small cluster, laid too late into the season right into the stagnant water of the small courtyard pond of her building. Sandy figured they would never hatch. But they did, small tadpoles swimming back and forth through the shallow water. Now they were fully grown, stuck in that pond, wading back and forth with nowhere to go. Sandy started to get nervous. 

Sandy had grown up practically out in the woods, suffocated by the long grasses and overbearingly shady trees. It was too noisy, too spread out. Empty and filled at the same time leaving Sandy with a desire for her own little corner of space to fill. The apartment had been perfect until the frogs started. They croaked all the time. She had ignored it for the last few days, focused on her own bare walls and trying to get up the nerve to unpack. It kept her up at night and enough was enough. 

Sandy took the shoe box down to the courtyard. She padded across the gravel and scooped up the frogs. They didn’t even put up a fight. There were five of them, small, probably not getting enough to eat. In the morning she could find somewhere to take them. They would like a nice park, somewhere with more bugs. It was darker than she remembered. The street lights had come on now. The iron gate at the front of the building was creaking and Marrissa would be home soon. 

Sandy wasn’t sure if Marrissa was her real name. The girl looked about Sandy’s age and always came home at night, long brown hair plastered against her head and tired feet shuffling through the gate. She was a waitress, probably. Marrissa lived in the apartment across the courtyard from Sandy. Their ground floor windows were perfectly aligned. Sandy had watched that first night as Marrissa slammed the gate shut loudly and with clinking keys made her way into her own apartment. Lights on, she had disappeared for a minute, before returning in pajama pants with a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. Sandy had watched from her own window while Marrissa hopped around her cluttered apartment, dancing to a song Sandy couldn’t hear. Marrissa had made coffee that night and poured it into a mug before going out of view and turning off the light. Sandy had wondered why Marrissa would brush her teeth before making coffee. But that wasn’t the sort of question Sandy wanted to introduce herself with and neither was explaining why she had a wet box of frogs. Sandy hurried back inside, water already leaking through the shoe box and dampening her sweatshirt. She hurried through the apartment, leaving behind a trail of water all the way to the bathroom. She carefully dumped the frogs into her bathtub and ran the water so they had something to swim in. Looking around at her empty bathroom, Sandy floated the lid of the shoe box in the bathtub so they could float on it. The soggy bottom half she left in the sink. The frogs were quiet now, taking in their new surroundings. Now, Sandy could find her soup pot and take them to a park tomorrow morning. 

A loud sound from the window brought Sandy back out from the bathroom. She peered out and watched as the light of Marrissa’s window came on. There were string lights framing the window and lacy, yellow curtains she always kept open. Sandy could see a framed poster of some people dancing and a white cabinet that had a microwave and coffee maker balanced on top of it. Sandy imagined the rest of her apartment was just as brightly decorated. Marrissa put something into the microwave and then walked back out of view. 

It made Sandy think of the house she had left. It had been creaky and colorful, filled with sun from mismatched windows and brightly painted cabinets. There had been plants and art strewn about. It was always filled with the buzz of chatter or flies in the summer. Now, she sat alone in a fold out chair surrounded by long, blank walls. The plainess had calmed her, a quiet buzz of potential that matched the hum of traffic outside her window at night. But it had quickly become overwhelming, too much space and no sense how to fill it. 

The frogs were croaking again from the bathroom. Sandy sighed and stepped away from the window and went to rustle through the fridge. Her sock dragged through the water left behind, soaking it. There seemed to be more water than she thought. Sandy grabbed an apple and went back to the window. The frogs continued. 

Marrissa was back, shuffling back and forth through the apartment. Sandy opened her window and could hear the rustle of wind through the trees that lined their street but could not hear anything from Marrissa’s window. She wished she could know what the other girl was listening to, what sort of music made her want to dance. Sandy finished the apple and moved to check on the frogs. Stepping back, her already damp sock dragged through the wet floor. This was definitely more water than there had been before. There was now a thin stream making its way across her floor, pooling in the middle of her studio. 

Sandy ran back to the bathroom. Had she left the bathtub running? Did one of the frogs manage to start the shower? The croaking inside the bathroom continued. Sandy pushed against the door but it was stuck. She pushed harder and the door opened, ripping through the vines that had grown over it and letting out a torrent of cold, murky water that splashed over her and into the rest of the apartment. 

Sandy took in the sight before her. There was water in her bathroom but it wasn’t coming from anything Sandy could see. It rose above the toilet and a bit below the sink. Sandy rubbed her wet socks against the ground and felt dirt and sediment instead of the off-white tiles of her floor. On top of the water was a thick layer of green algae. Looking in, it seemed like it had always been there. There were lily pads with roots that swayed in the water. Vines crawled up her walls and hung down from her shower. The frogs were there, a couple swimming through the water. A couple more resting on the lilypads. One was sat on the shoe box lid, floating by slowly. The lid had a small sprout growing out of it. The frogs looked at her impassive, still croaking. 

The marsh stayed put after Sandy closed her eyes. She squeezed them shut, counted to ten slowly, and could still see the roots of the lily pads wading in the water. There was a soft buzzing and Sandy watched a frog shoot out its tongue to catch a beetle flying by. Sandy took a step back, closing the bathroom door against the stream of water and moss flowing out. Enough water had gotten into the apartment to make a shallow pool. Minnows were swimming near her kitchen island. Moss was starting to grow up the sides of her fridge. 

Sandy’s moving boxes had gotten wet and soggy, starting to sag and topple into the shallow water. Sandy reached into one and pulled out a mug, small and blue with a chip on the handle. Sandy took another look at her drowned mattress and the dragonflies that were now circling it. She walked to the front door. 

The cattails were starting to pop up now in clumps. Sandy carefully opened the front door and stepped out into the hall. She peeled off her wet socks and tossed them back inside. They sank in the rising water and Sandy spotted her apple core bobbing along the surface. She quickly closed the door before anything could escape. 

Out in the hall, Sandy did the best to squeeze out the water from her leggings and sweatshirt. The fabric was cold and heavy. Sandy wiped down her hair with her sleeves and made her way down the hall with her mug. She figured it was as good a time as any to have some coffee with a neighbor.

Gaby Fernandez is the Special Events Manager at Otherworld Theatre. She has been an ensemble member since 2018, and loves creating, performing, and discovering new works with such a diverse and unique company. She has been professionally acting since she arrived in Chicago over 4 years ago, and fell in love with the Chicago storefront theatre scene.