Waiting for the Frogs to Sing
Jason sat inside a resort cottage, in the darkness. He didn't turn on the television, or even a lamp. Instead, he listened to the frogs. Their calming rhythm drowned out his panic, prevented him from thinking. Thinking about the man who would soon be dead: Roger Moreton.
He had seen Moreton before--a few months ago, coming out of the boss's office back in Melbourne. He was of slight built, almost like a wraith, with wisps of downy blond hair that seemed to float around his head. His eyes were rimmed red and his nose runny, as if he had been crying. Or doing drugs.
The boss had followed Moreton out the door, silently, like a cat stalking its prey, and stood in the doorway, watching him leave the building. Then he gave Jason the thumbs down. A Caesar of the underworld dictating his pleasures.
"But you promised--" Jason whispered
"Just one more time, Jason," the boss said.
One more time. Another phone call to wait for. Another lie to Helen before he could live a normal life with her. One more dead man.
When evening fell, Jason slid open the window glass and listened through the mosquito netting, breathing in the warm air, heavy with remembered rain.
Crock, crock, chirp. Sopranos and baritones, light hearted and thoughtful, they sang in harmony, in syncopation, or simply out of tune. Jason didn't care how they sang. As long as he heard their voices he could stifle the one within himself, the one he didn't want to hear.
At times the frogs would stop abruptly, like an orchestra falling mute at the flick of the conductor's baton. The silence they left was absolute, and Jason felt stunned, as if his heart had suddenly stopped beating. But soon a lone croak sounded, hesitant at first, then gaining strength as others joined in. The rhythm continued, and Jason leaned back in his chair, feeling his heartbeat resume.
Tonight, the frogs were quieter than usual. Perhaps they felt the storm coming up and were listening for the rumble of the clouds, anticipating the crackling of electricity, the first thunder clap.
A scrabbling noise, outside in the bushes by the front steps of the bungalow. Jason's hand automatically went to the gun holster inside his shirt, seeking the familiar grip of his weapon.
Calm down. No one knows you're here. No one, apart from the boss.
The scrabbling came in stops and starts. A frog, perhaps, or a possum.
Suddenly there were loud squeaks, high pitched and panicked. Jason sat bolt upright, his heart pounding. He glanced at the phone, as if expecting it to tell him what to do. Another squeal, rising higher, then abrupt silence. The bushes rustled, and Jason leant back again. Probably a cat, out catching its evening meal.
Without warning the storm hit, heavy rain drops drumming like bullets onto the tin roof of the bungalow, drowning out everything else.
Jason got up to get a can of beer from the fridge. When he returned to his armchair, the display on his phone was flashing neon blue. He had missed a call.
"Christ," he muttered, as he punched into the keyboard. "Don't tell me it's tonight." He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the missed number. It was Helen, but she had to wait. He told her never to call in the evenings.
- - -
The next morning, Jason stepped into dog shit when he left the bungalow to go for breakfast.
The dog had left it in a neat pile, just in front of the first step, exactly in the middle of the narrow footpath.
"Unbelievable," Jason muttered and started to scrape his shoe on the wet grass.
"I thought dogs weren't allowed," he said to a gardener wheeling a trolley full of baby plants still in their nursery pots.
The gardener stopped and looked at the dog excrement with interest, as if he had never seen anything like it. "Probably a stray. Guess I'll have to call the ranger."
"Well, do you think someone could clean this up?"
"Of course. I'll see to that right away. Sorry about that, sir."
Jason bent his right knee, and lifted his foot, like a horse about to be shod. He craned his neck to check out the sole of his shoe. It was still dirty, with blades of grass stuck to it.
"Better give that a hose-down," the gardener said. "There's a tap just behind that bend."
Jason set off to the tap with an awkward gait, trying not to let the sole of his right shoe make contact with the ground.
As he rinsed off his shoe, he heard a rustle in front of him. He looked up. A grey dog with black spots, about knee high, stood halfway hidden in shrubbery, regarding him with a dark, steady gaze.
"So it was you, was it? You better piss off fast."
The dog didn't move. Jason took his wet shoe and made as if to throw it at the dog. Still it didn't move.
Jason sighed and put his shoe back on. Let the resort staff get rid of the dog.
He set off to the breakfast restaurant, dodging puddles on the way, trying not to slip on the wooden planks of elevated walkways.
"Dogs are not allowed," the waitress told him as he approached the restaurant's welcome sign.
"And a good morning to you," he said and turned his head, followed the waitress's gaze. The grey dog had followed him to the restaurant, so quietly he hadn't noticed. Or perhaps his wet shoe had been squelching loud enough to drown out the sound of a trotting dog.
"It's a stray," he said to the waitress. "He shat on the footpath right in front of my bungalow. And I stepped in it."
She giggled. "Sorry about that, sir."
Jason wondered why she was sorry. It wasn't her fault, after all. Still, he liked it that she had apologized for the dog.
He took another look at the dog before entering the restaurant. The dog was standing on three legs, his fourth leg motionless in the air as he peed against a plant, his thoughtful eyes fixed on Jason.
Jason shook his head and went inside.
He selected his usual table by an open window, where he could see the lawn sloping down to the white sands of Cable Beach, and the foamy waves crashing onto the shore. In the daytime, there were no frogs, and Jason liked to listen to the roll of the surf. Unceasing, relentless. Enough to drown the voice in his head.
His phone rang when he was at the buffet choosing a croissant. He knew it was his phone, because it played the first few bars of "Lara's Theme." No one else seemed to have a liking for the song, at least he didn't knew anyone with the same ring tone. He hadn't chosen the song himself. It was Helen who insisted he use it. She'd sung all the verses for him, not just once, but several times, her eyes misty. But he could never remember anything but the slow introduction: "Somewhere my love."
He hurried across the restaurant to his table.
"Helen," he said. "How are you?" But he knew how she was, before she had even uttered a word.
She gulped a choppy breath, the kind with tears brewing below its surface.
"Sweetheart," he said. "What's the matter?"
"Why didn't you call me back last night?" She started to cry.
"Did you take your medication?"
She sniffed. "No. I forgot."
"Don't forget, please," he said. He looked out at the clouds forming overhead, white puffy clouds, piling up high, like extravagant wedding cakes. Soon they would darken and rumble, and another rain storm would drench the land.
"Okay." She sniffled a few times. Jason knew she was trying to compose herself. Deep breaths. Count to ten.
"When are you coming home?" she asked, her voice thin.
"Don't know yet. Any day now." The call he was waiting for hadn't yet come. A phone call that meant life of death for Roger Moreton, resident of Broome and drug dealer who didn't pay his debts.
Jason never told Helen what he did, working for the boss. Once, she had spotted his gun, but he had managed to explain it. Or at least he thought he had. But ever since then, she'd become even more clingy than before, afraid to let him out of her sight.
"You're going to do it again, aren't you?" Her voice was quiet and composed.
He was too startled to answer.
"Do what?" he finally said.
"Who is it now? Some poor bloke who can't pay up?"
Jason gazed into the slate grey sea, losing himself in the play of waves and light, tuning in to the thunder of the waves as they hit the shore.
"It can happen to you one day," her voice rose again. "Don't you know that?"
He said nothing, mentally counting down the timing of the waves.
"Jason?" She sounded small and scared.
"Don't worry, sweetheart. I have to go now, but I'll call you back later. I promise." He waved away offers of coffee, watching the sea and the clouds gathering high in the sky, occupying his mind with the details he saw, with the sounds he heard. He knew how to keep his mind blank. He had to, or he would become crazy.
He remained in his chair at the restaurant until he noticed the staff setting the tables for lunch. Time to leave. He walked out through the open French doors of the restaurant, through the outdoor bar area, across the grass until he reached the beach with the surf thudding onto the hardened sand.
Odd, how hot it was, despite the bad weather, the greying skies. Jason felt sweat trickling down his back.
He sat on a smooth, flat rock at the top of the beach, closed his eyes, and waited for the rain. He tried not to think about the man he was going to kill, but failed. Against instructions, he had driven into town yesterday to find Moreton's house. He cruised by a couple of times, taking in the unkempt house, the turquoise car sheltered behind a thicket of low palms, the missing gate. He didn't see Moreton.
When he felt the first fat drops hitting his face, Jason opened his eyes.
And there, lying next to him, was the dog, his head resting on outstretched legs. As soon as he noticed Jason stirring, the dog opened his eyes, directing them straight at Jason.
When Jason got up, the dog did too. Silently, he followed Jason to his cottage.
"Get lost," Jason said after he opened the door. "Go shit somewhere else." He shut the door firmly, as if expecting the dog to argue.
In the evening, just as the frogs were starting again, the phone rang.
"Helen," he said, "I told you not to call. Please."
"You're waiting for the go-ahead, aren't you?" Helen's voice rose in hysteria. "Aren't you?"
He hung up, ignoring her subsequent calls.
A half hour later, his phone beeped: a message. Jason scrolled down the menu. Get out. He knows what. Helen again. He rolled his eyes. She must have pressed the send button before she was ready.
When the frogs were in full song, the boss called.
"It's getting boring up here," Jason said.
"I'll let you know tomorrow which way we'll go," the boss said. "Looks like we've got a new deal going with Moreton. Chances are, it won't work out. In that case, I'll call you, and you can go ahead. And if the deal goes through, I'll call you anyway. Don't want you to go around popping people who pay up. Doesn't look good."
"Fine," Jason said.
"You haven't been snooping around his house, have you?"
"Been anywhere in town?"
Jason's heart skipped when he thought of the night he spent in the open air cinema in town, watching bats sail silently across the illuminated screen. No way could anyone have spotted him. He was always careful. "No."
The boss was silent. "All right, then," he finally said and hung up.
Jason slid open the glass panes of the windows. The cacophony of the frogs hit him like a wall, the same sensation you get from opening the padded doors to a concert hall when the orchestra and the tenor are in full swing.
He peered out from the dark cabin into the garden to watch the sparkling rainfall, illuminated by the garden lanterns lining the path to his door.
Next to the bottom step he saw the dog, sitting on his haunches and staring fixedly at the door.
Jason opened the door. "Come on, then," he said.
The dog climbed up the stairs and into the cottage, where he shook himself, spraying Jason with dog scented rainwater.
Jason opened the fridge, found salami and brie cheese. He buttered some bread, and shared his meal with the dog. "You won't have to kill any wildlife tonight," he told the dog who listened attentively, eyes fixed on the food, threads of saliva rolling from his mouth like liquid sugar.
After they ate, they sat together in the darkness, listening to the frogs.
- - -
The phone rang as the first rays of the sun crept though the latticed wall. Jason sat up with a start. He had fallen asleep in the armchair, had slept like a baby, the first good sleep since he arrived.
The dog leapt to his feet, tried to take the phone in its mouth, gingerly, as if were a newspaper he was trained to deliver to his master.
"No," Jason said, but the dog didn't listen, concentrating on his work. He placed the ringing phone at Jason's feet, looking up expectantly, his tail stiff in anticipation of praise.
"Good dog." Jason said and smiled when he saw the dog 's tail start to rotate, slowly at first, then picking up speed until his rump was wiggling with pleasure.
He had missed the call. Helen. He'd call her from the breakfast restaurant, this time he wouldn't cut her off, he would have a long, leisurely conversation, try not to let her worrying get to him.
Jason left the door open for the dog to go outside and went to take a shower. When he stepped out of the bathroom, he felt good. Refreshed and good and safe. Perhaps tonight he wouldn't need to listen to the frogs.
He put on shorts and a fresh cotton shirt he left unbuttoned so he could feel the breeze when he walked through the garden. Anything to postpone the inevitable stickiness. He'd leave his holster behind. It was ridiculous, really, taking a gun to breakfast at a beach resort in monsoon season. He stooped to pick up his phone from the coffee table, where he usually left it. But the phone was gone.
He looked everywhere, under the table, behind the sea grass armchair. No phone. And no dog.
"Unbelievable," he said. But secretly he was pleased. He didn't have to talk to Helen.
As he walked along the winding pathways, over the raised bridges bordered by red lacquered railing, he searched the shadows of the shrubbery for the dog.
He didn't see the dog all day long, but that didn't worry him. He was sure it would return in the evening, hopefully with the mobile. And if not, he'd just have to ring his boss on the house phone and tell him today was not a good day for a kill. If killing was what his boss wanted him to do.
In the late afternoon, he wandered over to the bluff overlooking Cable Beach, just in time for the sunset. He watched the bottom of the clouds turn blood red as the sun sunk into the sea behind them. Another evening stretched before him.
Jason turned his back to the dissolving sun, walked across the parking lot back towards the resort. He noticed the beige 4WD of the ranger, an open trailer hitched behind it.
The ranger, sweating profusely, was just shutting the trailer's back panel as Jason passed by. The ranger nodded in greeting, driving the last latch home.
Jason glanced into the trailer.
It couldn't be, could it?
Noticing his interest, the ranger quickly stepped up to him. "Has to be done, I'm afraid," he said. "They run wild and kill the wildlife."
And then they heard it, the distinctive slow waltz of "Lara's Theme."
They both stared into the trailer. There he was, the grey dog with the black spots, a red sore on his neck still trickling congealing blood. His dark eyes stared straight ahead, lifeless now. The phone continued ringing inside the dog's belly, the melody relentless in its melancholy.
The ranger started to chuckle but stopped when he saw Jason's frozen face.
"Not your dog, is it?" he asked, looking uncomfortable.
Jason shook his head and turned away from the dying light of the day. He did not see the empty turquoise car in the parking lot.
By the time he reached the resort grounds, it was already dark and the frogs were calling.
Jason made his way over the Japanese style bridges, on pathways meandering through tropical gardens, towards his tin-roofed cabin on stilts. As he approached he thought he saw a shadow move behind the mosquito netting of the windows.
The frogs held their breaths when the shot rang out.
Then they started again, one by one, until they filled the night with their singing.
About the author:
Monica Kilian lives in Perth, Australia, but is often on the move, writing from home, hotels, planes, trains, and automobiles. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories.