Toads 150 150 Melissa Gardner

Richmond, Virginia


Endless summer begins
with a Cadillac ride.
In the back,
on leather seats
I rest my head
on Grandma’s lap,
watch the lights
blip, blip past.

Uncle Warren drives
Aunt Janet sit in front
beside him.
They and Grandma talk,
laugh, smoke, drink
Seven and Seven
while Charlie Pride
plays on the eight-track.

I want to touch
the buttons,
make the windows
rise and fall,
the doors click
lock, unlock, lock
but Grandma smacks
my hand.

I close my eyes
slide into a deep
South slumber
slip further down
until we reach

Aunt Janet is rich.
I know this because this
is what I am told.

Her house has
an air conditioner
in the window.
Cool, sweet air blows
by bangs back.
Drops of water
form on the vent
and I catch them
with my finger
watch the drops
roll across my palm.

I had never seen
a black woman
so I trail along
behind the cleaning lady
until Aunt Janet
says to leave
the lady alone
so she could get
her work done.

At the kitchen table
Grandma and Aunt Janet
smoke Virginia Slims
and sip gin while
Uncle Warren drinks
and fries chicken
that we eat
drizzled with honey.

Evening cools the air
enough to go outside.
They lounge on lawn chairs
surrounded by citronella
In the yard I tumble
somersaults and cartwheels
grass scratches
on my legs, my feet.

I catch small
brown toads
one at a time
hold them despite
their protest of pee,
hold them until
their bellies turn red,
and they no longer

When it is nearly
night and time to go
I lay them down
to sleep
in the rock garden
next to the house.

In the morning
I go outside
in pajamas and bare feet
to find my toads
stretched out, stiff
shriveled little corpses.

Melissa Gardner

Melissa Gardner received her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Seattle Pacific University. She is currently working on a collection of re-visioned fairy tales and a novel. Originally from Pennsylvania, she now lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband, three cats, a Corgi, and two domesticated rats.

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