Grandma Cillie has never said a word about the three weeks spent at her sister’s when she sought distance from what was happening with my Uncle Avery. Good thing Grand Aunt Moll talks, or I would still be dreaming of guessed-up scenes:
So, Cillie all day indoors at the kitchen table, beside sliced homegrown pear and cheese and olive boule. And sometimes from the corner the blind heron Samuelle would tilt her spear-like head toward open window and Cillie knew Samuelle had heard a secret noise, perhaps intruder, and Cillie would step outside with arms crossed against the bite of autumn air and squint and see nothing and walk a ways along the orchard edge where she could plainly see all, but alas no soul crossing the yellow wood. Then back inside again with Samuelle, Samuelle the blind great heron, age fourteen give or take a child’s fistful of boreal years, adopted and named by Moll after whisked from a thicket in Highland Marsh 1988, Samuelle of the small steps.
“Time for a stretch,” Cillie would announce verbatim as per Moll’s directions loud and distinct and same as ever so as not to startle Samuelle, and taking heavy steps toward the bird, heavy enough for the vibrations to be felt and the touch anticipated, Oh Samuelle, and avoiding the one or two reactive stabs of the beak and looping the woven cord around that thin and yellow left leg, same as ever, and taking the hall back through the house it being the long way to get outside but the way Samuelle knew best.
And from there to the nights in the “Great Hall,” Frank Sinatra on heirloom victrola, brandy and warm dark-bodied cakes by firelight. And if the autumn moon is high and clear and the weather mild they head into the marsh to hunt frogs.
Out in the marsh are traces of summer, the scarce music of the treefrogs in shreds from the trees, treefrogs too small and too invisible to be worth the time hunting much less eating. But listen, out there and distant: the great Bull(frog). The one Moll’s forever-partner Ches loudly dreams of catching—it is the Bull of Dreams.
By the third midnight October outing Cillie no longer flinched at sudden small explosions alongside as she walked. She never tried to catch any. They lobbed out like heavy arrows into the dark water. Nearby she heard the larger swish swish splash
and curses whispered and oaths to the Bull of Dreams—Ches hunting without a flashlight, prowling up and down the rim of the marsh with his six-foot-handled net. Cillie too walked without a flashlight and her beacon was Moll, who sat on a five gallon bucket with her headlamp aimed into black water. Who watched for blonde eyes that surfaced in the algae and scooped them up like dumplings and into her bucket. Moll, who favored soliloquy during the hunt, which kept Ches away. Cillie crouched and listened to Moll’s voice, the dank wind through the cattails, the sick heartbeat of her bucket as the frogs butted against the plastic.
The best night of three brought home five frogs. In July, said Ches, a good night is fifteen and lasts Samuelle two weeks. The frogs were released from the bucket and hand-delivered one by one into a large aquarium which with its strong odor claimed the entirety of its basement side-room. From here they were lifted, one by one, when for each the time came, and brought up from the basement in cupped hands and rinsed in the big-basin sink, the bark-bits of home and slimy strands of home down the drain, and
But who wants to hear this?
and placed in a plastic water bottle that had its top half cut off, and this bottle in turn fitted into a rubber and wood clamp of Ches’s fashioning, and someone said, “Supper’s ready, Samuelle,” same as ever so Samuelle would understand the about-to-happen, and
But who wants to hear this?
and Samuelle hears the frog in its narrow water and jabs for it and the bottle’s walls are soft plastic so her beak won’t splinter like it did once in the early days and
Who needs this?
and the frog has nowhere to go really, it gets its soft skin stitched and its leg-muscles cut and hopefully sooner than later it is attained and lifted as if by chopsticks and gulf gulf gulf legs disappear last and it is now a long bulge in Samuelle’s throat. And the family in the room, they love Samuelle. And Cillie loved Samuelle. And grandma Cillie did not watch, not once.
By the time grandma Cillie enabled my first and only day with Samuelle five years later when I was four, Samuelle was missing a toe and was solely being fed ground fish with a pink rubber teaspoon. I remember two things clearest: the grinding sound of rainbow trout in the blender, and after eating, it was like glitter on her face.