Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Fifty-fifty

by Jenny Palmer

a bottle of fizzy pop 


When he first came across the tadpoles in a puddle up on the moor, it was a total surprise. That was the last place he’d expected to find them. The spawn must have been laid during the rainy weather when the moor was wet and boggy. But it hadn’t rained in over a month and the earth was bone-dry.  What sort of creature had left its spawn in that congested, murky puddle up by the cattle grid in the middle of nowhere? The nearest reservoir was at least a kilometre away down the hill.
Normally, when he went on expeditions of this nature, it was in the company of his grandad. At this time of year, they would go off in search of tadpoles down by the old mill lodge. That was where the toads returned every year. You knew when it was the right season because people put up rude signs on the roadside, saying ‘Randy toads crossing.’ It was to try and slow down the traffic and stop the cars squashing the poor creatures as they crawled across the road to the lodge. 
‘Fat chance of that happening,’ his grandad had said. ‘Try driving in between a load of crawling toads. It’s not easy.’
He wished his grandad were here now. He knew everything there was to know about tadpoles. But his grandpa was laid up in hospital so he couldn’t ask him. He hadn’t let it stop him going out on his excursions though.     
‘You can’t go out on your own,’ his mother said, when he first suggested it.  ‘You’re only ten’.
It was the Easter holidays so there was no school. His mother worked part-time in the local supermarket as an essential worker and left him to his own devices at home.
‘But there’s no one around,’ he argued. ‘The roads are empty. And it will count as my daily exercise.’
He’ went on and on about it so long that she finally relented. 
‘Don’t be staying out longer than an hour, mind,’ she shouted as he shot out of the house. ’Otherwise it’ll me who will gets into trouble.’
 The road onto the moor was uphill all the way. It would be quicker by bike.  When he walked with his grandad, he had to slow down. His grandpa struggled with the hills. He walked at snail pace. 
‘It’s what happens when you get older,’ he said. ‘Especially if you’ve been a smoker. Your lungs pack up. Don’t do what I did, lad. Don’t ever smoke.’
He planned to visit one of their favourites haunts every day. He would take some photos and put them on Instagram to send to his grandad who, hopefully, would have taken his phone with him into hospital. This would be their way of keeping in touch since he wasn’t allowed to visit.
He’d no doubt face an inquisition from his mother when he got home. He wasn’t going to tell her where he’d been. It was between him and his grandad. She didn’t tell him everything anyway. It had taken him ages to get it out of her what was going on. Did she think he didn’t know? You didn’t go into intensive care unless you were seriously ill.
All tadpoles looked the same. They had a big head and a little, wriggling body.  When he’d first come across them, he’d rushed home to consult his wildlife encyclopaedia.  Frogs were mottled in shades of green, yellow, or brown with smooth, moist skin and needed to live near water. Toads, on the other hand, had dry, warty skin. They tended to crawl rather than hop and could survive on land in dryer places. So perhaps these were toads.  But then frogs laid their spawn in clumps in the water, whereas toads tended to wrap it around the nearby vegetation. All things considered; his tadpoles were probably going to turn out to be frogs.
They weren’t going to turn into anything if it didn’t rain soon. When he visited them the next time, the puddle had shrunk even further.  It was just a wriggling mass of bodies. Soon the water would have completely dried up. He went up close and peered into the murky water. The tadpoles were still in their early stages. Their legs hadn’t even begun to develop. It would be a while before their gills turned into lungs and they could start breathing air or their tails disappeared into their bodies. And it would be even longer before their intestines grew and they turned into carnivores, becoming the gardener’s best friend, and eating all the slugs and snails or ants in the case of toads. It could take as long as fourteen weeks before the transition was complete. At times like this, he wished that nature would just hurry up. 
When he got home his mother was in an agitated state.
‘They’ve just rung from the hospital to say that your grandad’s condition has got worse,’ she said. ‘They are going to put him on a ventilator. There’s nothing we can do but wait and pray.’
He couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. He went into the kitchen and took out a couple of jam jars, filled them with water and loaded them into his panniers and set off uphill again. He could save some of the tadpoles, give them a fifty-fifty chance at least. It was hard going. Every breath counted. But it was something he just had to do.

About the author

In June 2019, Jenny Palmer published her first collection of poetry called Pendle Poems. She has published two memoirs, called Nowhere Better than Home and  Pastures New  and a family history book called Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks. They are available from the Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford and from No 10 Literature and Lifestyle, Clitheroe.  Her collection of short stories Keepsake and other Stories was published by Bridge House in 2018 and is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle . Many of her stories are on the CafeLit website. A 59, Fatal Flaws and The Visitors are in Best of Café Lit 3, 5 and 7. The Visitors is also in ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ and Magnetism.   

 

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