If You’ve Ever Eaten Toad – C.M. Saunders

It is a memory that will stay with me forever. Sitting on a bench in the park eating ice cream with my lover on a fine autumn afternoon, marveling at the way the sun danced off his kind, black eyes and the light breeze tussled his hair. Overhead, birds and dragonflies swooped. At that moment, as I stared deep into my lover’s eyes, I wanted time to stop. Stop dead. And let me remain trapped here for the rest of my days. I couldn’t tell him it was over between us. Not then. I didn’t want to taint the memory I knew I would hold dear for the rest of my days.

Autumn has always been my favourite season. The weather is neither too warm nor too hot, and I love the way the landscape changes, from lush and green to varying shades of brown and yellow. Plants and trees bow to the chill of the oncoming winter, relinquishing a summer rich with life to the awful inevitability of autumn’s sweet death. But oh, what a beautiful death!

Wang Chen and I met when we were at high school. I fifteen, he a year older. I cannot believe we’ve been together for over three years now. Time moves quickly. Life is a roller coaster full of ups and downs and twists and turns. An unpredictable joy. It’s difficult to imagine taking so much as one step of this journey without him. What a barren, soulless existence it would be.

A shy girl when we met, the attention he lavished on me was wasted on one so unaccustomed to the fuss. He was the first boy to ever pay me any mind. I understood why. I would never consider myself beautiful. I would never consider myself ugly, either. I was somewhere in between. Average. Plain. A common girl. In China we have a saying. Beautiful girls are flowers in fields of grass. I was but a blade of grass.

My family is as average as I am. Never rich, never poor, anonymous members of an immense working class. Though I clearly remember the days of my early childhood when meat for dinner was so scarce that my parents fed me toad they caught in the pond at the back of the garden and told me it was chicken. For years, I thought that was what chicken tasted like. There isn’t much difference, to tell you the truth. If you’ve ever eaten toad, you would know. It’s just that toad is more watery, the meat grey and not as flavourful. There is also less of it. Often, a chicken will have brilliant white, succulent, tasty, meat. That’s the difference. Also, of course, the toad is an ugly animal. With its too-large mouth, bulbous eyes, and tough skin covered in bumps and warts. On the other hand a chicken has wings, even if it can’t use them well. Any creature with the ability to fly is beautiful in my eyes. However, whether ugly or beautiful, the end result is the same. Toad or chicken, your stomach gets filled.

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