‘Remember when I hung you upside down by your legs here?’
The boy stands with his hands on his hips, all bravado, surveying the scene of his triumph, unaware that Carys could have righted herself at any time. If she had chosen to. It was the Easter hunt last spring. This boy and his friends gathered painted eggs, mostly for Carys, hunting around the farm until her basket was overflowing. Of course Carys remembers. She remembers the other girls scowling at her. She remembers the boys, their eyes on her bare legs. The way their laughter soon turned to something else.
‘Yes, you bugger. Had mud in me hair for days.’
She grins, then leaps from the grass edge into the cracked mud of the ditch. Owain rarely comes down here anymore, not since she told him the story of the dead sheep. But Carys is never short of playmates.
‘Oh shit, look.’
She crouches down, her black pumps turning a sandy beige in the dust. There’s a toad trapped there. Dried out flat like a cartoon villain has steamrollered it. The boy crouches next to her.
Carys picks a stalk from the floor and prods at the crispy body.
‘Definitely dead. Pick it up.’
The boy reels.
‘No way! You pick it up!’
Carys smacks him on the arm and watches his face change at her touch. It’s not the over-dramatic eyeroll she’s interested in. It’s the red blush of his cheeks. The slight twitch of his mouth.
He reaches down to the toad. Carys watches as his fingers close around the coarse skin. Her face is close to his, close enough to see a smattering of pimples just threatening his forehead. She forgets about the toad; she is back to that weekend, his arms around her ankles, the gawking eyes around her. Her summer blouse feels tight, the buttons ready to burst. She considers undoing the top one but then the toad snaps.
‘Oh, shit! Shit shit shit! The leg!’
The boy shrieks, jumping on the spot and Carys collapses in laughter.
He throws the toad’s body at the ground next to her and now it is her turn to shriek.
‘The leg! Look at the leg! Get the leg!’
‘You get the bloody leg!’
She clambers out of the ditch and bursts into a run, fake-screaming, her skirt flying behind her like a kite in a storm. The boy doesn’t run after her. He stands still, watching. Until the plop on his arm.
Carys races back to the ditch and the boy but there is no shelter: nothing to do but get wet. The toad’s body begins to float away as the ditch fills and Carys lifts her legs to let it pass. She looks down: her cotton blouse is nearly see-through. She moves closer to the boy.
‘You can touch if you want.’
Carys laughs, shakes her head and reaches for his hand, pulling it close to her neckline. The boy snaps his hand back. They stand for a moment, watching the toad float further and further away.
‘I have to go home. See you, Carys.’
Carys stands alone in the ditch, in the rain. She watches the boy run until he is out of her sight. She bends down and pulls the toad’s leg free from the mud, then holds the tiny limb close to her chest. She thinks of the painted eggs in the basket, smooth and firm. She thinks of the eyes on her. She smiles, presses the limb tighter to her chest.
Gaynor Jones is a writer and spoken word performer currently based in Oldham. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and a Northern Writer’s Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She has been placed or listed in other writing competitions including the Bridport Prize and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Her short fiction has been published in various literary journals and anthologies. She has created bespoke spoken word pieces for the Not Quite Light Festival and the Words & Music Festival and performed at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe with For Books Sake. www.jonzeywriter.com