Put the brush down for one goddamn second, her father says. But she doesn’t. She won’t. She stands by the kitchen window and pulls the brush through her hair, thick and wavy, the glory of it all fanning behind her in the sunlight like a mermaid’s. Your hair would be so beautiful if you just brushed it more, her mother had once said.
Fine, her father says: go brush it outside then. I could make a wig from all this hair on the floor.
She takes the brush and her little brother to the creek. She flicks off her sandals and walks to the center, the cold water rushing over her ankles. Her mother hated the creek. She stands there and continues the task of brushing her hair, raking the bristles against her scalp.
Look, her brother says, pointing behind her. And she turns, hoping for something interesting, something that might turn the day around. But it’s just a frog, one of a hundred they have already seen.
Before their mother left, she said good girls don’t go creek stomping. She told the kids to stop bringing jars filled with tadpoles home to her. If you need to bring something, bring me flowers, she said. Ladies love flowers. Remember that, she said. One afternoon they wove green stems of dandelions into a wreath and presented it to her, but she rejected this as well. They had imagined their mother placing the yellow ring on her head like a crown but she tossed it aside like the trash it was.
Someday we’ll get out of this hellhole, their mother used to say. By we she meant herself—that she would get out of the trailer park next to the creek filled with frogs, their slimy bodies and loud croaks marking the empty summer days.
She stares down at her feet, at the water moving over them. She keeps brushing her hair, just like her mother instructed her. Her father said she could cut her hair if she wants to. Makes no difference to me, you’re old enough to decide now, he said.
She spies the tiny tadpoles, hears the frogs they will become. She tells her brother to gather all the tadpoles, empty the creek of them. The frogs too. No, forget the frogs, she says. The frogs can stay. Then she remembers the frogs will make more tadpoles, tiny eggs hatching in the water, covered in a protective layer, like jelly. She learned about it in science class, how the tadpoles transform themselves into frogs, how their legs emerge, how their tails get absorbed into their bodies.
Empty the creek of all the tadpoles and all the frogs, she instructs him. She imagines jars full of them, an entire wall, an entire house, an entire trailer park. The creek: clear and silent like during winter, her hair growing longer and longer until it touches the water, until it becomes part of the creek, pushing the frogs onto the grass.
Her brother says it’s impossible, they cannot get all the frogs, there are too many of them. We can get some, he says. A lot, maybe, he shrugs. You need to help, he says, it’s not fair if I have to catch the frogs by myself.
They stand next to each other, the sun reflecting off the creek, and imagine it empty of life. Then maybe she will come back, she says. And we can take her by the hand and lead her down here, hold our arms out wide and say look, here, this is what we made for you.
Shasta Grant is the author of Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home, a chapbook forthcoming from Split Lip Press. She is the Spring 2017 Writer-in-Residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. Her work has appeared Kenyon Review, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Singapore and Indianapolis.