1962 readings


Jury Selection

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For a long time we had in our house, during the long winter months, a fat, green and warty toad that used to get into our utility room at night.
My father would then arm himself with a broom and a spade and send the toad, propelled like a magnificent ballistic weapon, flying over to the neighbors. We could then see how superbly graceful a toad could be flying through the air and realize that the poor animal was, in truth, only intended to evolve at ground level.
But one night, when my parents were out – at the cinema, I think – I happened to be alone in the house. Coming out of the television room, I found myself face to face with the animal.
He looked at me with his big widespread eyes.
“What are you doing in here, you strange animal?”
No reply.
“If I kiss you on the mouth, will you turn into a handsome Prince Charming?”
“No, but I might press charges for assault.”
I stared, open-mouthed. The toad just continued on his way.
“You can talk?” I managed to say as I followed him.
“Unless you are suffering from an hallucination. Which would be rather worrying, if you are interested in an amphibian’s point of view…” 
He was making his way towards Mom’s cellar.
“What are you doing in here?”
“Stealing your mother’s cigars. And some whisky. I’m in luck, it looks as if she isn’t here tonight, I’ve only got to deal with the daughter who talks to toads. By the way, you ought to tell your father… I hate flying! Ah, here we are! Will you give me a hand?”
“What do you mean?”
“To get the cigars and the whisky! I don’t have any hands! Functioning thumbs must be really useful!”
“But they’re my mother’s!”
“Smoking kills, so does boozing. Believe me, I’m doing her a favor! Come on, hurry up! Will you or won’t you? It’s obvious you will, you’ve already started talking to a toad…” 
A few minutes later, we were outside. Me barefoot on the grass, him gripping a cigar and a bottle of whisky under each of his front legs.
“That’s great, little girl, you’ve been a real help! By the way, my name is Stanislas, what’s yours?”
“Jessica, that’s a pretty name… I had an aunt called Jessica… You’re on my side! How would you like to come onto the roof with me, to smoke a cigar and drink this whisky? Or rather, to watch me do that, because you’re just a child after all… Well what do you say?”
He was an astonishing character, and I no longer felt at all sleepy. I accepted gladly. A few minutes later, we were on the roof. My peaceful neighborhood spread out at our feet, with the countryside further off, and even further away, the noise and buzz of the city. 
“You see, Jessica, you’re the first little girl pal, pal-girl, gal-pearl… no, not gal-pearl, that’s ridiculous…that I’ve ever had…”
“Have you met a lot of humans?”
“Yes. They’re all idiots. Except the children. You know why?”
“You believe in your dreams!”
“Not really! My teacher’s always telling me off, and I know very well I’ll never manage to become a cosmonaut!”
Without me realizing how he did it, the toad gave me a little tap on the back of my head. 
“Hey, silly! You’re talking to a toad! What’s more dreamlike than that?”
“I don’t know, loads of things! You could have been a unicorn!”
The toad went quiet and drank deeply from his whisky. I realized I had upset him…
“Sorry, toad… Stanislas!”
“No, it’s okay. You said that because I’m ugly, didn’t you?”
“No, but…”
“No, it’s alright, don’t apologize, there’s no harm done. It’s my fault too, I am a bit gruff…”
There was another silence. I cleared my throat. Stanislas drank his whisky.
“In any case, they’re completely stupid,” I said in the end. 
“What are?”
“Unicorns! I often see one, at the sports center. I’ve spoken to her a few times, but she didn’t reply!”
“Because she’s made of plastic!”
“Because she doesn’t exist!”
“Ha ha! You’re great… Hey, you know what?”
“Wait, pass me that cigar, you’ll see.”
“Here you are.”
“Shlight it for shme!”
“Are you sure? You know that toads who smoke risk…”
“Shlight it, I shaid!”
“OK, OK.…”
I lit his cigar. And as I had thought, the toad started to swell up and swell up… But he didn’t explode. Soon he was fat, as fat as a soccer ball, as fat as a globe of the world, as fat as a hot-air balloon… 
At that moment, floating and rising up higher and higher, he held out his hand to me and winked.
“Hey, princess!” he said to me, pursing his lips. “How would you like to go on a trip to the stars, my pretty little cosmonaut?”
I stared at him. The toad smiled at me more broadly.
“Well? Shall we go?”
In sheer delight, and with tears in my eyes, I took the toad by the hand and we both set off for the stars, him still puffing on his cigar, while below us slumbered the city, alcoholic toads and the plastic unicorns.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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