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Yimi just left, then the cat, Yahoo, vanished and the frog moved in.

I missed Yimi, and if it weren’t for the frog I would have missed her more. I missed the strawberry smell of her hair on the pillow, her yellow and blue sweaters with I’m a Luxury written on them. I missed the way she sneezed, all tight and composed. I could now see that was exactly how Yimi was: neat and tight and composed. Not all the time, because she also did own two white hoodies with I am Sad emblazoned on them. I thought it was charming that she wore her feelings literally on her, and perhaps I still do. She even bought me two sweaters: one said The Answer to the Question Is, but I never asked her what the question was because I thought I was supposed to know. I just smiled and thanked her, and when people commented on it, I tipped my head coyly in a way I hoped looked knowing. Later, she would laugh about the expressions on people’s faces. This was Yimi’s dark side, the part of her that liked to, as my mother once said, have it over others. The other sweater said An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living.

As for the cat, I mourned him equally. I had really liked Yahoo, even though he belonged to Yimi. When Yimi and I first met, Yahoo was a baby, so he’d grown up with me. Sometimes I felt I knew Yahoo better than I knew myself. He would curl up next to me when Yimi was late home from work and would often lick my face with his bristly tongue before gouging me tenderly in the ankles when I walked away. I let him do it because Yimi did, and I didn’t want to offend him. It was only natural, Yimi would say. I realised it was to be expected that Yahoo would give me up pretty quickly and go out to find her; I only hoped Yimi hadn’t gone far. I didn’t want Yahoo to be one of those internet stories about a cat reconnected with its owner a decade after they had gone missing. One of those stories when you can just tell from the cat’s wild eyes and the missing chunks of ear and the state of its coat that life has been hell. I didn’t want that for Yahoo, even though he’d abandoned me.

With Yimi and Yahoo gone, I retreated to the couch, eating bowls of tomato soup while watching re-runs of Friends. Yimi looked a lot like Monica. She also had the same predilection for cleanliness. She owned multiple pairs of coloured gloves specifically organised by task: orange for the oven, green for the balcony plants, blue for the bathroom and black for the toilet. She may even have loved her special crockery more than Monica: once I found her weeping when one of her precious cups was broken. She harvested the remains from the carpet fibres and spent the next week manically trying to salvage it, which she did.

Sometimes I forgot Yimi and Yahoo were no longer in the apartment when I came home. I would call out to one or both of them, catching their shadows in the sunlight shifting across the walls before I remembered it was just me and the frog.


Despite Yimi having been adamant we have a mat that said WELCOME ALL, I had never expected a frog to be on the doormat, and when I opened the door, it hopped on in. I never asked it where it came from, though I know it would have been one of the first things Yimi would have done. The second would have been to ask it to wipe its feet before climbing onto the bench. I had a feeling the frog would have obliged; it seemed such an accommodating frog, and he was a guest after all.

I had always wanted a frog, sort of the way you would want a Cornetto ice cream if you’ve never had one. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted to eat the frog; that seemed intolerably cruel. After all, he was just an interloper at the time, a frog on his way: at least that was what I thought. Plus, once I’d looked at that face, I was a goner. I just loved their faces, the soft smiles and those glassy eyes. I had always felt they had some sort of Buddha-like quality.

The frog appeared to be an endangered Litoria lorica, more commonly known as the armoured mistfrog. This inspired me to call him Hephaestus after the Olympian god who forged armour for kings. My Hephaestus’s skin was typically marbled brown and grey, his irises were golden with black flecks. And he liked to sing. I didn’t know if his was a common warble for his kind as there wasn’t much to go on from the internet: elusive and endangered, previously considered extinct, seemed to sum them up. And that they liked fast-running water, so I would try to leave the tap on in the sinks so he could slip in and out of the stream.

When it came to music, it was pretty clear from the outset that Hephaestus had his favourites. I was laying down on the settee listening to Paul McCartney’s ‘Despite Repeated Warnings’ and Hephaestus sat mesmerised. His eyes seemed to bulge, and for a moment, I would swear he was so moved he was crying. In time, there was no doubt he also loved Joni Mitchell: there we were, sitting on the balcony one honey-coloured Sunday afternoon, watching the sun perforate the ballooning clouds, when I noticed Hephaestus literally tapping his pads, a tender little beat. He even swayed, which made him and Joni Mitchell all the more spectacular.

And so we came to sit there like that, Hephaestus and I, watching the sun go down and the stars litter the sky, listening to Beatles records and Joni Mitchell. Only after Hephaestus was asleep did I venture to play things like ‘Just Like Honey’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain or ‘Where do the Children Play?’ by Yusuf—not because I didn’t think Hephaestus would like them, but because there were things I still wasn’t ready to share. Back then, I was new to having a frog in the house.

I mean, he was a good and attentive frog. He quickly started following me around, and it wasn’t long before I was talking to him the way I used to talk to Yimi and Yahoo. I’d come home from work and he’d be sitting on the kitchen bench waiting for me. I’d tell him about my day, and the bus ride home. I tried to make it interesting for him, so I’d mention other animals I saw on the way. He seemed, most of all, to like the stories about a quirky labradoodle that wasn’t supposed to engage with anyone on the bus because he was a working dog. But he did, even though his little coat said ‘Please don’t touch I’m working’. And so did I. I suppose the owner was used to this because she rolled her eyes and pulled the dog, who she called Richard, tightly into her. I asked once why he was called Richard and she told me after Richard Attenborough. I said, Why Richard Attenborough, and she gave me a look as if I’d been living under a rock. I continued, I think you’re probably talking about his brother David, and then she glared at me as if I’d mistaken a Monarch butterfly for a Peruvian sloth, and told me she was sick and tired of people telling her she’d mistakenly called her dog Richard instead of David. I know what I am doing, she scowled.

I reassured her that she did, that I was mistaken, even though by the way she talked about the incredible work of Richard Attenborough I knew I wasn’t. I think even Richard knew. I was pretty smug about it until one day I saw a sticker on her notebook that read All Living Beings Are One, Mahatma Gandhi.


It was the whole conversation about the Attenboroughs that spurred me to think about just how many National Geographics I’d left lying around the house, all those stories about the extinction of species and so many frogs. I didn’t want Hephaestus exposed to that, so I quickly made a point of hiding them. On special occasions, and only after I’d done a pre-run, I’d let Hephaestus watch the Life on Earth series. I had a feeling Hephaestus had seen enough in his time, he didn’t need to see any more atrocities, so I kept a very careful eye on him while he was watching. I didn’t have a lot to go on, but he also seemed to react strangely when I turned on the leaf blower on the patio or pruned the dead flowers. He even developed a habit of hopping into the shrubbery to stop me hedging it, so I gave in and just let it grow.

It was true Hephaestus grew a bit fat, although I liked to call it happy. He got to the point where he was eating dozens of crickets in one sitting and then just lay about staring at nothing in particular. Mostly, though, he would sit on the couch with me, and when it got late he’d climb onto my shoulder and we’d fall asleep together. I worried at times I would wake up and Hephaestus would be squashed, but in time I understood Hephaestus was alarmingly well adapted. He sat on the sink in the bathroom but never got too close to the hot water. He swam in the pond I made for him in the living room and basked on the rocks, but when I had people around, he disappeared. My friend Tobias said it was because animals knew you could never be too careful. It was Tobias who kept reminding me Hephaestus was most likely one of just a handful of armoured mistfrogs left in the world and pressed upon me that I really should take him to a wildlife rescue centre so he could be accounted for.

But he’s thriving here, I told Tobias.

Is he, though? Tobias replied, more than once.


And so it was self-righteous Tobias who instilled the first seeds of doubt, but the universe, or fate, or whatever the momentum of reality was, sealed it. There was the huge article in weekend paper about the top ten frogs that we most likely would never see again. I started to skim the words but fell prey to the names: Southern corroboree frog, Littlejohn’s tree frog and the already extinct gastric-brooding frog that would swallow fertilised eggs and later regurgitate baby frogs. With the article resting on my lap, the afternoon languished, the sun set, but I couldn’t let the words go, couldn’t reconcile that a frog that could birth live babies out of its mouth was gone forever. I went over the piece again and again, not daring to move to the end, until I did, and there it was in black and white—the armoured mistfrog wiped out by an introduced fungus where it once thrived, now reduced to a small, critically endangered number, which—unless we did something big—would soon be zero. As if that wasn’t enough I then ran over a green tree frog backing into the garage. Seeing the little frog messed up like that broke my heart and got me to thinking about how Hephaestus really might be alone in the world. I didn’t know if I had the heart to tell him.

The lie sat between us like a hungry lion. It seemed every time I turned on the television there was some tiny snippet of ecological disaster, of habitat loss, of the window of opportunity to save things closing. I looked at Hephaestus napping on his semi-rotting log and felt a twang of regret. What if I’d taken him to the centre when he first arrived? What if they’d needed him to start a breeding program? Was my selfish desire to keep things going just as they were responsible for the final nail in the little frog’s ecological coffin?

My despair at what I was doing rose up like a swelling tide. I moped about Hephaestus as if he was already gone. I coddled him when he sat on my shoulder, feeding him more crickets than was necessary. I caught him regurgitating them in the toilet, precariously balanced on the rim of the seat.


I suppose I should have heard him leave, but I never heard Yimi or Yahoo go. It was as if one moment they were with me and the next they were gone, although I knew that wasn’t technically true: Yimi had packed her bags several times before as a warning to me to change my habits, to think of someone other than myself. Yahoo, too, had tried. Every time I diverted conversations away from the things Yimi wanted to talk about, Yahoo set about doing the only thing he could do: laying out a bunch of toy red herrings at my feet. I thought he meant I was refusing to look at the truth of the relationship, that she was going to leave. Now I think I know what he was really saying and it was so much worse: Only dead fish swim with the stream. This was the kind of thing Yimi used to tell me when I’d be unwilling to fight with her or to do things differently. I was the dead fish.

I could finally see that Yimi and I had been in trouble for years and that as time slipped by, the bedrock I thought we’d set our relationship on had cracked. If I was honest it was like quicksand in the end. I had let everything slip through until it was too late.

So Hephaestus left on a rainy Sunday morning. I’d hoped he might have left me some sign he was coming back, like a half-finished cricket, but his little dish was empty. Wistfully, I checked all his favourite spots: the log, the window ledge, the couch, the little hammock I’d strung up at the window so he could bask in the sun. I dreamed he returned to sleep by my pillow. By Monday evening, I understood he was gone. I even donated money to the local land reclamation fund and momentarily felt a glimmer of hope that he might somehow, if he did not want to be with me, end up there.

But, still, I sat at the door for weeks, staring out the window at the parking lot across the road. I listened always for the sound of Hephaestus’ little pads tapping and humming, Oh, bop, bop, bop.