I paused in mid-step. I carefully set my extended foot onto the pavement. The stray gravel crunched softly under my worn sneaker. I noticed that my shoelace had become untied. I would deal with that later, not now. I stilled myself and bent cautiously to peer more closely. A lone blue jay called and a puff of wind startled my long wispy hair. I watched intently, trying to sense when to make my move. He did not seem to be aware of me, though his eyes swiveled suspiciously surveying his surroundings. Maybe he was pretending not to notice me. That would be rather tricky of him. I did not expect him to play dead. I had never heard of or seen one play dead before. I watched his pale pouch-like chin breathe rhythmically. They could be such noisy creatures, but I had yet to actually observe one croaking. Perhaps I caused them to be shy. I imagined the feel of his textured, pliable skin in my hand. I prepared myself to spring. Now! I darted forward and swiftly enclosed the chubby toad in my grip. As I straightened to a standing position, I was mindful to point his tail end downward and away from my body before he defecated. I had learned this procedure the hard way. I didn’t know if they pooped when caught because they were scared or if they thought it would thwart their enemy. But I wasn’t really his enemy. He halfheartedly tried to flail his legs and wriggle free once, but quickly seemed to realize that this action was futile. I held him for a minute or two and gazed into his bulgy eyes while his legs dangled helplessly in my grasp. He stared back at me blankly, breathing rapidly. I set him down in the scrubby grass and watched him flee as fast as a toad is able. He seemed a bit far from home. I hoped he made it back to the creek before he dried up.
I brushed my hands on my jeans and ventured into the world that was the vacant lot next to the Wasserman’s house. I batted at the tall spiny grass as I waded deeper. I picked a spot that was laced with a multitude of honeysuckles and sat on the dry ground. The grass almost reached the top of my head and swayed lightly in the breeze. I closed my eyes and let the sun and the solitude sink into my being before I went about the business of sucking the tiny fragments of sweetness from the honeysuckle petals. I then occupied myself by popping open fuchsia flowers and chasing grasshoppers. I caught and released five of them before moving onto my planned project. I collected various stones and set them in a pile. I settled myself back into the dusty dirt and pulled out a canister of Liquid Gold furniture polish from my bag. I hoped that my mom did not notice that it was gone. I planned to safely return it to its proper place under the kitchen sink. I began my task. I polished the stones, marveled at passing butterflies and sang off-key until it was time to be home. As I walked out of my sanctuary, I thought of the toad I had met today. I vowed to check on his whereabouts at the stream tomorrow. Surely I would be able to recognize him. Perhaps I would also bring a jar to collect some polliwogs to bring home as well. I had to be more careful this time, however. The last time I brought polliwogs home they had morphed into very tiny toads and jumped out of the jar. My mother was not happy to find miniature toad carcasses in random spots in our house. Yes, next time I would need a lid.