Senior Anatomy

Aug 10  |  Shelby Van Pelt

Our frog’s feet graze the tabletop. You hook your fingers under its tender armpits, making it dance. Something like the jitterbug.

“Stop it, Carl,” I hiss. I’m organizing our tools: scalpel, tweezers, scissors. I could tell you to grow up, but that would be ridiculous. You’re eighty-four years old.

Who thought carving up frogs was an appropriate activity for a bunch of octogenarians? Yet another thing meant to sharpen our minds, blunt the pain of residing here, I suppose. They’re always coming up with something. Last week, they had us sing karaoke. Now, it’s a bunch of dead frogs. One thing’s certain: dissection is more popular than macramé. The recreation room is hopping…no pun intended.

“Isn’t biology wonderful?” the instructor chirps. Yeah, she’s that perky. They introduced her as an associate professor from the community college, but she barely looks old enough to buy a pack of smokes. Overfilled eyebrows and a trim green sweater. A tadpole in sea of toads. She casts a pointed glare at our twinkle-toed specimen.

You scowl, halting the frog’s marionette act. You lay it supine on our tray.

We follow the Tadpole’s directions. I slice our frog’s belly and pin it open. You pluck the yellow fat. Heart, liver, lungs. Stomach like a boiled shrimp. I wait for your comic antics, for you to waggle the pink intestines. But when I look up, you’re white as a sheet.

“You okay?”

“Sorry,” you whisper. Your gaze is fixed on the splayed frog. There’s a wild look in your eye that doesn’t sit right.

“Carl. Let’s go back to our room.” I clasp your forearm, easily landing on bone under the thin flannel sleeve of your robe.

“No,” you insist. You flash a cursory glance at my hand on your sleeve before returning your focus to the frog’s guts. Your head bends towards mine like you’re about to share a secret with a stranger.

Which, I suppose, in your mind, you are.

You finally meet my gaze, and there’s a glimmer of apology in your eyes. A watery guilt over the burden you’re about to share. It wallops me when I realize what you’ve seen. The image your brain has connected to that splayed-out frog, guts exposed, lying helplessly on its back.

I saw it, too.

“My baby girl,” you say. “Emergency surgery.”

Our daughter.

You drop your gaze to the desktop, to our lined-up dissection tools, then continue. “It was a car accident. My wife and me, we shouldn’t have seen it. But it happened so quickly….”

“So quickly,” I agree.

“They shouldn’t have let us watch.”

“No, they shouldn’t have.”

She’s not a baby girl anymore. She’s grown, with babies of her own, but if I tell you they all came to visit last weekend, the news will fall away, like beads of water on an oiled pan, unregistered. Still, the fresh pain in your eyes nearly destroys me. So, I close the frog’s tummy flaps and stand it up, humming off-key Chubby Checker. The frog does the twist.

We both laugh.

Naturally, at that moment, the Tadpole looks over. She strides toward us, crossing her green-sweatered arms, disapproval settled heavy on her brow.

You don’t seem to notice her, but you stop laughing. Suddenly, your head tilts. A rare tenderness floods your face. Our eyes meet.

Just once, you say my name. Then you’re gone again.