Big Girl

by Mary Rodgers

Emily looked up through the clouds.  If she squinched her eyes up real good, she could see Castle Barrineau.  She jiggled her fishing pole.

A pixie buzzed its wings under her nose.  Emily swatted at the little fairy and sneezed.  “Stupid pixie.”  The pixie stuck its tongue out at her and flew away.

The pole jerked in Emily’s hands.

“Hang on tight, baby!  Watch it, now!”  Uncle Jake pointed at the pond.

Emily didn’t take her eyes off of the red and white ball in the water.  Up, down…up, down, up…then down, down, wet line stretchy, stretchy, all shiny in the sun!  Up came the fish, a big one this time, this one she’d get to keep, wouldn’t she?  Wouldn’t she?

She would.

Uncle Jake put his hands over Emily’s, pushed her fingers inside the fish’s mouth–it had teeth!  Little ones, anyway– helped her pull the hook out, and splash!  Into the bucket.

Emily leaned over the bucket.  “He’s big!  Isn’t he?”

Her uncle smiled.  “That’s a big old bass, baby.  You did real good.”

Emily frowned and rubbed her sticky hands on her shirt.  She was seven years old today.  She wished Uncle Jake wouldn’t call her a baby.  She was a big girl.  Uncle Jake had shown her how to bait her own hook just this morning, “Careful now!  Mind you don’t stick yourself,” and she had stuck herself, in her thumb, and it bled, and she didn’t even cry.

Only big girls got to fish.

“Are we gonna eat him?”  Emily sat down on a log.

“I reckon so.”  Uncle Jake sat down beside her.   Emily looked out over the pond.  The sun got all in her eyes and made red spots.  She yawned.  You had to get up real early to go fishing.

The bucket splashed.  Emily looked inside and saw a toadie-frog sitting right on top of her fish!  He was fat and slimy and had blue all on his neck.

“No no no!”  Emily smacked the bucket.   “Ugly old toadie-frog!  Get off my fish!”  She didn’t want to touch him, old warty big-eyed thing.  “Uncle Jake!”

“Easy, baby.  I’ll get him out–-” Uncle Jake laughed and looked into the bucket.   He stopped laughing.  “Baby…leave, leave him alone.”

“Why?”

“You mind me, now.  We’re going up the hill to Mrs. Wheeler’s.”   He grabbed the bucket.

“Why?”

“We got to, is all.”

“Why?”

“Emily Blair!  You hush, now.”

Emily hushed.  But it wasn’t her fault the stupid old toadie-frog was in the bucket.  On top of her fish.

Stupid toad.

Up, up, up the hill they went, and it was hot, and Uncle Jake walked way too quick, but Emily didn’t make a fuss.  Only babies made fusses.

At the top of the hill was Mrs. Wheeler’s house, all green and glowy.   Mrs. Wheeler had to live up there all by herself on account of the fires last year.  Emily didn’t think that was fair.  Toby Wheeler was the one who let the baby dragons out.  Stupid Toby.  Shoulda made him live up there all alone.

Uncle Jake yelled, “Sarah?  It’s Jake.  I think I found him!”  Mrs. Wheeler ran out and looked into the bucket and shook her head.   And then Mrs. Wheeler reached into the bucket and she picked up that ugly old toad!   With her hands!

“Ewww!”

“Emily! You hush.”  Uncle Jake frowned at her.

Well.  Emily crossed her arms.  If Mrs. Wheeler up and caught warts from that nasty old toad, it wasn’t her fault.

“Jake.  He’s hurt.  Look at his leg.”  Mrs. Wheeler lifted the toad in the air.   One of his legs didn’t look right, all hanging down funny.

Uncle Jake said a bad word.  “Looks like Old Man Catfish chomped him but good.”

“It’s infected.  Lord above.  It won’t heal until the spell’s broken.”

All this fuss over an ugly old toadie-frog.

“Mrs. Wheeler?  I caught a big old bass today, all by myself,” Emily said.  “I’m a big girl now.”

But Mrs. Wheeler didn’t listen.

Uncle Jake said, “I’ll go fetch Princess Barrineau straightaway.”

“The entire royal family left for the Festival two days ago.  They’re out of range, now.  And it has to be a princess, or it won’t work.”  Mrs. Wheeler shook her head.  Her face got all red and squinched up.

Was Mrs. Wheeler crying?

Uncle Jake said another bad word, and got real quiet for a minute.  Then he looked down at Emily.

“I didn’t do anything!”  Emily said.

“Didn’t say you did.”   Uncle Jake kept looking at her funny.

Uncle Jake looked at Mrs. Wheeler and rubbed his chin. “Emily might could do it.”

Mrs. Wheeler shook her head.  “Now Jake you know that was just gossip–“

“We got to try it, anyway.  That leg looks real bad.  Emily, go on up and give that old toad a kiss,” Uncle Jake said.

Emily’s mouth dropped open.  “What? No!”

“Emily!  You mind me, now!”

“Ewwww!  No! I won’t!”

“Emily, so help me, if you don’t mind me–“

“Jake,” Mrs. Wheeler said.  “Stop yelling at the child.  It has to be of her own free will.”

Emily’s face got all hot.  Kiss a smelly old toad?  Why?  She ducked her head and started to cry.

“Emily.  Emily, sweetheart.  You remember the day I showed you the little mice?  But they weren’t little mice at all, remember?  They were really kitties?” Mrs. Wheeler said.

Emily sniffed and nodded.  “Are you going to make the kitties again?”  She liked kitties.

“Not right now, sweetheart.”

“Oh.”

“This old toadie-frog is just like those little mice, sweetheart.  And he needs change back to who he really is, just like the little mice had to change back to who they really were.”

Emily rubbed her nose.  It was all wet and itchy.   “The toadie-frog is really a kittie?”

“No.  No, he’s someone else.   But Emily, I can’t change him back to who he is all by myself.  I need your help.  I need you to break the spell.  I know it seems strange, but if you kiss him, he might change back to who he really is.  And it’s real, real important he do that.”

Mrs. Wheeler was crying.  Emily looked at the ugly old toad, all hanging down in Mrs. Wheeler’s hands.   “Can’t you kiss him?”

Mrs. Wheeler shook her head.  “This is a very special spell, child.  I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I could do it myself.”  Big tears rolled down Mrs. Wheeler’s face and plopped on the ground.  “Please try, Emily.”

It was just awful seeing nice Mrs. Wheeler so sad.

Uncle Jake said, “It’d be a real big girl thing to do, baby.”

Well.  Then she had to, didn’t she?  And maybe Uncle Jake wouldn’t call her a baby anymore.  Emily took a big breath.  Maybe if she did it real quick.  Might not be so bad, then.

Stupid toad.

She marched on up to him as Mrs. Wheeler held him out, and looked him right in his big bug eyes.

“You smell like pond-yuck and cow-flop,” she said.  And then she squinched up her eyes real tight and kissed him on the top of his bumpy toad head.

Mrs. Wheeler put him on the ground and then there was a big puff of smoke.  “Well.  All that talk about her mama and the king…” she said.

Uncle Jake looked at Mrs. Wheeler and said, “Reckon we know who her daddy is now.”

The smoke went away, and old toadie-frog was gone.  Mrs. Wheelers’ son, Toby, was sitting right where the toad had been.   He looked up at Emily and yelled, “You smell like fish-stink and girl!”  He grabbed his leg.  Looked like he’d been bit by something.

Emily put her hands on her hips.  “Old toadie-frog was Toby?”

Mrs. Wheeler stuck her hand in her apron and pulled out some leaves and mashed them on Toby’s hurt leg and started fussing at Toby.  “What did I tell you about going into that witch’s garden?  I told you she’d turn you into a toad, didn’t I?  And look what happened.”

“Aw, Ma!”  Toby picked at the leaves.

“Don’t you ‘Aw Ma’ me.  Hold still.”

Looked like Toby was in big trouble.  Good.  Emily looked down her nose at him.  “I caught a big old bass today, all by myself.  I’m a big girl now.”

Uncle Jake came right on over to her and gave her a hug.  “Well, Emily.  I reckon you are,” he said.

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