THE ICE LENS, A Heathen Romance
by Paul West
a novel coming soon from Onager Editions
ONCE YOU KNOW what you’re doing you can start all the way up at the Arctic Circle. I did once. Then, as the season changes, you work your way downriver and, as it gets warmer and warmer, even in that time of year, you keep your nose and head clear by chewing a strong mint. One of those that burn. I always ask my employers for a long scoop with plenty of flex in it so that, when I bend over the pool to scoop up the frogs. I can get the right amount of traction, if that’s what it’s called. The moment arm is long enough, anyway, between where you apply the force and the place you hold the pole at. Then in one graceful lunge you can fling the frog high into the trees, out of the pool into the greenery. Yes, my beauty, there’s an art even to that. I see them now as they soar, catching the sunlight on their backs, and I sometimes hear the birdlike flutter they make as they fall through the branches and the little plop as they land, wondering what the hell happened. They’re not tree frogs after all, they know that.
The trouble is, they keep on coming back. It must be the same frogs. How many frogs can you have in the area of one pool? And it took me a while to figure it out. Then I saw. They weren’t coming back for the pale blue water, ever more lucid than I was, which might rank as bubbly in the kingdom of the frogs, but for the flight. They really liked flying, sweetheart, but what bit of them registers anything at all told them it was grand to sail through the air like that, not having to swim or to try. So, all down the Hudson, there have been frogs starting little flying clubs, soaring clubs, until of course winter closes everything down. Not that they have clubhouses or lapel pins. These are frogs after all, with proud and trivial imaginations. It may take them a day to get back to the water, only to be fished out again and launched; but it’s worth the long haul after the concussion of landing, then the tussle through long grass or bracken, and the night march up the lawn until, plop, there they all are, ready to be sent into space. The chlorine water can’t be that nice, can it? You can tell the old hands from the beginners. The old hands try to get on to the mesh of the scoop before you’ve landed them whereas the others dive away, not having known the joys of flight. If the word can get around among frogs, it never seems to. Only the old stagers know what’s coming, and all the others must think they’re pure wacko, heading for the pool only to be thrown out of it. Time and again. I guess their landing gear is good, from long practice. Kind of rubbery anyway: that’s what they are. They bounce and they look quite streamlined whereas your toad makes more friction in the air. It is mainly frogs, anyway.
So you see, precious, as I work my way back south from late August on, there’s lots of frogs for company, and I sometimes feel like the president of All American Airlines as I go about my chores, getting some of them up to two hundred feet. The wait for the little dry splash of their landing can be really long, and you sometimes wonder if they’re coming down at all. I like this better than the movement northward, when I have to leave at the beginning of the season as all the pools open up their hearts and begin to twinkle. Heading north with a cold heart is a wild thing to have to do each year. Or it was. I never worked on indoor pools. And outdoors are hardly worth it, only for the frogs, I suppose, although there are certain effects of light, I mean light-effects, I might give an arm and a leg for on a temporary basis. When big lozenges of skyblue float on the bottom as if they were breeding or just jostling one another. When toward evening the water surface looks violet and you could go lick it and get a purple taste. That kind of thing. Maybe that’s what the frogs come for first of all, until they get to fly. North or south, it’s confusing.
Sometimes I’ve seen half a dozen of them waiting by the pool wall for me to net them and hurl them skyward. Six in one go? You may well ask. I have never done it, maybe because being a bit simple-minded or at least single-minded I can attend to only one frog at a time, although a group launch isn’t out of the question, honey, if I could only get those already in the scoop to sit still while I catch the rest.
Those frogs amaze me. They wait all night for an airlift the next day. The pool owners amaze me more though. They ask if they can use the skimmer after me, but most of them don’t have the knack, the timing, the muscle coordination, that sweep of the pole I have developed over the years like a fisherman casting far out over the waters. Then, of course, you have kids and they want to stand under the trees to catch the frogs when they fall. But how would they do that? A frog will pitter and patter from branch to branch, going this way and that, before it reaches the ground, and you can’t tell them apart from the leaves, except when the year is well on its way. If I was going to stay in the job, precious, I’d buy my own skimmer and then I’d always get it right instead of being at the mercy of whatever pool things you find from home to home. When there are no frogs I move on fast. When there are a lot, I tend to linger, overcleaning the pool, fussing with baskets and the pH.
I go upriver slowly, but, rejoicing, I come home fast, back to the city, which is always a winter place to me, whereas I associate the river with summer. I open their pools, I find the leaks, I fire the boilers, I trim the filters, I fold up the covers and stow them away, I clean up the ladders and the floats. I hardly have time, in May and September, to write my sweetheart saying I am overcome with work; but you never bug me, do you, you leave me to my job. You are hardly likely to unstick yourself to come and help. That'd be too much, you'd be too much of a honey if you ever did that. I like being alone with the frogs.
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PAUL WEST is the author of 50 books. He has received awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Lannan Prize for Fiction and the Halperin-Kaminsky Prize. He was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government. He has also been a runner-up for the National Book Circle Award and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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