Henrietta Ford was not the sort of woman who had hallucinations.
In fact, hallucinations—which she didn’t have!—were some of the many things that seemed to make life far more interesting for other women. For instance, take her mother. Her mother had dreams. Prophetic dreams. She’d come to Henrietta in the morning, from the time Henrietta — Rietta to her friends — had turned fourteen and say “Henry” — which of course was what mother called her — “I dreamed you had married a prince.”
At which point Rietta, who didn’t follow that kind of magazine, reviewed in her mind all of the dwindling number of eligible royalty in the world, none of which were anywhere near her age, looked her mirror and sighed. There was nothing wrong with Rietta’s looks, mind you. At fourteen, she’d been skinny, with a mop of red hair, and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose. The knees of her pants were usually ripped out from climbing trees, her elbows were scuffed from the same endeavor, and her conversation was of trees and hiking and books. Perhaps a very outdoorsy prince, she’d told herself.
But despite her filling in a bit and acquiring curves, and the freckles fading when she stopped spending quite so much time outside, no royalty — or principality — materialized outside her door, on one knee, diamond ring extended. Even if mom still expected it daily.
Her friends growing up, all also had “things.” Her friend Mary, for instance, had been very fond of music. So fond of music, in fact that she pursued it up hill and down dale, despite the fact that she had no musical talent whatsoever, until Rietta wondered if music should take out a restraining order.
Of course the obsession had paid off as one of Mary’s music masters had fallen in love with her and married her. And it must be true love, because he thought Mary played beautifully.
Jenny… Jenny was into history. She volunteered at the museum, collected artifacts, and talked of people dead 100 years as if they were friends down the road. She’d met a nice gentleman while walking a civil war battle field, and they were now married and had three little girls.
Nelly in her turn had loved money. And she’d married a very wealthy man.
The point being they’d all married and moved away. That morning, on waking up, Rietta was conscious of a great feeling of loneliness.
She’d moved out of mom and dad’s house — as she should have — at twenty five, and had her own little house, on the edge of town. She did very well from drawing/painting whimsical fairy tale scenes, which she sold at local markets and science fiction gatherings.
You’d think that since her “thing” was old fashioned fairy tales, the really interesting ones, she’d have met an ethnologist, or an anthropologist, or perhaps a fantasy fan. But somehow, it had never happened. And it wasn’t like Rietta was that ugly. At thirty four, she was spare but “handsome.” Which meant she wasn’t pretty-pretty, but also not ugly.
On her way to the shower, she passed by her little sunny studio, and glared at the work in progress, of a messy young woman, flowery skirts flying in all directions, as she bent down to kiss a frog who wore a crown — and who looked very surprised at the imminent osculation. It had struck Rietta as funny: the expressions, the movement, the exaggeratedly bright fabrics. But now she wasn’t so sure. She wondered if maybe she should take a day off. Of course, as a free lancer she didn’t get paid for work she didn’t do, but all the same…
She was coming out of the shower, towel around her hair when the phone rang. Grabbing it from the bedside table, she heard mom’s alarmed voice, “Henry, you must not go out today!”
“I dreamed there was a rain of frogs!”
“Henry, I tell you, I’m absolutely sure. There will be a rain of frogs. And think how disagreeable it would be.”
Since a rain of frogs was only slightly less likely than Rietta marrying a prince, Rietta smiled and nodded. Then realizing her mother couldn’t see her, she said, “All right mom.”
But she didn’t promise. And besides, she could take a day off without going out.
Which brings us back to the fact that Henrietta Ford did not hallucinate. She also didn’t day dream. Outside her little paintings, she didn’t even have much imagination.
But there she was, standing in her kitchen, having a cup of tea when a very large — VERY LARGE — frog dropped down, just past her window. He landed on his toes, settled his considerable bulk — he must have weighed almost two hundred pounds — turned baleful eyes to her and said “Croak” in a distinctly tired voice.
Then he pulled on a string, which unrolled a rope ladder from somewhere above, climbed up it laboriously and, ten minutes later, dropped down, landed in front of her window, looked at her and said “Croak.”
Again he pulled the string–
On the third repetition Rietta had had enough. This couldn’t possibly be happening. There weren’t frogs that large. This had to be a frog suit — a very convincing frog suit — and she wondered if her mother had told someone about the rain of frogs, and he’d decided– No!
She put her cup down on her tiny kitchen counter, and walked briskly out the front door, careful not to stand where the frog would drop, if indeed he was dropping. He did drop, close enough that she felt the wind of his passage. He turned towards the window, looked startled, then looked at Rietta as she cleared her throat and said a very loud, “Oh.”
“Look, what is this?” Rietta asked. “Is this a joke? Why are you wearing a frog suit, and jumping in front of my window.”
He looked confused, then embarrassed. Then he sighed, which was a very weird thing for a frog to do. “I– Look, there was a rain of frogs ordered, but I was the only one available, so they sent me, figuring it was by weight, see, and I counted for hundreds of frogs.”
“Who went you? Who ordered a rain of frogs?”
He made a gesture somewhere skyward.
“Why the frog costume?”
“It’s not a costume. It was the taxes,” he said. He sighed again, and looked very tired. “Look, we’ll just assume I’m done with the rain, okay. I’ll go back–” he waved at the ladder. “And figure out what they want me to do next. It’s probably something stupid. It’s very weird being caught in a supernatural incident in a world that doesn’t believe in them. Tiring too. I could kill for a cup of coffee.”
“Uh,” Rietta said, and because this was quiet the weirdest thing that ever happened to her, she lost her mind and said, “You can come in and have a cup of coffee, if you want.”
Probably the thing that made her believe his story for the first time, was the fact that he wiped his feet… er…. paws… er flippers on the entrance rug.
He made polite conversation too, about how pretty and picturesque Rietta’s little Victorian cottage was, and how nice her kitchen was. She didn’t take him to the study. The last thing she needed was for him to see the painting and get ideas.
While he had coffee and she started on her second pot of tea — just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming — he explained what had happened to him. “It was her taxes. I mean she told me she was a witch, but I thought she meant wiccan. I mean, she had crystals and stuff all over her. People do. You don’t take them seriously. You don’t think they are supernatural, you know? Nobody does.”
She watched fascinated, while he held the cup of coffee in both flippers and managed to drink without spilling, despite a marked lack of human lips. “Oh” he said. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed coffee.”
“Where do you live?” She asked, fascinated. It made no sense, but it none of this made sense. “I mean, when you’re not raining.”
“I don’t,” he said. “Not in any sense of the word. It’s like …. being asleep or better not existing. So, what happened was this, I did the woman’s taxes, and it was okay, but then she got audited, and she came to my office. And she said I’d be a frog. And then next thing I knew, I was being awakened for the purpose of showing up in some mountain and croaking to scare a silly hiker into running into the arms of her true love. Then there was this time I had to steal someone’s ball…” He waved his hand. He really looked very tired. “And then I woke up knowing I had to rain in front of your window.”
She took a sip of tea. She thought of telling mother this, and knew she couldn’t. “You’re not…. You’re not a prince, by any chance?”
He laughed, which frogs shouldn’t be able to do. “No. I’m an accountant. Though my name is Prince. I mean, I’m Oscar Prince, nice to meet you.” He extended a flipper.
“Henrietta Ford,” she said. “Rietta to my friends.” And she shook his flipper. It was surprisingly non-slimy.
He tried to smile, but frogs don’t smile very well, and he looked bashful. “Well, I guess I’ll go. Thank you for the coffee, Ms. Ford. I’ll go see what damn fool thing I wake up for next.”
“Wait,” she said. She’d never done anything crazy. She’d never taken any chances. She cleared her throat. “You don’t think you’d come back to human if…. if someone kissed you?”
He opened his mouth, closed it with a gulp sound, then shook his head. “More likely if I did someone’s taxes,” he said.
“But you…. don’t know?”
He sighed. “Not as such, but look, lady, I was no prize even when I was human. And now I’m a giant frog. Which woman would be crazy enough to–”
And then Rietta was. She thought it couldn’t be that unpleasant. It was a couple of seconds. So she leaned forward and planted her lips on the frog’s forehead — fortunately the giant frog was short, being a frog — for a couple of seconds.
He said “Oh” and gulped. His skin felt very warm. And she opened her eyes to find there was a naked man squatting on the floor of her kitchen, and she had just kissed his forehead.
As for being no prize, he was tall and tanned, and had a mop of curly dark hair — she presumed it couldn’t be cut while being an amphibian. Since frogs don’t in fact have hair — and blushed very deeply as he figured what had happened. But his eyes were a nice chocolate brown. He covered the essential with his hands as he looked at her and said, “Wow…. I…. I don’t know what– You wouldn’t have a blanket or something?”
He’d worn her robe, until she could buy him pants, and because this wasn’t a fairy tale they didn’t get married.
He’d gone back to the big city from which he’d disappeared, and calmed friends, relatives and employers with some story.
Only within six months, he’d moved to Rietta’s little down. Just down the street from her in fact. “With telecommuting an accountant can work practically anywhere,” he said.
He’d formed an habit of coming by for breakfast. Rietta found she was comfortable telling him everything and anything, and he loved her paintings, and talked to her about his more difficult clients. They had a similar sense of humor.
About a year after the rain of frog, they got married, much to the gratification of Rietta’s mother who said, “I always knew you’d marry a prince.” Rietta had smiled and nodded.
In the fullness of time, they had three little boys who liked hiking and climbing trees and who were forewarned magic was real, and they should never, under any circumstances, do tax preparation for witches.