When the men come to my house for the last time, they cut off all the services and take everything apart from my swivel chair. How can I collect water from the well with that? In the fairy story, the maiden who was told to fetch water in a sieve relied on a frog to tell her to line it with moss and mud, a solution she could have come to easily on her own. There are no frogs at this well and the chair is too big to fit in the opening. I twirl around on it to see if that might help me think of something, when two other women turn up, both carrying knives. They could kill me, eat me up, I know that — times are desperate, women will do anything — but all they want to do is have a go on the chair.
‘For old times’ sake,’ one says, ‘to remind me when I could go out and work in an office.’ So I let them spin around as much as they like.
None of us know how to reach the water in the well. When it rains, we lie on our backs with our mouths open, but it only rains long enough to moisten our lips. We’re on first name terms now. Shirl, Lily and me, Babs.
After the rain stops, the frogs arrive and gather around waiting to share their suggestions.
‘Sleep with me,’ one says, ‘and I’ll tell you how to fix your problems.’ Such a cliché. Shirl cuts off its head before it has a chance to say more. And it doesn’t turn into a prince who might take us all to a happy-ever-after-future. It’s just a dead frog.
We toss around ideas about how to use the swivel chair to collect water. In the end I have the brainwave to unscrew all its parts with a coin I discover in my pocket. Lily helps and we lower the hollow legs down the well. It’s so hot, and we’re so dehydrated, we drink pints, even though the water’s brackish. Lily says she feels like a plant with leaves plumping up again She squeezes my arm and says that I’m a plant too, then chuckles, like she might have done after drinking gin on a night out with the girls. I’ve tried not to think about back then, but with Lily it feels okay.
Shirl kills the rest of the frogs, and we eat them raw. She tells us frogs’ legs are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and potassium. So that stops us throwing up. After we’ve finished, I spot some peppermint in the grass near the well. And when we chew it, it’s like cleaning our teeth. So we’re all right, really. Managing.
Jude Higgins’ chapbook The Chemist’s House was published by V,.Press in 2017. Her flash fictions have won, been placed or listed in many contests and are published widely in magazines and anthologies. She founded Bath Flash Fiction Award, and directs the short short fiction press Ad Hoc Fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. judehiggins.com @judehwriter
Photography by Mayank Dhanawade