My eyes were bleary and grey. I stood stoop-shouldered, when I stood, as if I was afraid I would bump my head on the ceiling. For some reason I was surrounded by beautiful women. My life had become a Chinese finger-trap. An obese woman in the corner, thighs large and powerful, eyed me suspiciously. The shirt I wore was too loose. In the subway “mirror” — the windows over the black tunnel — my image distorted and stretched so much that I didn’t recognise myself. I looked old, and beaten, like a weathered peasant carrying something heavy on his back, and I wondered if that was what I really looked like. Most likely I saw the frustration of not seeing, my eyes bleary and grey because of eye-drops administered specifically, I am sure, to remind me that I need glasses.
In the seat across from me another old man — I’m sure he wasn’t my reflection — winked and pulled a small steel cage out from behind his coat. Inside were a few leaves, a bit of dirt, and a frog. The amphibian’s throat distended rapidly: I noted that the frog seemed nervous.
“No!” said the old man, “he is only tired. He is a wrestling frog, and tonight he has bested three fierce opponents, finishing them in the manner that I have taught him.”
“And what manner is that?”
“Why, he bites off their heads. That is why they call him ‘The Red Mouth’.”
‘The Red Mouth’ had my blue eyes. “He must like you,” the old man said, setting the cage gingerly in my lap. I studied the frog carefully. He really did seem tired. And there was a pride in him that I couldn’t deny.
When I looked up again the old man was gone. He must have got off at the previous stop, though I didn’t notice it. I didn’t know what to do with the frog so I brought him home and put him on the little table by my bed.
“Are there flies?” the frog asked.
“There will be flies,” I responded, unsure of whether or not there would be flies.
That night the frog whispered dreams into my ear.
“Then I walked into the next chamber. The ceiling was lower than in the previous chamber, and it was covered with thick cobwebs that kept getting tangled in my hair. A gust of damp wind smothered my torch. I kept one hand on the ancient rock wall to my right and walked nineteen feet along this wall, until it ended at a joint, and then I walked four feet up the new wall until I came to the chamber’s exit. The next room was small and I quickly discovered it was only the upper landing for a set of stairs. I paused at the top of landing, unsure whether to proceed further or turn back. I could hear rushing water at the bottom of the stairs and I did not know what that meant. The walls themselves were damp. My fingers traced over what seemed to be an inscription, but of course I could not read it…”
When I woke up, I felt very tired, as if I had spent the night doing gymnastics instead of sleeping.