One night Alex's mother brought home Greeny, a tree frog, in an empty tub of margarine with holes pierced in its lid, so that she could breathe. A mistake. Their apartment was too small for pets. But Alex promised to take good care of his Greeny even if he’d get bored of feeding and cleaning after her.
"You'd better do so," said Alex's mother, "I’m not good at it. All our potted plants died. Maybe you could make a home for Greeny out of the empty earth pot from under the stairs."
They went to bed.
The next day Alex took Greeny to school, hiding the box under his jacket, so that the school bus driver wouldn't yell at him, or take him to the principal again, like the previous week when he merely talked to his new classmate, a girl who sat in front of him and dropped her straw hat under Alex's seat.
His mother understood then that it wasn’t his fault.
"It’s a 45-minute ride home!” she said baffled. “What a mean bus driver. Kids can’t shut up for so long." She wrote a note to the principal, but she warned Alex he’d have to stay at home if the driver kicked him off the bus. Alex's mother didn't have a car to drive him to school.
Anyway, Greeny went to school and returned unharmed home. They gave her some grass leaves but she didn't touch them. She was obviously unhappy with her margarine-tub prison. Alex said he’d take care of her, let her jump around his room, and put her back in the box in the evening, so his mother said, "Okay," and went to read plays in her room. She was a graduate student at Louisiana State University.
They totally forgot about the frog, until next morning when Alex wanted to take her to school again, but couldn't find her.
"I've told you, haven't I?" said his sleepy mother. "Don't cry, she’ll come back, she just went out for a walk. She got lost, but she’ll be back. If no one steps on her." And they both went about their day. Late afternoon when they returned home, Greeny didn't, didn't come back. Alex sobbed, "Oh! I wish I had a pet. I wish I had a pet!" and he hugged his mother in his distress.
She said she’d tell him a story about a frog in the evening. Since he showed no interest, she said, alright then, be it about two frogs! What about three frogs? Alex laughed through his tears and went to play and by the time they went to bed his mother was too tired to tell him a bedtime story.
But at midnight she woke up. Someone was banging on their door. She peeped through the curtain and saw a huge, a huge frog, as big as herself! It was a weird frog, from its waist down she was actually a cow, had an udder, spindly legs, hooves, and a long tail.
Alex's mother just let the curtain drop, pretending she didn't see anything, and went back to her bed, but the frog-cow started to ribbit, a moo ribbit! What the heck! Alex's mother braced up, afraid that the ungainly noise would wake up Alex, and went to talk to her through the window.
"Who are you?" she wispered.
"Don't you recognize me?! I’m Greeny."
"How could you be Greeny when you are as tall as the door?"
"I’m Greeny. Don't you remember my green, smooth skin? My quaint ribbit?"
"How about going back to your pond, young lady?" Alex's mother dropped the curtain, turning again towards her bed.
The frog-cow started to wail!
"How could I go back to my beloved pond?! They've made a cow out of me! The other frogs will laugh at me, or get scared of me!"
"Come now, this is a country that encourages diversity,” said Alex's mother through the closed window. “Haven't you heard of Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans, Romanian-Americans? So now we have Frog-Cow-Americans. But who, what, where did you get this new body, Greeny?"
"Oh! my! It was only my fault! Only my fault! I hopped out of Alex’s window on the campus lawn. I strayed away from my margarine tub, so far away, eating grass, so juicy and fragrant. A young man caught me from under a dandelion while I was munching at its leaves. He carried me in his pocket despite my outraged ribbiting. When he scooped me out he imprisoned me in a jar. He paid no mind to my pleas. He put on a white robe and started to fiddle diddle with some glass tubes. Then he put wires on me and I felt shocked! Actually, see, I’m not quite the Greeny you knew… See, he said I’m the clone of Greeny."
"Pardon?!" said Alex's mother pinching herself awake.
"Yes, that’s what’s going on at the LSU cloning lab. The student wanted to make some unheard of experiments, so he put my frog eggs into a cow womb, and here I am: neither frog, nor cow!"
"Oh! But you look pretty actually! Can you wag your tail?"
"Sure I can," said Greeny coyly.
She turned around and wagged her green tail and then, "Please, please let me in. I’ll never go again away, I promise. I missed Alex so much!"
"But Greeny," said Alex's mother, "are you sure you aren’t a destructive animal? I mean 'pet.' See, in ancient times in Greece there were clones similar to you. Only half man, half horse, or goat, or cow. One was half bull, a Minotaur, and my dear, he was a savage beast. He ate young girls!"
"Oh! No, Alex's mother! Oh! No! I’d never do such things! No! First of all I’m a vegetarina! Secondly, I have no teeth! Thirdly, I’m Alex’s pet."
"Greeny, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you’re a large pet. What could I possibly feed you?"
"Grass and water it's all I need! I can be a perfect lawn mower. I produce milk, like any cow, though I’m a frow. I mean a crog. Besides I can simply go to the dumpster and stuff myself with the scraps of food that the American people throw away. Why send the food children here don't eat to the starving children in India or Africa? Give them to me."
"Milk." said Alex's mother interested. Milk could be useful in their poor household. Might Greeny's milk have magical properties? She was also wondering if she could protect Greeny from the mad scientists in white lab coats running around the LSU campus looking for their clone? Could one trust scientists who played games with DNA? What latent evil might lurk in their creations, like in Dr. Frankenstein's creature? And where is God in all of this? Now, Alex's mother, you’re getting too heavy and philosophical again, please stop it.
"One more question: what happened to our totally frog pet, Greeny?"
"Oh! The poor soul… She went to the Endlessly Peaceful Pond for her eternal rest…" and Greeny sobbed, oh! too noisily.
"May she sleep in peace!"
Alex's mother cracked the door open.
"With one condition: I cannot keep you longer than two weeks without informing Mr. MacGillicud, the resident manager! If things go wrong, they might give you to the Zoo, or maybe someone would like to adopt you."
"Alright, alright, please let me in."
Alex's mother let Greeny in fast, being afraid of waking up the neighbors, and after the frog-cow settled in front of Alex's bedroom door, she went to bed herself, worrying, worrying…
The next day they were invited to lunch. She wasn't sure how to go about it, since the Residential Life Office regulation said not to leave pets and kids alone in the apartment. But since the hosts, Gresdna and Jim, were an enlightened elderly couple, with curious minds, she figured she could squeeze in Greeny too. They were friends from the International Hospitality Foundation, they traveled to Europe often, and enjoyed feeding gourmet dishes to foreign students. What’s another plate?! She prayed on it and finally fell asleep.
Alex was delighted next morning and hugged his mother and his augmented pet.
All worked well with the resident manager. Mr. MacGillicud said he was used to fugitive clones. "Only," he warned Alex's mother, "often they find their creations and take them back to the Cloning Center's stables. It depends on luck for how long you could keep Greeny, this is her name, right? I’ll register her tomorrow with the office. Would you like her to have a key? Then you have to pay $10." No, no key.
By lunch time they all dressed nicely, put on a white shirt and a red butterfly-tie on Greeny, and squeezed her hooves in roller blades. Usually Jim gave them a ride, but this time Alex's mother let him know that the extra guest would take care of transportation, since Greeny could carry them both on her back.
They jumped on her back, Alex holding onto her frog neck, and Alex's mother behind him, riding sidesaddle, since she was in a long, large skirt. Greeny trotted and rolled up to the Highland villas, no policeman stopped them, which was weird.
So though Alex's mother told Gresdna that there would be an extra guest, and kind hearted Gresdna didn't say no, still when she opened her door and saw the huge frog head sticking out behind Alex and his mother, she shut the door because she didn't open to strangers. So they stood there for a few seconds until Jim came along and gulping, gulping invited them in. Gresdna would join them in a minute, he apologized. She was just making a phone call because she’d looked out of the window with her binoculars and spotted a Blue Jay, or rather a California Scrub-Jay, pecking on the bird-feeder. A most rare occurrence in Louisiana. She hurried to make a report to the Ornitologic Academy in Washington D.C., but she'd join them soon.
They went in, lingered in the living room until Gresdna finally made her entrance, smiling and relaxed. Greeny proved to be, like most of her foreign student guests, talkative, had an interesting life she was willing to talk about, and at times quite poetically.
Unfortunately she couldn't stop plopping pies around the living room soiling the antique Bukhara carpet and Alex's mother, embarrassed, rushed around and cleaned with the brush and fireplace shovel she found by the hearth.
Finally it came to get seated at the table. It was a good thing Greeny liked leaves, for they fixed her a salad.
It was a bad thing she was half cow, half frog. They didn't know whether it was appropriate to place her at the table, or under the table, or separately.
Gresdna asked Jim about it, since he was a scientist.
"Well, quite a charming conundrum, honey," said Jim tenderly. "If Greeny gets a place at the table, then it means she's accepted into the extended family. If Greeny gets a bowl on the floor, then she's not respected for the intelligence she's shown in being able to communicate with humans, which is a no-no. So, she gets the 'kids' table, she and Alex keep each other company."
Alex's mother suggested Greeny could be placed in the swimming pool and Alex could sit on a rubber mattress and they could have a floating picnic lunch on it. That way Greeny would be comfortable since she was too tall and too many legged to be seated on a chair and table like the rest.
So they had a floating picnic, and they were quite happy and had many, many lunches together.
Until one day, when Greeny showed up at the table in her original frog form.
"What happened?" Alex and his mother asked surprised. They got used with her giant head by then.
"Well, all that stuff I told you about the cloning lab, I was just testing you. Well, I wanted to see what sort of people you were. Did I want to live the rest of my life with your family? So I confronted you with something strange to see if you were kind and tolerant. You see, I’m a conventional magic frog, I’m really a gorgeous princess in disguise with lots of jewels and a kingdom and a castle. I’ve been turned into a frog by an evil witch, but if Alex kisses me I’ll turn back into the most beautiful princess and I’ll marry him and look after him and make him very happy."
Alex picked up the frog and put her in his pocket.
From there he heard her yell, "Well, why don't you kiss me? Don't you want a beautiful princess?!”
Alex said, "Well, maybe when I go to college, but right now I prefer a talking frog to a beautiful princess."
"And they lived happily ever after…" Alex's mother kissed him goodnight.
"Oh! Mom, I don't like this ending at all! Why are you making fun of me?!"
"Okay. Okay. Then what about this: 'One day Greeny was gone. We looked around and found that our neighbor, Billy Joe Bob, had been drinking beers outside on the lawn. He could have sworn he saw a part frog part cow going to the laundry room, so he did what he was programmed to do, which was to get his gun, and shoot her. When we came home he had our pet over the barbecue pit. We cried and cried, but I got to tell, she tasted great.' "
"Mom!" poor Alex cried. "I told you not to tell me scary stories! The snakes will come in the night again!"
"Alex, the snakes come because of the ugly stories you watch on Cartoon Network. Mom is here and I’ll chase the snakes away, okay? Go to sleep. I’ll ask the Story Doctor to fix this ending. I’m behind my schedule. I have to read all night long. I love you, sleep well." And she kissed him goodnight.
She read all night, but in the morning on her way to the university she didn't forget to stop by the Story Clinic. She was lucky the Story Doctor was not busy and could talk to her right away.
"What is your complaint?" asked the doctor, a big-bellied grandfather, with a beard down to his waist, while he was taking Alex's mother temperature and blood pressure. Asked her her weight and height, and if she felt pain, on a scale of zero to ten. He wrote busily in her chart, because if he didn’t write the health insurance would not cover the visit.
"I have no idea how to end a story about a clone frog. Help me, please." She told him the story.
The Doctor wrote her a prescription for the story, and this is how it really, really ends:
After hiding Greeny for three months, Mr. MacGillicud, the manager, spotted a cow pie on the lawn where Greeny got careless, and he came to ask if we were still keeping the cow, because the two weeks had passed long time ago. He was very insistent so we let him see her, though we worried that he’d take her away or throw us out. But that is not what happened. He fell in love.
"Oh! wow!" he kept repeating. "Oh! wow!"
He asked what we wanted for Greeny, and of course we said she's not for sale. But then we noticed that Greeny seemed to really like Mr. MacGillicud. She was making cow eyes at him and flicking her tail. We could see how well they hit it off so we said that if Mr. MacGillicud would give us all his life's savings, which in fact totaled $32,563.33, he could take her. He wrote a check right there and then and the rest of course is history.
As by now everyone knows, Mr. MacGillicud quit and took Greeny on television where today the two of them have the most popular afternoon talk show in the country.
Greeny also does political commentary at night.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana