The Mass Murderer

by Alix Kane

We lived in Brooklyn on Washington Avenue, directly opposite the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. The Garden was my magical world, my childhood playground. I was about eight. Every day after school I came home, collected my jar and net and asked a neighbor to cross me to the other side of Washington Avenue. I entered through the main gate, turned left and took the path to a large, muddy pond (much smaller when I returned as an adult.) I stretched out on its muddy banks and waited. There they were, thousands of tiny tadpoles swimming in the water, hiding in the mud; they filled the pond. I was fascinated by the world that existed there. I filled my jar with water, took my net, swooped it through the water and gently turned the net over into my jar and dropped the tadpoles inside. I have few strong memories of my childhood, but I recall this clearly a whole eco-world was captured in my jar.

After a while I returned home and poured the jar into a fish tank that had no fish, only other tadpoles. There were zillions of them, an accumulation of weeks of foraging in my pond.

* * *

I really wanted a dog. My mother did not. For years I tried to negotiate a cat, a bird – anything real, something of substance. Of course she wouldn’t hear of it. Who would walk it? Who would feed it? Who would clean up after it? I would have but nobody listened. So I turned to tadpoles. It was feasible and convenient. A fish tank was provided after months of pleading. Not only did I have a pet – I had thousands of them! Entire communities of tadpoles.

The first time I found the fish tank empty, I didn’t get it. Mom said the dirt killed them, and “Why don’t you begin again? There are lots more where those came from.” Dutifully I returned to my pond. And regularly I found the tank empty. I was young maybe eight or nine, but not stupid. One day I found her flushing the contents of the tank down the toilet. A bitch and a liar!

* * *

In 1963 I was married at nineteen to a young man of twenty-three. My family made the wedding as was proper for the girl’s parents to do back then. As a wedding gift Elliot’s family gave us a budget to furnish our apartment. They were well-off and very generous. In retrospect, it was a huge amount of money, probably as much as our lavish wedding cost. But at the time I had no understanding of the value of either the wedding or his family’s gift. They also told us – not suggested, but told – to use their interior decorator, Michael DeSantis. They didn’t want their contribution going to waste. Michael was well-known in the designer trade and so easy to work with. Whatever we told him we liked, he spun into something of good taste. We said avocado green and lemon yellow. He gave us breen (a combination of brown and green) and muted yellow — much softer and more sophisticated. The apartment was gorgeous. In the end I’m certain we went over budget, but as Michael’s bills went directly to my in-laws, I’ll never know.

When we had ordered all the furniture for our four-room apartment, it was time to think about accessories…the things that really represent the taste and personalities of the occupants: artwork for the walls, tables and shelves – even the floor. Ashtrays (we both smoked).  Stuff.

* * *

Michael and I were roaming through shops one afternoon, and I spotted a large toad, about 12” x 12, ” the colors of our apartment, green and yellow. I swooped it up and announced I wanted it… and more frogs.  “Frogs?” Michael asked. I could see the shock and plunged ahead. “Yes, lots of them. I LOVE frogs!” My past had caught up with me and I wouldn’t be deterred.

And that’s how my collection began. That was 1963, fifty-one years ago. At last count in 2001, when I moved in with my current husband, Bernd, there were about three hundred and fifty. As I unwrapped each one in Bernd’s apartment he was visibly upset. The collection was clearly that: an accumulation of all the frogs I had bought as serious art, received as gifts (when you collect, people bring presents from all over the world) and just cheap chotchke frogs that had caught my fancy in catalogues and store windows. You know, the kind holding an umbrella with a “ribit” sign on the stand.

I saw Bernd’s face. I knew many had to go. But I kept thinking of all the tadpoles that had been flushed away the minute they sprouted legs and began to appear as frogs, and I had a difficult time choosing. In the end I kept all the frogs of real value, as well as those of intrinsic value. Three of them had been at my second wedding under the Chuppah. At Bernd’s request, none had attended my third. Several had been gifts from my grandchildren (a bit tacky but meaningful.) Finally, sadly, I packed up the frogs that would go the way of the toilet and asked Bernd to get rid of them in a humanitarian way. I never asked how. I hope he gave them away to good homes but I doubt it. More likely, they were collected by the Sanitation Department. Hundreds of them.

I’m pleased to say I have survived, although I will never forget that my mother was a mass murderer.

Alix Kane has been writing essays and short stories since college. The IRP Memoir class has lately been the catalyst for the creation of short memoir pieces. Thank you Carmen and Leila!