It was unusually wet that spring and the toads arrived in multitudes. Cooder had to be careful where he stepped, or he would squish them. "Live and let live," was what his Momma taught him. She taught him good, but Allison and Tiffany, the Phleughsie twins, didn't have a Momma. Missus Phleughsie run off with the gym teacher from Eastside Middle School the year before and Mistuh Phleughsie let them run wild. When they got tired of playin' doctor with Cooder that night, they turned their attention to the toads.
Allison picked one up and kissed it. "Shoot, this ain't no real toad," she said. It didn't turn into a prince."
"Yuck," said Tiffany. "That's gross."
"Ain't no worse than you kissin', Cooder," said Allison.
"At least Cooder ain't got warts."
"Show her your warts, Cooder," said Allison and she started to tug on his T-shirt.
Cooder pulled his shirt back down. "Let me be. I ain't got no warts."
Allison narrowed her eyelids so she looked like Hoss Mulligan's pit bull. "You take your shirt off right now, Cooder."
Cooder smacked her hands away. "You ain't the boss of me, girl."
Allison didn't like it when Cooder called her girl, but she wouldn't wrassle him, because he might give her a fat lip. So, she took it out on a toad. She yelled, "Poop!" and threw it against the side of the garage. It exploded and splattered guts everywhere.
"Looks like fun," cackled Tiffany, grabbed a big chunker and let it fly. It hit the clapboards with a throaty, "Splooch!" and rained down blood and entrails on them.
"You're nuts!" shouted Cooder and jumped up to get out of the line of fire.
When the twins got bored with that, they had worked up enough rage to unleash their Amazon instincts. They knocked down Cooder, tore off his T-shirt and ripped it into strips.
"What am I gonna tell my Momma?" he pleaded.
"Tell her the girls beat you up," they chorused.
They knew he wouldn't admit to that, so they were home free. They tied the strips of cloth around the toads' no-necks and ran across the road, screaming and swinging them like bolos. High up into the arms of the old oak they flung them. The carcasses hung spraddle-legged over the caliche earth.
In summer, the grizzly ornaments shriveled down to desiccated skeletons. Every day, when Cooder walked by, he saw them silhouetted against the sky. As the Texas sun sizzled down, it frizzled their skins to leather. Their bones kept the shape of toads. The sight seared into Cooder's brain. They were equals in his eyes, and undeserving of the wrath of woman.