Elizabeth Stamford
first-prize in fiction

The bartender gave us free drinks that night, cute cocktails for the cute sorority girls that we were back then. I remember pink potions that tasted like jellybeans, green and crimson syrups, a lavender liqueur all mixed up with maraschino cherries. A full August moon hung over town and I felt exuberant, reckless. We had just started college and getting hammered was fun - really fun. We giggled and snorted. We tried on each other's lipstick and talked about penises. All of a sudden then, I remembered that I was illegally parked.

Swaying and slurring, I (in my yellow sun dress) left the bar to move my little V.W. Eventually, I found the car and started it, but then, in my pickled state I couldn't figure out how to turn on the air conditioning. I lit a cigarette, opened the windows, and began to drive. Outside, the trees and lights were a long green-gold blur and at first it all made me laugh with delight, but then I heard a siren. Squinting and twisting, I looked up at the rearview mirror. There was a police car on my tail. Heart palpitating wildly now, I pulled over and parked haphazardly by a fire hydrant. Seconds later, a cop materialized at my window. He chewed on a toothpick and was young and sleek-looking, with mean little eyes.

"License and registration?"

A Breathalyzer test came next. I failed it.

The cop held my license in his left hand while flicking it gently with the thumb and forefinger of his right.

"Looks like you're coming with me, Missy."

There was paper work to be done at the station, and after that, more paper work. When I realized that I was to be locked up for the night my eyes filled with tears, but I was still drunk - too drunk to let them fall. The policeman turned me over to a female warden with sideburns. I followed her down the hallway, watching her large buttocks wobble under tight polyester pants. I stumbled and knocked against the wall, and the warden turned around and gave me a dirty look.

"Sorry," I burped, tasting the sickly sweet cocktails all over again.

"Tank's full," the warden growled. "You'll have to go in here." She unlocked an iron door, which she held open for me, and shooed me in.

The cell smelled of sleep and dirty laundry, and for a moment it seemed as if the concrete ground would turn to liquid under my crocodile-skin pumps. When the door clanged shut behind me, I realized that I was not alone.

"Hi," I said to the figure huddled in the corner, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice.

No reply. Moving slowly around the edges of the cell, I lay down on one of the cots. As soon as I closed my eyes, a shrill voice rang through the dense air and I started, sitting bolt upright.

"You drunk?" my cell mate yelled. She had short colorless hair that stuck out at the sides like owl's feathers. It was hard to tell how old she was. She pulled something that looked like a piece of jerky from the folds of a blanket and began to chew.


"Ha!" she snorted, and I wondered if perhaps I should have embellished a little.

"You?" I asked.

"Stole a tractor trailer, burned down a barn. Knocked some bitch's teeth out."

I began to play with my ring, a family heirloom. I always did when I was nervous. It was a beautiful ring - a thick gold band with a tiny diamond set in it. I twisted and pulled, pulled and twisted, then suddenly it was gone. I heard a clinking sound and saw a yellow flash on the floor, followed by a swift movement.

"My ring!" I cried.

My cell mate said nothing, just looked at me from wide apart eyes.

"Did you get it?" I asked, knowing full well that she was clutching it in her fist, watching to see what I'd do.

"Got it," she said, showing me her fist. "Got it here."

"Give it back!" I cried.

I watched her hands. They moved quickly as she shifted the ring from one palm into the other. Back and forth, forth and back.

"Not so fast," she said. "I got a question, and if you answer right, maybe...maybe you can have it back. Ready?"

I had no choice but to play along. "Yes," I said sullenly.

"What's it worth?" she asked. "The ring?"

I wasn't sure. My mother thought about a thousand dollars, but she never had it appraised.

"I don't know. A couple hundred, maybe?"


"What do you mean, wrong? How would you know?"

"You didn't listen to the question, Missy. What's it worth? To you?"

"What's it worth to me? Everything!"

"More than your health, Missy?" she scoffed. "Your freedom? Your pretty little fingers?"

"My grandfather gave it to me. On his deathbed."

"Yeah? My grandfather thrashed me with a toaster oven," she jabbed, pointing to the scar on her cheek. "Before they took me away from him."

I was silent, waiting to see what she would do next. She began to toss the ring into the air again and again, catching it deftly in her palm. I watched it - a glint, a small golden flash in the light that came in through the cell window, under the crack of the iron door.

"What you gonna do to get it back?"

A slow chill moved through my body. "I...I don't know."

"It's worth everything to you and you don't even answer straight. Question number one," she said, addressing an invisible audience, "failed."

"Just give me a chance," I pleaded. "Give me another question."

"I'm goin' easy on you now, you can't screw this one up. Ready?"

I nodded.

"What's the capital of Florida?"

My heart surged with irrational joy. "Miami," I said, triumphantly.

"Wrong! Tallahassee! I lived there when I was a kid. My mother was in the circus there. While she rode elephants, I wore a spangled tutu and danced in the middle of the ring - when I got old enough. Before that, she locked me in the basement of our rooming house while she did her tricks in the tent." She grinned, and the effect was grotesque. "Down in the basement, with snakes and frogs. Ribit," she said softly. "Baby's first word. Ribit. That's all I said when they pulled me out of there after she got stabbed upstairs by the guy who did the trapeze. That's how I got my name. Froggy, they called me. Froggy."

I said nothing.

"Question number two," Froggy announced. "Failed."

"Give me another one," I begged.

"No more questions. Now you have to ..."

"What?" What did she want? What strange humiliation did she have in store for me?

Froggy leaned forward and I saw that her skin was very smooth, like bond paper. "You want the ring back? You have to kiss me," she said. "And properly - if you know what I mean."

"Do what?!?" I tried to keep the shock out of my voice.

"You heard me." Froggy shrugged. "Just a kiss," she said. "Not like it's a big deal."

I stiffened. I could not imagine kissing this frog-woman. I thought about leaving the ring behind in that cell. Was I going to betray my grandfather because I was too chicken to do what she wanted? I would never forgive myself if I did that.

I squeezed my eyes shut while Froggy moved over to my cot and kept my hands over my face until I felt her breath against my neck. Then it happened: the pressure of her mouth, the lips, the tongue. Finally, she pulled away. I wiped my mouth and turned, but she didn't give my ring back. Instead, she slunk back to her corner. There was a deathly silence, and then I heard a gurgling sound - like water being let out of a drain.

Froggy was weeping.

I cleared my throat.

"Could you kiss me again?" she asked piteously. Her voice caught on itself and she wiped her cheeks with the corner of her blanket.

"Can I have my ring back?" I begged.

"Give it back?" Froggy jeered, her tone seared with scorn. She leapt out of the folds of the blanket and leaned over me. The morning sun slithered through the window, casting its light on her face. "Give it back?" Her voice was cool and she looked hard-boiled. She opened her hand, taunting me with my lovely gold ring. Her face stretched into something that might have been a smile, and for a moment I saw her teeth, brownish yellow, dagger-shaped. Instinctively, I cowered, pulling at my own scratchy gray blanket for protection.

"Froggy," I said, in a trembling voice. "Please?"

Froggy smirked. "A couple hundred dollars..." She took the ring out and held it between her thumb and her forefinger, pressing it to her mouth. "If I swallow it, d'you think I'll be worth something? A couple hundred dollars, maybe?" She opened her thin purple lips.

"Froggy, no!" I yelled.

Froggy's mouth opened wide. She popped the ring inside.

"No!" I screeched, but it was too late. I saw her throat ripple as she swallowed. In an instant, my ring was gone.

Years have passed since that awful night, but since then I've often wondered, half-ashamed, about my ring. Just as often, I've wondered about Froggy. What did the ring mean to her? And what became of her? But mostly I find myself wondering if that piece of me, that precious thing is still somehow in Froggy's possession. Did she recover it? Or had she simply allowed it to travel the sewers - a network of pipes pulsing like arteries beneath a paper-thin skin?

© Elizabeth Stamford

Elizabeth Stamford is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at NYU. She has been published in the Paumonok Review, the Pittsburgh Quarterly Review, the Quarterly Black Review, Snow Monkey, Thunder Sandwich,the Dakota House Journal, and her work will appear in the Nieve Roja Review.

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