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Once, upon a lime, there was a frog.

This frog was the most handsome in all the land, the only frog able to balance his thin green body upon the fat round fruits that fell from Salima Sultan Begum's handsome lime trees. He pressed his candy-yellow toes firmly into the green skins and rolled to and fro and fro and to, all the while chirruping, because the empress also loved the sounds of her garden. This he knew as he was a gentleman frog, and it was important to know the likes and dislikes of one's empress. He, being the only frog, put on a certain show.

Salima Sultan Begum possessed the best garden in all the land, and this was how he had come to find her. The garden's pungent fragrances had drawn him from the muddy riverbank as though a tender finger were hooked into his tiny nostril. Upon arriving, he had discovered a terrible wall standing between himself and the intoxicating odors; it took him three days to find the garden's gate, and another two before he found the lime trees outside her own bedroom window. The first time he leapt to a branch to sing, he watched her cock her head and listen.

Her eyes closed, her hair spilling down her bare shoulder like a river of braided ink. Silks and pearls draped her, the silks the very color of the pearls, the pearls deepening with the hue of her own skin. Her palm cradled a glass perfume vial, this glass his own green color, its dipper the color of his small toes. This, thought the gentleman frog, was dharma. He took to the lotus pond that evening to roll himself in their fragrant pollens, coating himself in gleaming gold. He waited upon her windowsill, and though she did not see, he repeated this nightly.

He watched her with fondness as she worked in her garden, dictating its design and fragrances. He watched her with unabashed love when she sat beneath the lime trees to write her poetry. And when she discovered him, perched upon a lime, he held absolutely still, thrilling at the way her finger carefully touched his nose. She smelled like ink and paper, like lychee and orange.

"Littlest frog," she said.

Only-est frog, he croaked. His reply drew a smile from her, for of course she did not speak frog. If she did, she would have blushed all the blushes at his nightly serenades. Still, he reached out with a yellow-fingered hand and dared touch her finger in return. His fingers stuck to her warm skin and she did not squeal, but lowered her hand so that he might climb. He sat in her palm and told himself not to urinate upon her. One did not urinate upon one's empress, especially when one was a gentleman frog.

He sat in her palm and she watched him as he watched her and he could see his own yellow eyes reflected within her brown, and he thought oh this is why I found the garden. That she had built this place for him seemed certain; there could be no other answer for him, so night after night, he kept on, rolling himself in the lotus pollen and singing songs worthy of all the blushes while perched upon her windowsill. "Littlest frog," she said again.

He did not know this was the garden where Salima Sultan Begum would be buried, not until December came and she did not rouse for even his songs. Others came for her then, draping her in more silks, more perfumes. They tucked her favorite scent vial into her hands (lime, lychee, mandarin) and let her body sit in the garden, as the limes dropped to the ground, as the lotus closed in upon themselves. And he wondered how this could be, and if she would be reborn, and he waited amid the lime trees, upon a fat round fruit, to see if it would be so.




E. Catherine Tobler is a Sturgeon Award finalist and the senior editor at Shimmer Magazine. Among others, her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first novel, Rings of Anubis, is now available.
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