The Frog and the Butterfly

 At a place far away, where the earth meets the sky, where rainbows are born and the land is green and fresh, there was a small grassy patch of ground in a far corner of a rain forest. 

All around the clearing giant forest trees trailed vines and reached towards the sun. In the middle was a pond of water. It wasn't very big.

But it was the whole world to Robbet the frog. 

If he was a frog, he was the only one like himself he had seen. But the animals of the forest assured him that he was a frog. So he decided that, on thinking about it, he probably was. Robbet did not know how he came to be the only frog in the pond. Perhaps all the other frogs, if there had been any, were eaten by creatures.

Or he might have been washed there as a tadpole.

Robbet spent his days doing the things that frogs do. Eating flies and hopping about and swimming in the pond and eating more flies. ln the dark he sang his frog melody to the empty blackness of the night. He always sang but no frog sang back. 

Robbet only knew he felt sad, alone and separate. Every day was a day of sadness and tears when Robbet thought about his feeling of emptiness. The emptiness that you feel inside when you are not able to see the beauty in the world.

The other animals in the clearing did their best to cheer Robbet up. They chatted with him and played games and tried hard to make him happy. But nothing worked. Even as Robbet talked back and joked and even laughed, he still felt as if he were not part of the group or the world.

And so he could often be seen hopping along crying as he went. Oh, how hard it is for a frog to cry. How it hurts! As the tears flowed from his eyes they ran down into his ears and Robbet could not hear. Every few hops he would stop, lower his head and sadly shake it from side to side to clear the tears. Like a swimmer getting out of a pool.

Sometimes Robbet just sat on a rock in his pond and thought about how he lost happiness from his life.

When did he first notice he wasn't very keen on anything? When did he first not care about tomorrow? How did he lose gladness from his heart? How? 

When? He might have just been careless one day when he was playing and misplaced it. He might have stopped talking about the beautiful world and forgot how to. You might need to keep talking about it so that you can see it, he thought.

He was very sure he was tired of feeling sad. It wasn't natural to be sad all the time. Being sad all the time was not fun at all. He could not have good times with the other animals and even the rain dripping through the trees sounded like teardrops as it landed on the ground below.

Sometimes he felt so miserable he would call out to no one in particular, "Oh, Beauty! Where are you? I need you. I need you so much!"

But that call was not answered either.

Robbet shared his pond and his clearing with Dan the Anaconda and Tinni the Toucan.

Dan had been driven from his home with the other reptiles because he refused to eat frogs. He was a vegetarian snake. The very idea of those wriggling green feet slipping down his throat tickling as they went, made him feel quite ill. So he lived on a steady diet of water lilies. Much to the disgust and cruel teasing of other snakes and the alligators.

Dan had found peace with Robbet in the pond far off in their corner of the forest. He lived happily with the frog, but Robbet thought it was not really a good enough reason to call someone a friend just because they did not eat you.

Anyway, when you can't see beauty you certainly cannot feel it. So you don't feel friendship. But Dan was all right. He made up rhymes to please Robbet,

"I like frogs who sit on logs and paint their toes.  
Yes I like those.  
I like frogs up in trees who paint funny faces on their knees. 
Yes I like these. 
I like frogs green with spots.    
I guess I like frogs, lots and lots and lots."

But although the frog laughed, nothing really seemed to help.

Dan could not understand how any frog could feel so bad. 

"But Robbet," he said, "you shouldn't be so glum. You should be happy to see tomorrow. Do you know that every frog is only one kiss away from being a Prince?"

"No,' replied Robbet, "l'm definitely a frog. Anyway, there has to be a Princess and I don't think we find them in the forest."

Tinni the Toucan was a happy go lucky bird. He liked to play with Robbet and Dan.

He spent some of each day trying to hang glide from one side of the clearing to the other. In his beak he held a piece of wood, and with his wings stretched out over top, he would launch himself from high in a tree and attempt to glide across the wide open space.

Except the space wasn't very wide. And he never made it more than half way. Not once. Not ever. A Toucan is simply not made for gliding and unless they flap their wings, they simply sort of crash.

But Tinni did not give up. He was always trying something new. A shorter piece of wood. A longer piece of wood. Wings bent or straight. Beak open or shut, up or down. He soon learned not to fly with his beak up. It was impossible to see where he was going and trees are not too soft when you bump into them. But he was determined to succeed.

"Why do you bother with hang gliding when you can fly as well as any parrot?" Robbet asked.

"Because flying is too easy," answered Tinni. "Everybody expects a bird to fly. How boring!"

But Tinni always got it wrong. Everyday he crashed or bumped or scrambled and scraped and everyday Dan Anaconda and Robbet smiled at his efforts. Tinni didn't mind the others being amused. That was part of his fun.

"You got it wrong again," Robbet and Dan called to the crumpled Tinni sprawled on the grass.

"Not to worry," said Tinni, straightening his feathers and wiping grass from his beak. "If anyone can a Toucan can!"

At night, under the faint flickering of the stars as they shone through the tree tops, the three sat around  the pond and talked.

"What do you mean by the beauty of the world?" asked Dan.

"l mean the world and its animals and its people and the flowers and the trees and the sun and the water and the moon and the stars and all the happiness and joy in hearts beating all over the world. I mean the beauty of life and just being alive," answered Robbet.

"We all need to see the beauty of the world or we are not really living. I mean really see it and not just look at it."

"You really are a philosophical frog," said Tinni.

"How do you learn to see the beauty?" asked Dan.

"l don't know," said Robbet. "I think you have to find a key. Something to show you. lt is as if there is a secret locked in a box and the key will help you open it. We all have to find the key for ourselves. We might all have a different key. And we might all be looking for a different secret. There might be lots of secrets. Different kinds of beauty."

"But I am not unhappy like you, Robbet," said Tinni. Does that mean l can be happy and not see the beauty?"

"No," answered Robbet, "you see all right. You do not realise it that all seeing is, is like looking out of a window, and for some of us the curtain is harder to pull aside." 

"You think a lot of hard thoughts, Robbet," said Tinni. "Does it hurt your head?"

They all laughed.

So the days passed.

For the animals and the trees and the flowers of the forest, each day brought change and growth and action. Howler monkeys howled, brilliantly coloured parrots flashed across the clearing like streaks of rainbow lightning. Huge and perfumed flowers grew and bloomed and turned their far off corner of the rain forest into an enchanted garden. But it was a garden that Robbet really did not see. Days were all the same to him. The changes did not mean much to him. Life was passing him by and he did not even notice. He did not even care.

One bright spring morning that was as fresh and as sparkling and as new as every spring morning that has ever dawned, a butterfly came to live in the garden.

She was a delicate and fragile creature whose wings trembled as she settled onto a flower to rest. Tiny Juliet had arrived and Robbet's world was about to change for ever.

Robbet did not notice the butterfly at first. Well, it was not the kind of thing he would do. But after listening to Tinni and Dan chattering on about the new arrival, Robbet decided to see what all the fuss was about.

He had seen butterflies before, of course. Floating amongst the flowers but he didn't bother with them. After all they were only fancy flies, and he ate those. Butterflies were a little out of his reach.

Juliet was very pretty, he had to admit. In an insect sort of way. His eyes followed the path she wove as she flew overhead. She looked so gentle and peaceful. As she approached each tree the flowers seemed to turn toward her and open in welcome.

"Perhaps I'm interested because of the way she moves," Robbet thought. "She doesn't hop like a frog or slither like a snake or crash like a crazy Toucan." 

She was different.

She bobbed and weaved and floated in the air as softly and as easily as an idea floats in one’s mind.  Robbet liked to look at her.

Mornings passed and Robbet became used to the butterfly. Seeing Juliet was becoming a habit.

One morning she was not there. Robbet peered into the dark shadows and searched the air for the butterfly. Inside he felt a strange feeling he had never known before. A feeling like he had swallowed a large insect and it was stuck in his throat. A feeling like he was thirsty in his heart and only the sight of Juliet would make him better. How strange! What did it mean?

Suddenly she was there and the frog sighed with relief. Butterflies are allowed to be late.

Robbet the frog looked forward to breakfast time. It was his favourite part of the day. Since the butterfly had arrived, being out and about had become interesting. Robbet had begun to see the beauty in the world. He was soon to know it.

The mist from the damp floor of the forest spiralled upwards toward the tree tops as the early morning sun warmed the air. As was usual at this time of day, Robbet hopped through the undergrowth in search of a juicy fly.

He leapt into the air to clear a tall clump of grass and, as he jumped, he glanced up and saw Juliet flying through the mist. A ray of sunlight caught her as she floated and it shone through the colours of her wings. It was only a moment, but for Robbet time seemed to stand still as the shimmering beauty of Juliet’s wings beat the light of the sun into his eyes.

He knew in one magical instant he had found the key. For one breathless second that would last in his mind forever he had seen all the beauty in the world!

His heart thumped in his chest as if it would burst and he called out, "Juliet!!"

Robbet, in a shock of excitement, fell over and lay in a daze on the grass. He wondered how something so small could be so special. Juliet smiled. Robbet thought if all the loveliness and sweetness in the whole world was gathered up in a parcel and tied with a pink ribbon, it would have ‘Juliet’ written on it, and inside would be her smile.

Dan Anaconda and Tinni were happy for Robbet. He was like a new frog in a new world. Robbet thought everything he saw was beautiful.

It was as if he was seeing everything for the first time. 

"Isn't this beautiful, Dan," he would say. "Isn’t that beautiful," Tinni, he would say. Robbet did go on. After a while his friends grew a little tired with his non stop words.

Couldn't you think up another word, Robbet? We think ‘beautiful’ is not so beautiful any more. You say it too much!" they said. But Robbet didn't listen. He was not going to forget to talk about it this time.

"ln fact we are getting rather bored hearing about the butterfly," they added. She was pretty, no doubt, they thought. A lot prettier and nicer to have around than another frog or snake or toucan, although Tinni secretly thought another toucan would have been very welcome, but the way the frog went on was almost too much.

"You do know," said Robbet in the superior tone of voice a frog uses when he's sure of himself, "that butterflies are made to be beautiful. That is why they are here."

"Yes," said Dan, "but what if they are selfish and spoilt?"

"Or like to get their own way all the time?" added Tinni.

"lt doesn't matter," said Robbet, "butterflies can do no wrong. You just have to give them everything they want to make them happy so they can carry on being beautiful."

"Oh," said the snake and the bird, not absolutely convinced. But they didn't say anything. Their friend was happy.

It did not last, of course. 

One morning Dan heard Robbet crying.

"What's wrong, Robbet?" he asked.

"It is no good, Dan. It is not good enough that I see the beauty of the world. Of sweet Juliet. There has to be more. l have to feel it in my heart." He beat his frog chest with his front leg. "I have to feel it in here. Deep in my heart. And I do not." 

Robbet began to cry loudly and deafeningly.

"But Robbet we are getting tired of your crying. Can't you be happy like you have been? You are always wet. You are wet from swimming in the pond or you are wet from tears. Can't you be dry? You are always dripping everywhere."

"Yes," said Tinni who had come over to see what the fuss was about. "Please be happy, Robbet."

"I'll try," promised the frog and he hopped away to find his butterfly.

"Juliet! Juliet! Wherefore art thou, Juliet?" he called.

"Oh, good heavens!" said Dan. ”A classical frog!"

"A rain forest Romeo," added Tinni. "And you've got it wrong."

"I'm catching your hang gliding habit, Tinni," Robbet called back.

He stopped a short distance away and gazed up intently at the precious one who smiled down at him from on high. They didn't talk much. It is very hard for a butterfly to speak frog. Their mouths are so much smaller.

Dan and Tinni saw the way their friend looked at Juliet and called out together.

"Robbet loves Juliet! Robbet loves the butterfly!"

Robbet flushed with embarrassment and blushed brightly.

The other two watched his toenails and fingernails go a bright red, in the way that a frog s do when they blush, and said, "We were only having some fun."

"We were only joking," said Tinni the Toucan.

"l don't think Toucans have a very good sense of humour, actually," said Robbet. But he wasn't really upset. However odd it might seem, it was true.

He knew now that butterflies were also for loving. It was the proper thing for everyone to love Juliet. It was a butterfly's right to be loved. He loved the butterfly. In his heart he could feel loving.

Robbet was so happy he rolled over on his back, stretched his legs out straight and held his arms over his head. He rolled his eyes round and round in circles and let the sun shine on his tummy and make the outside as warm as he felt on the inside. He knew he looked a little silly but Juliet did not mind. She smiled on. 

She really was beautiful, Robbet thought. The light from her wings painted his world with colours he had never seen before. It was the light of love and the colours were so inviting.

Her tenderness and gentleness had helped him see that feeling the beauty of the world happens when you feel loving in your heart for someone. For anyone.

How unexpected, he thought, that it was a butterfly who could show a frog how to see and how to feel the beauty of the world. Perhaps it did not matter what you looked like on the outside. Feeling and seeing love and beauty on the inside did not have anything to do with what you looked like. So it did not matter who showed you. Anyone could.

What a discovery!

Why, he thought, on the outside he was a very plump, ordinary looking frog but inside he could feel and think and see things like a handsome Prince.

No, he decided. He'd rather be a frog who knew things than be a Prince who didn't. His frog heart beat wildly and loudly and he could not help but shiver with delight.

Robbet explained to his friends his latest discovery.

Now they really were his friends. 

Inside he felt what love was and how it changed everything. Not because other things changed, only the way he felt. So old and everyday happenings seemed to be new. The whole forest looked different to Robbet. He saw it all in a new way. He saw it with love shining in his eyes and it all looked and felt beautiful. Now the raindrops glistened and sparkled like glittering diamonds as they tumbled through the leaves, he thought.

As time went on Robbet lived each day filled with a happiness he had not believed possible. He was certainly happier than any one frog had a right to be, he thought. His hop was high and bouncy and sometimes when he was about to pop a tasty morsel into his mouth he would smile for no particular reason at all and, with a dreamy look in his eyes, let the treat fly off. The jungle was a happy place.

With his friends around him and Juliet to show him the way he learned what it was to spend each day laughing and not crying. Everyday was an adventure he could not wait to begin.

But somewhere deep in his mind something troubled him.

He was teased by thoughts that would not go away. He felt he had not finished with the search for the truth about beauty. He did not know all the secret.

Robbet was too nervous to say anything to Dan or Tinni. He did not want to spoil their new happiness or upset them. Or make them angry. It was all so peaceful in the clearing now. He did not want to disturb it. 

Surely, if there was one more part to the secret, it did not matter. Two out of three is not bad, he thought to himself. Just forget about it. But he could not. He could not stop his mind from wandering any more than he could make the wind stand still.

Why do I think and wonder about these things? he thought. Does anyone else? Am l the only one who wants to find out or does everybody else know the secret? It is not good for my health, he thought. All this worry will give me wrinkles. I don't want to be a wise old wrinkled frog. I want to be young and smooth and shiny.

It was a warm and lazy afternoon in the clearing. 

Tinni the Toucan was busy crashing his latest hang glider into a tree and Dan the Anaconda was reclining, draped half in and half out of the pool. His head was up on the bank and his tail end was hanging down in the water. Robbet was having great fun sliding down his friend's back into the pond. 

"You make a great water slide, Dan!" he shouted as he landed with a splash.

Robbet scrambled out of the pool and was about to climb up on Dan's back for another slide when he looked into the still waters of the pool. He saw his reflection staring back at him and that of Juliet who was flying high above him. How odd, he thought.

There is my butterfly above me and below me. All around me is beauty. All around me are my friends. 

He became very quiet.

"What are you thinking about, Robbet?" asked Dan.

"Just things."

"What sort of things?"

"Deep and meaningful ones," answered Robbet.

"Oh, them," said Dan.

And then Robbet realised the final part of the secret. He understood. He was surrounded by beauty and by friends who loved him. 

He spoke out loud.

"This is the secret. First of all to be truly happy we have to see the beauty of the world. Then we have to feel the beauty. And we can do that when we feel loving for somebody. Anybody."

He spread his front legs wide and went on eagerly... 

"Then the third part is easy to work out. We know that other people see and feel beauty too. So they see us as beautiful and love us. Then each and everyone of us must be part of the beauty of the world. We are all part of it. The whole thing."

He looked down at his own reflection and said quietly to himself, "We have to see beauty, we have to feel beauty and then we can know we are part of beauty. That is what I have been looking and searching for."

Robbet turned towards Juliet, his butterfly, and watched her as she fluttered and danced and floated on the air with a rhythm that was like the rolling of oceans, the swaying of trees in the wind, the drifting of clouds across the sky and the beating of his heart.

And he knew that each and everyone of us is part of the beauty of the world.

In Robbet’s ears the sounds of the forest were like music and the song was the sound of life itself.

And Robbet could go on, living in the world.

© Robert Farley

Prize-winner in Japan’s Wataboshi Literary competition – short story category. 
“The Frog and the Butterfly” story was published in Japanese. 1990-1994

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