The Story of Steve – Part 1 of 2

Fifteen years ago Wonderful Magical Words, my first book, was published, raising twenty grand for Make-A-Wish Foundation, for which I’m eternally grateful. Here’s a passage I hope you enjoy, The Story of Steve …

I was twelve. And I got a small African tree frog as a pet, one of a few to surface at our local pet shop, a novelty we assumed was part of an order gone wrong. It stayed in a fishbowl of water on my dresser, floating at the surface to breathe while living mostly underwater, wedged between rocks. It ate frog food. Yes, the pet store had frog food – tiny cylindrical pellets the colour of old moss.

“How long do they live?” they’d ask. To which I’d shrug. I imagined Steve would be part of my life as long as was intended; no more, no less.

I named him Steve. I believe Steve identified as he/him/his because he croaked (not slang; actually croaked) and I learned that only males of the species croak. By the time I left home to go to university, Steve had been my pet for eight years. People were surprised at how long I’d had him.

“How long do they live?” they’d ask. To which I’d shrug. I imagined Steve would be part of my life as long as was intended; no more, no less.

Fitting neatly in the base of a cupped hand, he had a peaty green back, cream coloured belly, and the quads of a skater. Every so often he’d let out his high-pitched croak – a kind of clicking. Click … click. Occasionally he’d double-down. Click-click … click-click. It sounded like two small rocks being tapped together or someone striking a flint. I could make him stop by resting my finger against the side of his bowl. A simple relationship, but I loved Steve. He was a great pet, bringing fun and consistency to my life, and I liked to believe he was better off having one square a day in a pleasant, albeit small environment far from his traditional African predators. (There hadn’t been a leopard or hyena sighting in Vernon BC for as long as I could remember.)

Steve and I went to university. The first time, we drove. I was at the wheel, Steve was in a travel jar (a one quart Mason). Later, we flew, Steve once more in his travel Mason. This was pre 9-11. And as I slid Steve, jar and all, through the security X-ray system along with keys and wallet, airport security, a seemingly competent, youngish woman – screamed – a proper, lung-splitting Jamie Lee Curtis Fright Night scream. A clump of anxious security materialised instantly, a few heavily armed. The shrieking security, I felt, lacked the cool professionalism the role warrants. However. Things simmered down, somewhat. Along with explanations. Apologies ensued. Then smiles. And chuckles. “How long do they live?” Shrug.

Steve and I made our flight and ended up having a pleasant journey. There was no meal option for Steve as he was on my lap, flying free. Like a toddler, only cuter.

Part 2 next time …

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.