How to Fold a Paper Frog

by Bella Koschalk

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In half both ways

As a joke, I tell her I don’t believe in contagions. But she takes it too far, pulls her mask down and kisses me between the eyes. We are supposed to keep our masks on, we are supposed to keep the length of an alligator between us. I will get sick now, I know. We are both girls with short nails and little fears. On the blue square of paper, in half both ways, she instructs me. I tell her I’m not good at things like this.

The corners to the center

My grandmother died soaking in the bathtub, sunk under the water, cigarette ashes swirling over the surface. We are both girls, so I tell her this, but she is watching my hands, which are the worst part of me. I don’t mean to ruin them the way I have. But my fingers are wrinkled and chewed up. Why do you do this? She asks, her finger on where the skin around my nail has been ripped. It doesn’t look very nice, the worst part of me. When I press the blue corners to the blue center, my fingers sting. But I don’t want her to know that.

The creases flat

To make me afraid of cigarettes, my grandmother made me smoke one. I was nine and I burned my lips. On her cigarette packs, there were pictures of blackened, cancerous lungs. Now I’m afraid of anything that can touch my insides. I drained my grandmother’s bath and I drained myself, too. Now I am sitting at a picnic table with another girl, and she taps her foot as I misfold and misfold.

To a point

I’m not good at things like this, I say again. She says I’ll learn. I don’t tell her how I used to take a lot of photos on a digital camera of my grandmother’s basket collection. She kept them on a tall shelf and there wasn’t anything in them. My grandmother taught me a lot about how to empty things. She kept her baskets empty. She kept the pantry empty. She kept the mailbox and the room with the piano in it empty. In school, I emptied every yogurt cup I was given, and when I grew up, I emptied her closet full of old mink coats and canisters of tennis balls. Now I am just a girl trying to listen to another girl tell me how to fold.

Down the middle

She is getting angry with the unclean folds, with my hands—the worst part of me. She moves close behind me and guides my fingers for me. It is a harsh thing, her impatience. She says, In half all the way. We are both girls, but she is more than me. The way she cages me, she is like a turtle shell all around me.

Corners out

My grandmother had a turtle who she walked with a red yarn like a leash. My grandmother had a turtle that she maybe loved more than me. After my grandmother died, we found the turtle on its back, mold crawling out of the mouth and the leg holes. Now I am just a girl sitting outside, another girl pressing herself to me as she reprimands me and the way I misfold and misfold.

And again

We are both girls, but she is a knife and I am a sharpener. Her little movements make me shiver, and her little touches get meaner and meaner. To make me fold the paper, she presses too hard and I hiss. Wouldn’t hurt if your skin wasn’t all ripped up, she tells me. I wonder if it is me that makes her sharper. To make me fold the paper, she leans down more, pushes me down more. I’m not good at things like this.

And again until you get it right.

As a joke, she pulls my hand up, holds it skyward, holds it to the sun and flaps it around like the wing of a bird. But she takes it too far and examines my hands—the worst part of me. There will never be the length of an alligator between us. On the table in front of me, the blue square has become a little frog, born from the folding. We are both just girls, but she takes the emptiness inside me and pushes it till it hurts.