We decided to extend the trip by a few more days. Truth is, I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but it was where the path of least resistance led. We pulled up outside the pebbledash frontage of the village camping shop at about half four. It was still light but nearly on the turn. Either side of the stoop-low doorframe were straw baskets; floral arrangements of buckets, spades, sea shell moulds in vivid plastic. We went inside and picked out a small, triangular tent, the scout type, only not khaki but a corrosive shade of green. Then the manager – I didn’t quite know what to call him – led us to his car. The three of us sat in the back and tried to dig out the seatbelts. By this point I was sure I didn’t want to. It was no prospect, that tent. The three of us. The green of it. The manager’s car alone felt oppressive. We weren’t usually this close, usually had fresh air between us.
The manager drove us the quarter of an hour to the campsite. Next to him, on the passenger seat, a bucket the colour of spent gum, not like the ones outside the shop; it was more robust, functional, the kind you might wash a car with, or fill with salt water to drop slugs in until they frothed with olive slime, the kind you picture with a yellow rubber glove limp over the rim. When we reached the campsite, he picked up the bucket and got out of the car. We followed him to the dirt-covered plot where all the other tents were. They were all clustered around one corner, packed in tight, except for the spot where ours was to go. There was a low throb of chatter, subdued like the light was now. There seemed to be something between them all, the others, a connection. We reached our spot and the manager put the bucket down on the floor. It kicked up a small, shimmering cloud of dust. From where I was stood, I could see inside it, the bucket. At its bottom lay a centimetre or so of ashen powder, not like the dust beneath our feet; finer, coarser, bleaker. He started pitching the tent, they helped, or pretended to, while I wandered down towards the shore.
I heard it first, a slow lap, followed by the soft drag of pebble back to sea. Too self-effacing to carry over the hum of dance music coming from somewhere down the road. At the shoreline, though, the music fell away. The car, the seatbelts, the closeness fell away too. It was dark out to sea, a gull flew past.
I imagined letting the water slip in over my ankles. Shadow and slime made the pebbles look alive in that light.
About halfway back to the edge of the campsite I felt a void beneath my step, a sudden coldness in my left foot. I looked down and saw my trainer coddled by a brackish pool, a puddle really, ragged ghost of an old tide. Something seemed to squirm from it in the semi dark. I carried on retracing my steps, passed the still fountain, the row of dry shrubs, the hum of music and beneath it that low throb; I couldn’t discern any words within it, it seemed beyond language. It was drizzling, or must have been. I felt the moisture through my skin.
The tent was up when I got back. A lantern hung above the entrance, keeping that virulent green from dissolving into night. The three of them were stood over the bucket, and I too. The manager picked up a plastic bottle from the floor beside him. He poured its contents, maybe a cupful, maybe less, into the bucket. The ashen powder sucked it in; it blackened as it did so, became translucent, almost egg shaped, membranous, then congealed into a large frog.
At first I was struck by how ungreen it looked in the light reflected off the tent. Other than that it was unremarkable, archetypal somehow. Bigger than the ones you picture sitting on lilies, but not at all exotic. It leapt out of the bucket, but the manager seemed unconcerned. He stood there making small talk for a minute as the frog hopped along the base of a wall a few metres away – I could sense his eyes tracking it as he answered their questions about his dogs, the camping shop, how long he’d lived in the village – then he trotted jauntily over to it before it escaped down a protruding drainpipe. They tend not to go far but if they get down there that’s the end of it. He scooped it up in his two hands then came back over to our tent, unzipped the door and deposited the frog inside. Right then, I’ll leave you to it, he said. He walked back to the car. I could still feel the damp between my toes.
Robin Munby is a literary translator and writer from Liverpool, based in Madrid. His translations from Spanish, Russian and Asturian have appeared in publications including Wasafiri Magazine, Apofenie, Exchanges, World Literature Today, The Glasgow Review of Books and The Spanish Riveter. His short story ‘A New Vocabulary of Translation’ was published in the spring 2023 edition of Asymptote.