A Toad of a Man

          Silently, I watch. My new boss, a toad of a man, croaks thinly veiled threats disguised as braggadocio. His tongue darts in and out; at any moment he might trap and swallow one of his lowly staffers, his prey. Shirt buttons straining at his girth, ochre tie trussing his nearly invisible neck, his preening, squat form strives to loom large behind his unimpressive desk. White athletic socks squint between his brown pants and mud-colored dress shoes.
          Touting his tremendous success hosting (minor) events, he waxes on, describing unremarkable gatherings and their import to the institution in terms appropriate for a Trustees’ Gala or White House State Dinner. Vowing staffers’ demise should future events fail to surpass his recollected triumphs, casually, oh so casually, he drops the new president’s first name, as if they’re old chums. But they’re not.
          Shamelessly, the tyrant toad parades his penchant for regaling underlings with sordid yarns of colleagues’ erotic exploits. His lewd tales of intimate encounters strain credulity, as does the disdain he professes for the debauchery he so diligently catalogs, zealously including (and relishing) every lascivious detail. His obvious delight in the discomfort his itemized indecencies arouse further offends subordinates subjected to his indecorous tales. He relishes each indelicate morsel, each tattling tidbit, as he has convinced himself of the protective power others’ indiscretions proffer. Hungrily, he hoards and recounts raunchy rumors and salacious stories. Stockpiling facts, falsehoods, and fabrications with equal ardor, he wallows in his mirthful muckraking. Armed with anecdotes of adversaries’ transgressions (real and imagined), when in peril, he’s primed to casually, oh so casually, spew poisonous peccadillos and uncensored slander, believing they bestow impunity. But they don’t.
          Before year’s end, the poor toxic toad will be banished, vanquished by his own venomous malevolence. Yet, despite the abrupt, less-than-voluntary, nature of his untimely departure, to mask his malfeasance, he will be offered severance benefits (obfuscating euphemisms and generous gratuities), purchased, perhaps, with the gossip he so gleefully and gluttonously garnered in wrathful pursuit of vengeance and preeminence.

Wendy K. Mages

3 Questions for Wendy

What was your process for creating this work?

“A Toad of a Man” is a piece that evolved over time. It began as a quick response to a writing prompt offered in an online workshop. As the work began to take form, I shared it with fellow writers. At one point, when I thought it might be finished, a writer, whose work I admire, took the time to meet with me to discuss the piece. Our conversation and her insights highlighted aspects yet unsaid; she encouraged me to continue to develop and expand the work. Her advice was critical to the current shape and content of “A Toad of a Man.” I’m beyond grateful to my family, friends, and fellow writers who generously offer me their honest feedback and support.

What is the significance of the form you chose?

To extend the metaphor of the title, “A Toad of a Man,” this piece began with a simple prompt, an “egg,” and developed into a few simple sentences, a “tadpole.” Over time, it metamorphosized into its current form.

What is the significance of this work to you?

Working on this piece allowed me to experiment with language and form in ways that were new to me. This experience expanded my growth and development as a writer.

Wendy K. Mages, a Professor at Mercy College, is a storyteller and educator who earned a master’s and doctorate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a master’s in Theatre at Northwestern University. As a complement to her research on the effect of the arts on learning and development, she performs original stories at storytelling events and festivals in the US and abroad. Her stories appear in literary publications, such as Antithesis Journal Blog, Funny Pearls, Hearth & Coffin, The Journal of Stories in Science, New Croton Review, Potato Soup Journal, Quibble, Star 82 Review, and Young Ravens Review. A triptych of her poems appears in Scenario. To learn more about her work, please visit https://www.mercy.edu/directory/wendy-mages.

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