The early morning sun twinkled cheerfully through the swamp.
Limpy tried to ignore it.
Dopey sun. This wasn’t the time for cheerful twinkling. Didn’t the sun know a very sad moment when it saw one?
Limpy hopped onto the highway and over to Uncle Spencer.
‘Oo-roo, Uncle Spencer,’ said Limpy quietly. Uncle Spencer didn’t reply.
Limpy wasn’t surprised.
He’d been saying goodbye to rellies for most of his life, and not once had an uncle replied, ‘And oo-roo to you too, young Limpy.’
Limpy didn’t take it personally. Uncle Spencer and the others couldn’t help it. They weren’t unfriendly. Or grumpy.
With a sigh, Limpy hopped slowly along the highway to his next squashed rellie.
‘Bye, Aunty Sasha,’ he said.
‘Tragic,’ croaked a voice.
Limpy peered more closely at Aunty Sasha in case she was a bit less squashed and a bit less dead than she looked.
But Aunty Sasha, who’d loved a chat when she was alive, wasn’t moving a wart or making a sound. Her chatting days, Limpy saw sadly, were behind her. Along with her mouth, which was squished into her own bottom.
Limpy turned and squinted back at Uncle Spencer. Uncle Spencer wasn’t saying anything either. He couldn’t, not with tyre tracks across his vocal chords, which were poking out of his ears.
‘Still,’ said the voice. ‘Could be worse. At least they died happy.’
The voice, Limpy realised, belonged to a goanna who was perched on a branch, looking down at the dead rellies thoughtfully.
Limpy glared at the goanna.
Rude reptile, butting in and making comments about somebody else’s family tragedies.
Except, Limpy had to admit, the goanna was right. Uncle Spencer did look like he’d died happy.
Part of a roadside ants’ nest was poking out of Uncle Spencer’s mouth, and Uncle Spencer always said there was nothing as delicious as ants in their own home. Except stinkweed with mould on it, and in both of Uncle Spencer’s fists were bunches of stinkweed dotted with mould and dazed ants not able to believe their luck.
Oh well, thought Limpy, at least Uncle Spencer’s last meal was his favourite.
There were clues that Aunty Sasha had died happy too. Limpy could see traces of honey, which she loved, in her armpits. And an entire wild honey-bees’ nest, with its roadside branch still attached, clutched to her chest.
Limpy was glad for both of them.
But at the same time he wasn’t.
‘I’ve been watching you, young fella,’ said the goanna to Limpy. ‘Don’t miss a morning down here at wart central, do you? Oo-rooing the placemats and trying to figure out why humans hate you lot so much. Have you worked it out yet?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ said Limpy.
He didn’t mean to sound unfriendly, but it was a very sensitive subject.
‘Wish you’d hurry up and find out,’ said the goanna. ‘Those humans are a menace to the rest of us, ignoring the road rules and swerving all over the place trying to flatten you lot. Number of times I’ve nearly been hit myself. Mostly by flying cane toad parts.’
Limpy took a deep breath through his skin pores and tried not to get cross.
‘I’m doing my best,’ he said to the goanna. ‘It’s not easy.’
‘Let’s see if I can give you a few hints,’ said the goanna, settling back on the branch. ‘OK, off the top of my head, just tossing it in for what it’s worth, I reckon humans hate you lot on account of you’re so revoltingly ugly.’
Limpy gave the goanna a look.
The goanna was deep in thought.
‘And slimy,’ it said.
‘You’re very kind,’ said Limpy. ‘Lucky for you my cousin Goliath isn’t here. If Goliath heard suggestions like that, he’d lose his temper and eat you and half your tree.’
The goanna glanced around, saw that Goliath wasn’t there, and went back to being thoughtful.
‘My theory is it’s the warts,’ said the goanna. ‘Humans hate you lot because you’re revoltingly warty and they’re scared you’ll cuddle their babies and give them warts too.’
‘Nice talking to you,’ said Limpy. ‘Please don’t think I’m being rude, but my family needs me.’
He headed off along the highway to see if any other rellies had been run over.
‘Plus,’ called out the goanna, ‘there’s the whole pet thing. Humans have had a gutful of you lot eating their pets. And their washing.’
Limpy hurried away, wishing the goanna would be quiet.
‘Hang on,’ yelled the goanna. ‘I’ve got another theory. Humans hate you cane toads because you’re greedy and cold-blooded without a warm sensitive feeling or emotion in your whole body. Just tossing it in for what it’s worth.’
That was ridiculous.
The goanna was totally and completely wrong about cane toads not having sensitive feelings. Mum and Dad and the others had heaps of sensitive feelings. That was the problem.
If it wasn’t for their sensitive and easily hurt feelings, Limpy could come out with it. Tell them he knew exactly why humans hated them.
For weeks he’d been trying to squeeze up the courage to blurt it out, but he hadn’t been able to. It was bad enough that fourteen-tonne trucks wanted to flatten Mum and Dad and the others, without him doing it as well.
Toad Delight is available in bookshops and libraries in Australia, New Zealand, and online:
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