WRITTEN BY ROB NISBET
It wasn’t just the toads that needed saving – and Sally had a plan!
Yvonne didn’t want to be a gooseberry. So every time Sally had invited her out to join in with some activity that she and Geoff were taking part in, Yvonne had politely turned them down. But working in the same office as Sally meant that the invitations kept coming, and Sally was doggedly persistent.
“Do you have any plans for overnight on Saturday?” asked Sally. “Geoff and I were wondering if you’d like to join us.”
That got her attention. “Overnight?”
Sally grinned. “Geoff’s a real animal lover.” She paused. “All you’d need is a bucket and some Wellingtons.”
Yvonne shook her head as if to clear her thoughts
“Sally,” she said, “could you start that again, I’m not sure that I follow…”
“Toads,” said Sally, as if that had been obvious. “Every spring the poor things get squished trying to cross the dual carriageway at Monk’s Wood. Geoff and his gang will be up there every night for the next couple of weeks, ferrying them safely across the road.”
Yvonne laughed. “Toads. Seriously?”
“Any help you can give would be useful. You’d be saving lives,” said Sally. “You only need do an hour or so, sometime during the night.” She raised an eyebrow at Yvonne. “Go on, live a little. You can hardly claim to be washing your hair.”
Finally, Yvonne had given in. Saving toads! How could she say no to that, without sounding heartless? So on Saturday night – well, very early Sunday morning – she turned up in the Monk’s Wood car park in her floral gardening wellies clutching a bright yellow plastic bucket, a torch and a thick pair of rubber gloves.
She had counted five other cars, so she assumed she was in the right place, but when she’d turned off the headlights everything vanished into total blackness. She was just fumbling in her bucket for the torch when two beams of light appeared heading in her direction. Thank goodness Sally and Geoff were there to meet her.
“This is Geoff,” said Sally waving the beam of her torch into his face. “Geoff, this is Yvonne.”
They say opposites attract, well what do they know? Geoff was taller and his face was half hidden behind a wild beard, but Yvonne could see Sally’s impish glee mirrored in his face.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said.
“Happy to help,” she said. She waved her bright bucket with a slight shrug, “So, toads. What do I do?”
Geoff led them over a stile into the woods, turning downhill towards the lake. “Careful of the roots,” he said. Their torches cast the tangle of trees into glowing spotlights and black shadow.
Yvonne picked her way cautiously through the darkness. She already felt like a gooseberry, tagging along with Sally and Geoff on their night-time antics. At least she felt she was doing something useful.
“I told Geoff that you don’t get out much,” said Sally as they scrambled down a steep bank, littered with leaves.
“What?” Yvonne tried to keep her voice low as Geoff tramped ahead.
“There are no secrets between us,” said Sally. “What harm can it do?”
Yvonne tried to glare through the dark
“It’s OK to tell your Geoff, I suppose, but don’t go telling anyone else!”
She dreaded to think of the potted history Sally would have given of her life. All the lurid highlights: split from her long-term partner, no kids, moves into a tiny flat, works in the same office as Sally, goes shopping but does little else.
Doesn’t get out much. Yvonne sighed; that just about summed her up. Well, thanks to Sally and Geoff’s perseverance, she was getting out tonight. Who knew what rescuing toads might lead to; it was certainly a new experience.
Geoff slowed and ahead of them Yvonne could see lights and a small group of people by the side of a road.
“Used to be a dirt track until the bypass was built,” said Geoff. “The toads have to get from the woods to the lake but now there’s a road in their way.”
A couple of cars drove past, their headlights shining on Geoff’s helpers. “I’ll join the others,” Sally said. “You show Yvonne the Tunnel of Love.”
Geoff gave an amused snort
“Sally’s name for the toad tunnel,” he explained. “It’s down here.” He led Yvonne down into a damp ditch, in almost total darkness, shining his torch onto a hole at ground level which extended under the kerb of the road.
“Tunnel of Love?” Yvonne asked.
Geoff crouched down by the entrance. “It’s springtime. Randy little toads are heading to the lake to spawn. Look there’s one.” The light from Geoff’s torch shone on a squat speckled brown lump among the litter of twigs and leaves.
Yvonne crouched as best she could in her boots. The toad blinked its big black eyes and shuffled slightly in the leaves, turning its back with supreme disinterest.
“That’s one of the lucky ones.” Geoff straightened. “The tunnel avoids the kerb, the cars and predators. The ditch is supposed to funnel them down to the tunnel, but there are still loads of them that insist on crossing the road.”
“And that’s where we come in,” said Yvonne brightly, waving her bucket.
Geoff’s smile split his beard as a car’s headlights swept the side of the road. “It’s good of you to help,” he said.
Yvonne spent the next few hours with the toad bearers. They were a friendly bunch and Yvonne found herself chatting easily with them as they searched out the toads as they approached the road. They picked them up, carried them safely across the bypass and placed them by the side of the lake.
She soon realised that she was the only one with a bucket; that had been Sally’s idea. Feeling a little foolish, she placed it under a dark bush and hoped nobody had noticed.
Sally meant well, especially as she was always bombarding her with invitations. Yvonne had long suspected Sally’s none-too-subtle plan to ease her back into some form of social life.
Well, here she was, out of the flat, doing something, for the first time in ages, and, she admitted, enjoying it.
Geoff laughed at her rubber gloves.
“You won’t get warts from touching them,” he said. “That’s an old wives’ tale. Though you might like to give your hands a good scrub when you get home.”
He showed her how to pick them up.
“They don’t hop like frogs,” he said, “they waddle.”
Yvonne was surprised at how many toads used this route to the lake. She soon got used to handling them; they seemed quite content to sit in the palm of her hand clinging on with their stumpy fingers.
“Cheer up,” she’d say to them and then laugh at their grumpy expressions.
Eventually the number of toads began to dwindle, as if they could sense the approaching sunrise intruding on their darkness. The group of people began to disperse, heading home.
Yvonne caught up with Sally in the car park…
“Thanks, Sally,” she said. “Thanks for prising me out of the flat. And for letting me join you and Geoff. I hardly felt like a gooseberry at all.”
Sally smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
Yvonne nodded. “Just what I needed, getting out and meeting new people. I realise now that I’ve been shutting myself away.”
“Like the toads,” said Sally. “You had this impassable road around yourself – what you needed was a tunnel.” She laughed. “A tunnel of love.”
“If you say so,” Yvonne said with a small laugh.
“Geoff seems quite taken with you.”
“You’ve got a nice man there,” said Yvonne. “He’s asked me to come again tomorrow night; he was really quite insistent. Is that OK? He even said we should go out for a meal afterwards. I told him I wouldn’t mind helping out again, just for an hour or so.”
“Two nights in a row. You wouldn’t catch me out here on a work night.”
“But I can’t be out in the dark with your boyfriend. And certainly can’t go out for a meal on my own with him.”
“I don’t see why not.” Sally’s smirk spread into a full grin. “Geoff’s not my boyfriend, he’s my brother.”
And they both laughed – Yvonne with pleasure and Sally with satisfaction – a job well done!