There were a total of eight frog legs. Bigfoot experimented with the presentation, first stacking them across each other like a speckled log cabin, and then laying them out like the spokes of a wheel. Eventually he leaned them against each other to create an amphibious wigwam, binding the feet together at the top with a thin vine of honeysuckle. He spread the webbing and toes out into the shape of a blooming flower. A gooey anemone. Fresh blood puddled at the arrangement’s base like a raspberry glaze.
His decision to carry the picnic table from the Welcome Center to this remote corner of the pond had been a good one. Bigfoot had to admit, with the sunlight on the water, a soft breeze wafting scents of moss and pine through the trees, and a string section of crickets and bobwhites providing dinner music, the setting was pretty damn romantic.
And yet Bigfoot was nervous. He’d watched campers set up to eat before, but never from a close enough range to grasp details. Had he forgotten anything? If Reserved for Game Warden was on her regular schedule, she could be here any minute.
It was a longshot, he knew, but with nothing to lose, one worth taking. He’d woken from his last hibernation to find streaks of silver in his pelt, and could feel the sun beginning to set on life’s big adventure. He’d cannonballed over waterfalls, bellowed from the top of giant sequoias, played hide and seek with paparazzi, made tabloid headlines and spooked countless day hikers, but he’d never known love. Lust, maybe. Infatuation sure. But the beating of the heart that makes a beaver mate for life, a lone wolf howl, or a barn owl return to the same barn night after night? No sir. At the age of 46 winters, his dips in the hot spring of amour were few. A mistaken obsession with a turkey hunter in a ghillie suit. An ill-fated autumnal interspecies fling with a brown bear.
Reserved for Game Warden was not exactly a match on paper, but who was? As far as he knew, he was a genus of one. And having spent the last five seasons in the park, there was no denying Reserved for Game Warden had it going on. She smelled like soup, had a snorty laugh that boomed through the canyon, and sometimes wore a super thick winter parka that gave her a figure to die for. He would lay in his cave, picturing her fully clothed. She made it hard to hibernate.
Bigfoot surveyed the table. Walnut and pine cone salad. Berries, bark, and other foraged nibbles. Box turtle tartare, served in the shell. Followed by his favorite (and what he hoped would be hers too), the frog legs, so fresh they were still twitching.
A nice spread, but a little light. Enough? Bigfoot counted the ducks on the pond in case she wanted a second entree.
Shafts of last sunlight filtered through the big trees, filled with floating bits of shedding forest. A loon sounded from the misty dusk on the other side of the pond. If Reserved for Game Warden didn’t get here soon, she might not find him in the fading light.
Catching fireflies was a drag. Bigfoot’s twilight vision wasn’t great, and half the time he’d grab too hard and smush the damn thing, coating his palms with phosphorescent goop. But tonight was special. Bigfoot leaped and lunged, making frenetic circles in the long grass, until he caught enough to fill one of the leftover decapitated bullfrog heads. He brought the skin of the neck to his lips and blew, inflating the rubbery chin pouch into a diaphanous balloon and twisting it off with a knot. Bigfoot centered it on the table in a bed of tree moss, a throat bubble dancing with foxfire.
He was running a forked stick through his hair like he’d seen people do outside a KOA shower when he noticed the signpost was leaning a little to the left. Bigfoot straightened it, beaming at the metal sign with her name on it. Yanking the post from the space where she parked her rolling contraption and bringing it here had been a real stroke — of course she’d come looking for it. The trail of sticks he’d left would lead her right to a private table for two at Chez Footsie.
Bigfoot’s nostrils flared. Love, and Reserved for Game Warden, were in the air. He could smell her. Bigfoot put on his warmest smile.
And then, pushing through a thicket, she appeared. The soft yellow of the sun on her face, a bramble in her hair.
Bigfoot gasped. Adrenaline roared. She felt the same way he did, her open mouth a reflection of his. Her eyes were wide. Yes, she’s as excited as I am.
The encounter played out in slow motion. Grunts were unnecessary. They were speaking a language of the heart. Bigfoot opened his arms. She took a step back, reaching for her belt. A gift? Yes, she wanted to give him something, extending it towards him, an offering of hello. She too, was overcome. Her hand was shaking!
Bigfoot heard the zzzzt of a winged insect and felt a small sting. He looked down to see a weird dragonfly stuck in his belly, bright orange with tiny tail feathers. He swatted it away, annoyed at the distraction from the moment. Returning his gaze to his newfound mate, a swoon overtook him, buckling his knees and blurring his vision. He fell forward onto the table, scattering berries and bursting the frog throat. A tiny squadron of fireflies flew up into the night like campfire embers.
With dreamy half-shut eyes, Bigfoot looked up at Reserved for Game Warden’s name in reflective paint, going in and out of focus, trying to put a big finger on this new, strange tranquility.
It must be love.
Read this while listening to ‘Alligator Wine’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Jeff Alphin lives and writes with his wife, Jane Brettschneider, in the salty waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point, Baltimore. Check out more of their work at https://riskybbq.tumblr.com. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR
‘Big Date’ is what happens when you accept a 48-hour flash fiction challenge to write a romantic comedy set near a pond featuring a reserved sign, and then lock yourself in a beach motel room with a bag of chilli dogs and a pint of tequila. I’m happy it’s found a home at Silk + Smoke. For more curiosities, visit https://riskybbq.tumblr.com/.