Mr Toad and the Troubling Void: a narrative response to ‘Song of Morality'
Acknowledgement to Kenneth Grahame, and The Wind in the Willows
Mr Toad of Toad Hall, out for a walk in the meadows, sought a pond appropriate for an amphibian such as himself. Today - and quite out of character - Toad had forgone his usual jaunt in the motorcar. The wheel shaft was all crook since his last escapade and Mr Toad thought it best to let the Phantom rest in the garage. And besides, on this fine spring morning in the English countryside, Mr Toad sought only the pouncing pleasure of his two legs against clean grass and soil. The morning perspired well and left a damp glow on the leaves of the meadow. The beads that formed all around him, gave Mr Toad a sense that the pond was baiting him.
There, beyond the ridge line and curving into sight, the placid blue of Willow’s Pond. “Glorious”, sighed Mr Toad.
Faster than Rat could say “Flap Jacks”, Mr Toad’s leaping legs propelled him like a high diver into the blue. Dreamy, sweeping blue – and freshness all abound. And yet, there amongst his leisure, Mr Toad felt a queer tugging, something spinning, something orbital and cruel at his toes. He was being pulled down! And fast. Mr Toad lashed at the water, and cried to the water’s edge, “Help! I’m drowning, a handsome reward for any animal that saves me!”. A dragonfly – aloof to the problems of other pond animals – passed above, as Mr Toad descended into Willow’s Pond.
There in the deep dark, Mr Toad was left with a final thought of Toad Hall, of arrears left uncollected, of unbuilt fountains, and un-bequeathed fortunes. Mr Toad willed himself to die alone. ---
Mr Toad thrashed to the surface. The malice that pulled him down had released him to stagnant water, still again, except for the orbital pulses emanating from his body. Peaking above the surface with his periscope eyes, Mr Toad felt his bearings dissolve. Where was the jetty that Mole fished from on Sundays? Or the creaky boat left from last Summer, unwanted and afloat with mould climbing its planks. This was not Willow’s Pond.
Mr Toad paddled timidly and looked for any signs of the world he had left behind. “Stay calm, make a way for shore”, whispered Mr Toad, entirely to himself as it seemed the pond was barren water. In place of a shore, Mr Toad could only make out a shining firmness, translucent as frosted glass and marred periodically with dark silhouettes. Stepping onto this unnatural plain, Mr Toad’s heart climbed as his carried himself out of the water, and past the horizon of a clean, clear sheet.
If horror could appear plain, surely Mr Toad sighted it then. All around him was a sky's expanse, clear and blue, except for a scrap of unwanted earth that Mr Toad now found himself stranded upon. Unwanted, that much was sure - but not empty; shapes lined the exterior of the translucent pond and beckoned him with their strangeness. Knowing that his sight was not what it once was – Doctor Hare had diagnosed special driving goggles last winter – Mr Toad willed himself for a closer look.
Sliding down the translucence, Mr Toad landed on a course concrete surface – a substance never allowed at Toad Hall, no matter what Accountant Shrew would caution. Reassured by his firm footing, Mr Toad made a few cautious leaps. From this further vantage, Mr Toad discerned a structure through the Pond’s sheen. Monolithic buckets; some upright, some toppled, others upside down. The arrangement put Mr Toad in mind of last Summer’s motor tour of Somerset, and the impressive pagan stone circle of Stonehenge.
Determined to make the measure of his strange captivity, Mr Toad turned to leap towards the unnatural and impending horizon. “Onwards ole Toad, you’ve got guts for this”, intoned Mr Toad.
There, leaping towards the razor edge, Mr Toad was confronted by an odd collection of pots, ceramics, and other material off-cuts. It was a peculiar scene. The arrangement recalled the rear of Mr Toad’s garage, where Grounds-keeper Badger kept an unwanted – but decidedly unthrowable – assortment of pots and planters. Making a closer inspection of an object’s provenance, Mr Toad read the square, embossed lettering: ‘BUNNINGS’. No caster or workshop that Mr Toad was aware of.
Mr Toad, unnerved by the precipitous drop nearby, resolved to keep a safe distance and look for clues to his whereabouts. Sheets of corrugated iron masked another dark reservoir, which Mr Toad avoided least it compel him to another involuntary void. Near-by, the terracotta remnants of something cheap and Greco-Roman in style, along with a long Palladian expanse.
Mr Toad, finding no solace in the study of his environment, began leaping towards the concrete interior that produced him. “Far, far from the edge, that will do for now”, thought Mr Toad, trying to remain stubbornly unnerved. Near the pond, Mr Toad adjusted his eyes. How he missed it in the first place, he could not fathom. Weighing down the pond’s exterior, were a series of disembodied petals, each one separate and squared from its original botanical specimen. Straining his eyes for a closer inspection, Mr Toad corrected himself, “plaster reliefs, surely”. Mr Toad had studied Art History for a semester while at Durham and ever since had fancied himself a keen appreciator of the arts.
“Vaguely Byzantine”, mused Mr Toad to no-one, leaping between each of the pale casts. Then, and quite suddenly, the comfort Mr Toad initially derived from locating an objet de culture was eroded. An ominous sense of authorship had drifted over this place. It was one thing for this floating abyss to be a mystery, quite another for it to reflect some kind of – dare he say – intelligent design. His composure rattled; Mr Toad leapt towards the pond hoping to cast himself back into the void. Perched atop the translucent bank, Mr Toad thought of home, of Toad Hall, of his friends amongst Willow’s Pond, and dived, casting an orbital shape above the pond, and into the blue.
EMIL SCHEFFMANN (b.1990) is a London-based artist, writer and educator. Scheffmann is an associate of the Open School East, and is currently completing a PGDE at the Institute of Education as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Program. He has most recently presented Aquascope, Act 1 at the South London Gallery, and Aquascope, Act 2 at Veronica.