It was a cold, bleak, biting winter day when he arrived. A heavy fog settled over the land like a woolen cloak, casting the world in perpetual twilight. The snow was heaped up in large drifts, covering hard-packed ground. It was so cold that not even the deepest roots of the tallest trees could escape the chill. In short, it was miserable. The mood was quite the opposite inside the house, where there was a seemingly endless list of things to do: there were packages to wrap and slip under the tree; there were cookies to bake; there were calls to return and letters to write and a number of other seasonal activities that were both exhausting and enjoyable.
It was during this frenzy of activity that Tiny Tim turned up. His appearance was unexpected; he didn't knock on the door or ring the bell. He wasn't even given an invitation. In fact, it was only by chance that he was discovered in the first place.
I had gone down to the basement to fetch the roasting pan for the Christmas turkey and was not prepared to find the tiny toad at the foot of the stairs. He was hardly larger than a pill box, with a brown-green exterior that had me believing he was a leaf until he hopped - yes, hopped- in front of me as if to say, "Hullo, I am here."
I gasped in surprise, for who expects to find a toad in their basement on Christmas Eve?
"How did you get in here?" I asked, not really expecting an answer. He didn't give one. He just stared up at me with his bulbous toady eyes.
"Well, now what?" I scooped him up, roasting pan forgotten, and considered the situation. He couldn't stay in the basement, on the loose, not with a dog and two cats running wild, and it would be no less cruel to set him outside. "I think I'll call you Tiny Tim."
I nestled the amphibian in my palm and carried him upstairs. The animals, having caught the whiff of a snack, came running: first, the dog, with his body wagged by his tail, with such force it was a wonder that the two didn't pull apart; and then the cats, who regarded the situation with a casual disdain.
"Did you find the pan?" my husband called from the kitchen.
"Not exactly," I replied, lifting my hands up to keep Tiny Tim away from the puppy. "I found a toad."
"Was it dead?"
"Not exactly," I said again.
What to do, what to do? I needed to find something to put Tiny Tim in to keep him out of harm's way. I couldn't hold him forever. The best option was the laundry-room sink, and so there he went, down into the basin. He hopped across the bottom until he settled in the drain.
"What are you planning to do with him?" my husband asked.
"I haven't a clue." And that was the truth. "We should feed Tiny Tim. And at least try to make him comfortable."
"You've named him?"
"Of course." He was a Christmas toad. He needed a name.
Later, as we dined on our Christmas Eve fish, Tiny Tim enjoyed a few crickets in the makeshift terrarium I put together for him. It was as comfortable a place as our froggy-friend could hope for on a frigid December night.
*Note: Tiny Tim the toad made his Christmas Eve appearance in 2008. He lived happily in his terrarium until the end of January 2009 and is thought of fondly every December the 24th.
The first line of this post inspired by Charles Dickens.