Little Blue Lizards
The afternoon heat is crazy. Massive clouds
roll in. At five o’clock, rain streams down with bolts of lightning and peals
I turn off the computer, where I was pretending to work, stand from the desk, and twirl the swivel chair adieu like a dance partner. Whisky in hand, I take in the show from the front porch. A gust blows water on bare shins and sandal feet. I rattle the ice in my glass.
The sun returns to the western sky for a curtain call amid flaming clouds. The temperature creeps back up. Birds sing. I wander around to the back garden. Holding the whisky level, I pull a few weeds. In a trice, I am bathed in sweat, and my hands are filthy. I batt mosquitoes that whine in my ears. I smear my face with blood and dirt. All elbows and knees, I flounder through the screen door into the kitchen.
“Are we under attack?” Tillie asks.
I wash in the kitchen sink, a white enamel farmhouse model. It rides low in the counter, like an iceberg in a granite sea. Tillie remodeled the kitchen for the following reasons:
a) It adds to the resale value.
b) We spend so much time here.
c) We need to keep up with the competition.
“Use a paper towel, not the cloth towel
I dry myself and drop the soggy biowaste in the rollout trash. I search for my drink, then for my glasses.
As Tillie cooks, she sips from a glass of chilled white wine. She likes it dry and fruity, not too astringent, a wine that comes from a named vineyard, in a tapered bottle, with a real cork. She keeps it on the upper shelf of the liquor cabinet.
Whisky is on the lower shelf. I pour and replace the bottle. Ice from the doodad in the freezer door. Not cubes but crescents.
“Little blue lizards,” I say. “Three to six inches long, black with a bright blue tail.”
“What about them?”
“I see them around the porch, on the steps, on foundations. They are fond of masonry.”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“They don’t make a sound. They dart into crevices.”
“What do you expect from a lizard?”
Tillie sautés something in butter and garlic. Scallops? Veal? Gobbets of pale flesh. She favors local sources for meat, fish, vegetables, salad greens. Fresh from the farm or the back garden. I sniff around her and my mouth waters.
“The blue is electric,” I say, “like tiny bolts of lightning.”
“Am not.” I swallow. Then a chaser from the tumbler.
“Skink. You’re talking about a skink. It eats bugs.”
“How do you know that?”
“Don’t you believe me?”
“I believe every word that falls from your lips. But you don’t like to walk, much less hike in the great outdoors.”
“You forget, darling. I grew up here. From the cradle, we Southerners form an intimate bond with the natural world. Your ecosystems and your biodiversity are as nothing compared to what we absorb in youth, as we dabble in creeks and swing from vines.”
“Ha!” I try to look in the pan, but she blocks me.
“It’s a good thing we don’t have a cat.”
“Why?” I am forced to ask. Tillie never commits a non sequitur.
“Cats chase skinks and eat them. The way they do mice and small birds.”
“I like cats.”
“You like animals, and they like you. Dogs fawn on you. Cats roll on the ground at your feet. Doves perch on your shoulder.”
“That only happened once.”
“Which would you rather have, a ball of fluff that sleeps all day and purrs in your lap, or a yard full of wildlife?”
I sip thoughtfully.
“As you ponder, set the table. Use the good silverware.”
“Did you make something special?”
“Not really. A light repast.”
“The heat affects my appetite.”
“Don’t give me that.”
“Two bites, and I’m sated.”
“You always clean the plate.”
“Drummed into me from childhood.”
Tillie moves away from the stove to reach for something, a pinch of salt or paprika. I dart in and raise the lid on a pot. She slaps my wrist amid a puff of steam. Rice pilaf? I smell chicken broth and chopped herbs.
“Keep it up, buster, and you know what your next meal will be.”
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Christian Science Monitor, Fiction International, Louisville Review, and Saturday Evening Post.