These might be very well the last children’s stories I ever write for university classes. What a bittersweet realization. They are the laggers, the late hand-ins, the incompletes. Yet I’m proud that they made it to the submission box, the finish line, nonetheless. And with that realization I realize that I can be a lifelong writer-as long as I believe in myself. I’m certainly a better versed in the craft than I was when I first started this journey in creative writing four years ago. And with the advent of these stories it shows that my mental health is better than it has been for ten years, too.
CHAPTER ONE of Lizard and Me
Of all the pets I’ve had, a blind lizard has got to top the list. Mom and I had cross checked across three credited sources and about a dozen uncredited, anecdotal ones to find that lizards always fly under the radar in no-pet apartments and, also, our local pet store had five. The local pet store at the time, anyways. We brought it with us when we moved and that was probably why we never noticed that it would always stare at you like any other animal, with both eyes forward, instead of messed up in two directions, like most lizards. It wasn’t a big deal, except that we had already bought the tank, a hefty bag of food pellets, and the counter space in the ninety square foot bungalow seemed to have shrunk. In fact, nothing fit on the counter like we imagined when we first surveyed the apartment two weeks ago, despite the universal agreement of what an inch was not having radically changed since we last used it. And so, Mom sat in defeat while I stroked Unnamed Lizard’s cage with my pointer finger on the first day of fifth grade.
“I bet lizard would go to school if it were a human,” Mom said, stroking my hair.
“Lizards love summer,” I countered. “They like sunning on hot rocks and enjoying life.”
“You can enjoy your life at this new school,” Mom said, her voice suddenly a lot more quiet. I felt her body tense up at the last part. She was nervous too.
“I wonder how this’ll turn out,” she said softly. “I hope we don’t have to move away again soon. Chastity, I really hope I can find a stable home for us.”
“Being the new kid’s second nature to me,” I said, puffing out my chest and offering Mom the winning smile that I know dazzled with confidence and hid any traces of doubt.
I felt obliged to do something more but my attention was drawn to the other side of the house instead. There was a perfect lizard-sized boulder field behind the apartment!
“Hey Lizard, how’d you like to sun on those rocks out there?”
I imagined Unnamed Lizard sunning on the rocks behind my house. Mom followed my gaze and a smile tugged at her lips. “Looks like Lizard has something to look forward to, too.”
“Okay, let’s go.” I handed Mom Lizard. “I can head off to school by myself. Take care of Lizard for me.”
Look, I was a weird, weird, weird child. I don’t deny it. I wasn’t braces and acne weird, but I had a bowl cut and wore baggy jeans like a cut-rate clown. If I had had more money I would have poured it straight into my college fund. But a year later, once I’d been put through the ringer in fifth grade, I was convinced what I needed more than anything was a priceless makeover.
“Hiya.” I shook her hand and took in her teal green suit. What a strange choice of professional dress. “Chasty’s what they usually call me.”
“Well, hello Chasty and welcome to the class.” I continued to shake Ms. Leary’s hand. Mom had told me that the more firm and the more committed the handshake, the more genuine one would come across. I heard a few kids snicker in the back. I shot the class a blanket glare.
The whole day dragged on as I expected. Everybody had already formed cliques. Those who hadn’t were the losers or thugs. I made a mental note to avoid those people. But my luck changed when we had quiet reading time. I stuck out my hand to grab the newest installment of my favourite adventure series, which had a lizard on the cover, when it came in contact with someone else’s:
“What’s your name?”
I rocked back and forth on the carpet, my hand still on the other side of the book. Yes, I decided, I should shake her hand. I let go and eyeballed Rachel up and down as I extended my hand for the handshake. Rachel, with her mousy brown eyes and ring of messy hair, stared back at my hand as if it was Lizard. “I’m holding the book, thanks,” Rachel said, waving the book in both hands to demonstrate that she couldn’t shake hands. “What’s your name again?”
“Um…” Rachel tapped her nose repeatedly, avoiding meeting my eyes. “That’s a strange name.”
“Stranger things have happened.” I let myself relish in the familiarity that the phrase brought to me. “Now, can I read that book after you?”
“You’re new to the neighbourhood right? Why don’t I come over and give you the book after school?”
“Yes!” I thought about Lizard. “After you finish reading it, I have a real adventure to show you. I have a lizard.”
Rachel’s eyes widened. “No way!”
“Now, are we going to visit the rockfield behind my house with my lizard after school?”
I heard the doorbell ring at six. I ran to the door in the middle of feeding Lizard. It had to be Rachel.
“I can’t wait for you to meet Lizard.”
“Hold on. Why don’t you call him anything?”
Rachel stuck her tongue out in thought. I watched her eyes bug out like Unnamed Lizard’s.
“What’s something that sticks? Gum…Gummy…Nah…”
“Oil slicks,” I said. “They stick on animals like crazy. I rescued a bird once that couldn’t fly because it was stuck together with it.”
“Alright.” Rachel put her hands on her hips. “So, how about oily…Ollie?”
Something went ding in my head. I had to stop treating animals like animals and start treating them like humans, friends. I grabbed Rachel’s hand and a bowl of Cheetos and zoomed downstairs to Ollie’s cage. The dark basement smelled of mildew and sawdust. Ollie’s cage sat forlornly on top of the towers of unopened boxes. Some boxes had toppled while we were gone. They must have been unbalanced by something. Maybe Mom had gone looking for nice silverware.
Then I realized the cage was on its side, too.
Ollie had escaped.