True to Tails Abandoned by Julie Wakeman-Linn

In a big house next to the Indian Ocean, an emerald green lizard lived behind a mirror. Her back and sides and tail were green, her underside was ivory, her eyes were blue but with a tinge of ruby red  around them.  She rested often on the mirror’s golden frame, which seemed to be real gold, but she wasn’t deceived by things like that. She knew it was only paint.

During the nighttime the lizard enjoyed the mosquitoes and moths of the bedroom.  Every afternoon, she traveled through the gap in the window frame to sun herself on the stone walls.

One quiet morning in the rains of December, a lady stood in front of the mirror and admired her. She cooed, “How lovely you are, house gecko.”

The lizard wanted to protest that she was not a lowly gecko, but a lizard, a Hemidactylus frenatu, chordatea, repitilia .  She couldn’t form the words without vocal cords, so to show her rejection of this common name, she glared at the lady. The lady was tall for a human woman and had a skinny build, with brownish yellow hair, blue eyes, small breasts and big feet. The lizard wondered if the lady would have preferred small feet and large breasts, to facilitate attraction in the sexual dance. Did humans have a choice in these matters?

Over the days that followed, the lady started to wear shades of green. Shorts or blouses or skirts—all green. She tucked a mint green shirt into her black pants. The next time she fluffed a forest green scarf over her white blouse. Another day her lime green pants were too bright and the lizard had to close her eyes against them.

The lady’s movements were all jerky, no spinning or swirling or sliding. Her fingers fluttered, or shook or sometimes, clenched into fists. The lizard curled her ball toes. The poor creature’s two legs wore bruises; in her rush, she often bumped into the chair or the end of the bed.  No grace. No elegance. Poor thing.

The lizard didn’t crawl or crash into anything; she never scurried. The lady, as she bobbed in front of the mirror, laughed about parties and receptions and formal dances. Always dances. The lizard was finally jealous; she was more elegant, more gracious and more green than the lady but she would like to dance. She replicated the lady’s gestures with the fluidity granted to all repitilia. The lizard cocked her head when the lady brushed her hair, or tilted her head when the lady put in green stone earrings. The lizard envied the dangling earrings but she didn’t have ears. Next the lady wagged a matching chain, taunting the lizard. The real match was more than just chain to  earrings –it was to the lizard’s own emerald color. The green stones glowed in the sunlight and their reflection on the mirror radiated warmth.

The lizard slipped into her nest behind the mirror and considered the situation. Close proximity to any creature other than a robust male Hemidactylus frenatu was dangerous for speed her only way to escape predators, but she compulsively peered around the mirror’s frame to watch the lady and those stones.

***

This fantasizing had to stop; her life now, outside the bounds of gravity, was exquisite.  Walls and ceilings were her domain.  She loved to perch, head down, watching the bugs crawling on the floor. She could be invisible just by being motionless. She could rise up on her powerful arms and survey the whole world. Her tail afforded her perfect balance, and with its detachment joint, it was the finest instrument for predator distraction. What would she want with ears or magic green stones, anyway? Still, she couldn’t stop watching the lady.

If the lizard hid all of her body behind the mirror but peaked out from the side and swiveled one eye across the room, she could observe the lady without being seen. If the lady approached, she’d vanish.  Once the lady jumped at her. The lizard almost dropped her tail. The lady had snuck along the wall cupboards, unseen until the last second. The lizard darted to her nest. Now she would have to slip out on top or check both sides of the mirror. Even with these precautions, they continued their mutual staring for some weeks.

The rains ended, and the newly hatched mosquitoes and flies made for a feast.  For a day and a night, she ignored the lady and nibbled up the insects.

Then the next day, the lady appeared in the mirror, wearing only her less-than-ivory skin, but her face was green. The lizard’s heart palpated. So startled, she gripped the mirror’s edge. Above the gray-green face, the lady’s hair had disappeared under a swirl of beige. Perhaps she was trying to blend into her surroundings.  The lizard raised herself on her forelimbs to watch with both of her eyes.

The lady poked at the rolls on her rib cage and the bumps on her thighs. Her eyes blinked, the watery blue was gray against the green. Then the green skin cracked as she worked her jaw.  Was this how ladies died, the lizard wondered?  The lady passed a wet cloth over her face and the green dissolved. Then the lady walked away. Clearly she was trying to become like the lizard, fixing the green color to her skin. The lizard wondered if she should flee the house.  This obsession was becoming dangerous.

On a quiet afternoon when the house should have been empty of humans, the lizard left the mirror and slipped along the wall. Under the cover of the window sills and the doorframe, she traveled around the walls into the lady’s dresser. Scarves and jewelry were scattered or hanging out of drawers. The green stones lay in an open velvet box. The lizard let her left front toes touch the box. The stones were only another step away. Their warmth compelled her. She began the last step and the lady coughed.

The lady was sitting in a chair in the corner, contemplating the sky out the window, and holding the chain set with green stones, the lizard’s own color.  The lizard crept closer to the stones. The lady first jumped, but then she stood and loomed over her and the stones.

With utmost speed, the lizard zipped behind the box and under a scarf, racing to the wall and to the ceiling for safety.

The lady picked up the chain and dragged it across her palm, touching the stones.  The lady spoke words that invited the lizard in.  The lizard  agreed yes, her own color was much prettier than the stones.  Another creature, smelly with an enormous puffy tail entered the room. It was covered in hair and had pointy whiskers. It sniffed and then jumped onto the dresser, stretching its front legs up the wall.   The lady picked up the creature and cuddled it. The creature was not deceived but chomped its teeth as if to say “you would be tasty”. So the lady harbored an eager predator in her house. In that moment of distraction, the lizard fled across the ceiling and returned to the mirror.  The lady called, “Wait, I’ll lock the cat out of the room.”

The next day the lizard waited on the upper corner of the mirror. She had to leave now that two dangerous creatures wanted to consume her. She gazed out at the stone walls, contemplating where to live now.  She slipped to the side of the mirror for a better view of the garden beyond the walls. She rested diagonal to the frame so she was like a brooch on the golden surface.

The lady teetered in a pirouette and then stopped. She was trying to mimic the lizard in grace. The lizard’s reflection on the mirror appeared to be an emerald brooch on the lady’s lavender-cream-green chiffon dress.  The lady held up the green stones to the mirror.

The lizard tried to close her blue eyes against the reflection of the stones, doubled and tripled by her angle to the mirror. She felt a tumbling and a tugging. Her ball toes and fingers lengthened, developing knobby knuckles. Her white belly color spread like a sheath over her back and her limbs and her head.

A hum, powerful and rising in amplitude, surrounded them.  She was the lady and the lady was her.  A faint thought circled and joined them:  what to do with her tail? In a shared thought, they wrapped it, her marvelous appendage around their hips. Two conscious selves, two sets of desires, two sets of experience. The tail twitched and they tried to wrap it tighter but it had the unfortunate effect of making them look  thick in the belly. The lady’s shape dominated, but the lizard’s elegance shimmered through their joined limbs.

The lizard and the lady compared skin tone. The lady’s chin receded. She groaned at its loss of prominence, but then she stroked her throat. The lady squealed with delight. She had traded her tan for an ivory pale, like the skin of a Korean princess. Their shared experience began to direct the lizard’s desires. The scarves on the dresser, those dresses the lady wore—that was what she wanted. Then the lizard said, mastering speech through the crenelated vocal cords, “Let us wear silks.”

Their first joint event, a dinner dance, was nearly perfect except that her tail kept slipping down, but under the long skirt it was hidden. The lady stepped on it which was painful, but fortunately not with enough force to detach it. The lizard suggested that the lady swirl the tail in her long skirt and drape it over her arm like a train. This posture drew appreciative glances at her slim legs from the men. The lizard sighed, her legs were her worst feature but they were the lady’s best.

The music filled the ballroom, whispers of flirtatious compliments followed them from dinner to bar to dance floor. They danced until past midnight. Over the following days, their union served them both well.  They went dancing at every opportunity. The lizard’s tail learned to cling to the lady’s pelvic bones. The lizard’s gliding delivered them from the grasp of a pickpocket who snatched at the green stone chain as they crossed a parking lot after a dance.  A huge flock of crows, which would have eaten the lizard, ignored the lady-lizard combination.

One afternoon after a luncheon with many people, the lady curled her arm around the shoulders of a male human. He was taller than she, so she had to stand on tiptoe which hurt.  Dark thick hair covered the lower half of his face. His eyes were so brown they were nearly black. He accompanied them home. The lady shed her clothes, all of them, the lizard’s gracefulness making it a dance. After toileting, he emerged naked and joined them in bed.

The first movements were pleasant enough; his arms had a serpentine quality. He seemed to like the lady’s hips, tail and all. Then the puffy tail beast, the cat, leaped onto the bed. The man laughed, the lady tittered.  She lay flat and he spread himself over her, lowering his weight and his sex on to her. The lizard gasped; how could they support his weight. She felt her lungs nearly collapse. Oh so much better if he had been behind so she could support her own weight under him on her strong limbs. Oh, the cat was watching so close—could the cat see her inside the lady? Could the cat get her while the lady was completely absorbed in her moaning and rocking up and down?

The lizard couldn’t watch so she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for it to end soon. Right before she shut her eyes against fear, she glimpsed a large healthy male of her own kind on the mirror. His head was rhythmically pumping, imitating the male human but without the slimy sweatiness. She had made the wrong bargain.

The man finally left, the cat jumped off the bed  and the lizard considered how to make her escape before the beautiful male of her species found another. The chain of green stones was the talisman that drew her in. Now the lady was not wearing it.

The lady, sleeping, smiled. It was clear to the lizard that she was tickled with their success, her improved physical state and agility. The lady would resist releasing her. The lizard acknowledged they were a formidable pair, but for very different reasons. She had to return to her sole self.  It would be a struggle, but she must trick the lady to return to the mirror.

For the first step, the lizard must harden her soul to escape this lady cage.  She used a human trick—she cleared her throat, more than a cough, almost gagging. The lady awakened and rolled onto her side. Their nakedness was reflected in the mirror. The lizard fixed her gaze on the mirror, particularly on the lady’s eyes. In them, she saw her pure lizard self. She tugged her body, her limbs and tail into a curve.  It was hard to recall her fluidity.  She must hold the curve, pushing against the hard angular spine of the lady.

With an elastic pull, she began to come free, but her tail was caught around the lady’s hips. It did not spring free. The lady clamped her elbows to her sides to imprison the luckless tail. The lizard abandoned it.  Drawing on the energy of the curve, her fluidity accelerated and she flew toward the mirror. She was traveling too fast– she must slow or she’d splat into the fake gold frame. The lizard curled the fingertips. She was sorry to lose the pretty pink polish, but she must thicken them back to her ball toes.  Her toes rolled up properly and gravity was again her ally. Her front limbs touched the mirror, and she clung. She gripped and she was safe. Raising her body, her agile limbs supporting her, she nodded her goodbye to the lady, and slipped behind the mirror.

The lady wailed. She unwrapped the tail, which curled up and down, gently  not a spasm but a wave  as true to tails abandoned. The elegantly autonomic nerves functioned, while the lizard made her escape. The lady called, “Come back, we were better together. “

The green lizard glided out through the window frame’s gap and searched for the beautiful male. Even though the lady was right– they were fantastic together –it was too high a price to pay, this walking on two legs for dancing.

______________________________________________________________________________

Julie Wakeman-Linn’s novel “Chasing the Leopard Finding the Lion” will be published by Mkuki Na Nyota, an award winning Tanzanian publishing house this April.  Two other fantastical stories by Julie Wakeman-Linn have been published by Danse Macabre and in the anthology Enhanced Gravity. Her other fiction, usually about Africa, has appeared in several journals including Rosebud. She’s on leave this year living in Tanzania but she will return to teaching at Montgomery College where she is the editor in chief of The Potomac Review.

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