Killing the Lizard
My grandmother Lizard will drop her tail just to cut a nice figure in her St. John knit skirt suits. She is the sort of lizard who drinks her martinis dirty, who cautions: one is fine, two at the most, three you're under the table, four you're under the host. In her swanky size five-and-a-half Ferragamo kitten heels and her lush coral lips, she gives me a taste for exquisite things that I have not earned and do not deserve.
Lizard serves bowls of kibble in silver dishes, at human level. Guests who mistake Raccoon's meaty snacks for human food, well, that was her plan. If you don't like cats, feck off. A good de-fleaing puts me in Lizard's graces for a week and she'll forget to remind me of my failings. I emerge from the shower bleeding and victorious, swaddling her vicious Rocky Raccoon in monogrammed towels. I am her cat whisperer. I speak in Laurel Birch.
She tucks me in with Edgar Gorey's gothic illustrated tales of children who disappear when they don't do what they're told. As Lizard's vision decreases, the arches of her penciled-in brows creep up her forehead, a sort of abstract impressionism. Blind in one eye now, she recites James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant [sic] Annie" from heart so I'll know that the goblins will get me if I don't watch out.
"The last of my grandchildren to have babies," she says, "will get all my pearls."
Every Halloween Lizard reveals her true form. She paints her face green, wears a tangled black wig and tattered gown. An oblong wart the size of my widened pupils dangles off her chin like a clothespin. She shows me her rickety broomstick that she uses to fly when she does her awful witching things. She cackles maniacally, her black acrylic talons dancing in my face.
Down the stairs into the dank depths of the partially flooded basement she chases me. I grasp at the polished wooden railing for balance as my legs buckle. I hide under pillows on the couch. Even through the suffocating aroma of mothballs, the scent of her Chanel No. 5 draws unmistakably near. My scream pierces through thick stucco walls as her pointed hat towers over my pretend mesh fairy wings. The gush of hot liquid between my thighs smells like a cross between Smarties and sour apples.
The Tooth Fairy rescues me, her only daughter who was only ever just a girl and not a beast. "You are scaring her to death!" she scolds my grandma.
"I was only having a bit of fun," Lizard sulks.
The doorbell rings.
Toad arrives at exactly the court-sanctioned time for handover. I beg Fairy to let me stay with her. You see, my father is the kind of toad who sees everything in black or white but who only ever decorates in shades of grey. He is the kind of toad who gives a fairy warts and then leaves her because she has warts. (I don't mean to say that her literally gave Fairy an STD, even though he shoved his toad parts into his toad secretary.) It's more like he gives you What You Deserve because you are Asking For It. And according to Toad, I am always Asking For It.
Lizard despises Toad so much that she defies the God-she-prays-to-on-Sundays' commandment to forgive. She muddles a foul concoction in her cast-iron cauldron as I cower behind a cat piss-stained privacy screen. She tries to lay a hex on Toad, but he lowers his mirrored Ray-bans and deflects her poison. The spellbound crossfire catches Fairy.
Fairy's death by spell is painful, but her goodness buys her the miracle of time: enough at least to see her children grown. (But not long enough to meet the grandchild who will bear her heavenly complexion.) At night, she dreams about climbing a ladder that Lizard tries to climb, too.
"Hell is outliving your children," Lizard says, after Fairy's memorial service.
"I want to die," Lizard says, after her husband dies, too.
I pour the bottle of Fairy's morphine, which Lizard has secreted away, into the toilet. She's not getting off that easy.
Lizard blames Toad blames Lizard in an unending cycle of venom and vitriol. I am their Battering Ram, the space between hate and hate. I bleat, grow horns, feet cloven. I bury my fake wings and embrace the darkness that killed Fairy. Vodka and pain pills, poisonous cactus, head in the oven: looking for a way out, yearning for the opiates I wasted, wanting to climb the ladder too.
Lizard's skin pales in old age until she is almost translucent. I stop visiting her. I stop bathing her Raccoon. I stop feeding her the flies she likes to nibble on. On her deathbed Lizard renounces the curse she laid on Toad. At her funeral, the mayor, another drop-tail lizard, delivers a eulogy and people will think, what a wonderful life, what an upstanding citizen. I weep for all that remains unsaid between us. Then I morph from Ram back to girl.
Even now that she's gone, I still see Lizard slinking across hot sidewalks. I taste her when I eat olives or drink gin. I go so far as to hide my pregnancy from her. Then I throw away all my cat paraphernalia in preparation for a new life, where I am no longer that kind of crazy.
When my son is born with Fairy's red hair and a set of real wings, light dances back into my life. I sew myself gossamer wings to distance myself from my reptilian ancestors. When I forgive Toad, he morphs into a kindly old grandfather for my son. He starts living in Technicolor.
I try to wear the silver jewelry that Fairy left me but I'm allergic to metals, except for gold that I don't deserve and haven't earned. I end up with a rash like a necklace or a noose. Still, I refuse to wear Lizard's pearls.
Jenny Hedley's writing appears in SCUM, Travel Play Live magazine and Vanishing Act (Bowen Street Press). She studies creative writing at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.