by Sherry Campbell Bechtold
from a series of short stories about life in Southwest Florida
On my way to bed the other night, I caught a whisper of movement in my peripheral vision. The little lizard had averted my step – he noticed me milliseconds before I noticed him. As though he could feel my eyes looking directly on him, he darted under Boo’s puppy crate. It was fast, but I got a good look. Couldn’t have been more than an inch long. His body was almost clear – as though someone had sketched him but hadn’t colored in yet. Maybe be had just been born. Amazing how he knows how to survive already. Instinct.
But, what was he doing all the way in here anyway? Where were his parents , his nest mates? Somehow he must have slipped in a crack under the screen door on the lanai. The sliders had been open all day. He took a wrong turn and now was on our carpet, under the crate. I hate it when that happens. Left inside, he would die. I knew that from experience with lizard corpses. The chances of my finding him and returning him to a more natural environment were impossible. I had to accept that this was to be his fate – destined not to live beyond infancy. Destined to starve and dehydrate on my carpet. Or tucked inside the crate – to be found a few days from now by Boo.
He didn’t know there was someone – outside of his world, on another planet for all he knew – who cared whether he lived or died. His instinct – so remarkably acute – directed him to avoid any contact with aliens. In most cases, this instinct would serve him well. But not this time. This time, he had encountered a being who would have saved him. How could he know?
It was a sad outcome. One that could have been avoided. Made me feel terrible.
But, wait! There are times when what appears to be inevitable actually is not. There are times when you are given another chance. And, so it was with the little lizard. Moments after I had given him Last Rites, Boo strolled into the room, heading toward the cool tiles of the bathroom floor. Again in my apparently keen peripheral vision, I see her stop, nose to the floor and then a quick retreat. Fleetingly, I see the transparent body so full of life, as he darts under the closet door. Cautiously I open the door and he flashes under a shoe. Why is he not understanding that I am here to help?
I move shoes – ever so carefully – and he leaps (he can leap!) onto the top of a black camera case. He seems to now at this tender age that camouflage is salvation for his kind.
I have another moment to observe the lost baby. Frankly, his visual physicality belies his extraordinary capabilities. Miniscule feet frame his gel body. There are definitely eyes – though they are only slightly less transparent than the rest of him. Maybe these are the first sensory equipment that develop. It would explain how he detects alien movements, though one has to wonder how he could have mistakenly found his way into the house. He is still. Does he think Boo and I can’t see him? Does he believe he has morphed into the color of the camera case and disappeared? Instinct. His most developed feature.
Slowly, gently I, his alien friend – that he has no name for – lift his vehicle and carry him back to his native land. The foliage outside the door is dark but he knows where he is. He knows this is home. He leaps – again, he leaps! And lands incredibly on a leaf, then disappears into the humid night.
Relieved, knowing that I will sleep better knowing he is back where he belongs, that I have diverted a tiny tragedy, that I have made a difference to something, I head back to the house.
He is out there, somewhere. Did he find his family or is he now on his own? Too soon left to fend for himself, left to eke out a living without mentorship, without the nurturing of a parent? Perhaps this will make him strong and independent. Perhaps he will live longer than most of his brothers. Perhaps he will become a legend, a super hero among reptiles, averting danger at every turn, refusing to be a meal for the black snakes that live under the lanai, or the frog that waits on the arm of the Adirondack chair.