The Lizard and the Sky


Once upon a time, she was a lizard. She was born on a cloudy day in May, one of eighteen eggs laid by her mother under a wide, flat rock at the base of a eucalyptus tree. She was the seventh born, the third daughter of what ultimately numbered eleven siblings. One of her earliest memories was returning with her mother to the rock to see her father and several of his friends drunkenly eating her unhatched siblings. Her mother yelled and threatened to kick him out but, after a few days, begrudgingly forgave him. “There are enough of you as it is,” she said, shaking her head and unwrapping a fresh stick of cinnamon gum. 

Over the weeks that followed, the lizard grew from a few millimeters to two-and-three-quarter inches. Her scales came in pale blue at first before hardening into a green-toned brown. She was close to her siblings, she supposed, but she got along with some better than others. In a horrifying incident she would later recall to her therapist, she watched as a hawk made away with her favorite brother. She remembered the angle of his body inside the bird’s claw, the shape silhouetted against the glaring blue of the sky. It seemed almost offensive that, on the worst day of her life, there should be such nice weather.

In all ways, she was average: little and brown, neither exceptionally colored nor notably large or small. Even among her siblings, she was in the middle. She wasn’t the fastest, she wasn’t the shrewdest, she wasn’t even the most creative. The world didn’t expect a lot from a lizard. She didn’t expect a lot from herself. All she really needed to do was to scurry from surface to surface and survive. She had enough insects to eat to feel full; she made friends and felt socially fulfilled; she did fine on her SATs and graduated from a decent school with a degree in art history.

She took a job as an office manager at a lighting design company. She wasn’t particularly organized herself, but she found the tasks of photocopying, answering the phone, and ordering supplies to be satisfying. She liked the animals she worked with; she liked the regularity of her schedule, which allowed her to enjoy the weekends as her own. On Fridays, she walked home from work and watched the sunset, tracing the sky’s growing darkness along her commute. The churning colors felt like a reminder of the world’s continuous possibility for change.

Her best friend was a chubby squirrel who wore round, wire glasses and spoke in a loud, high-pitched voice. Sometimes, on a Friday night, the squirrel would come over with a bottle of wine and they’d order a pizza, which the squirrel would eat 3/4 of, although she was always trying out a different diet. “You should feel lucky you can gain weight,” the lizard said to the squirrel, aware that her reassurances came off as lame. “I’m just skin and bone.”

One day, the lizard decided to take up painting. She had a watercolor set she received at her office’s white elephant party. Over reruns of Friends, she would set out her pad of paper and play around with the colors, seeing what happened when one bled into the other. She decided she would paint the sky. She knew its colors well: the pale, light blue of the early morning, when the sun had risen for a few hours and the ground still held onto its chill, or the deep lavender right before the sky collapsed into the inky blue of night. She split the canvas in two, imagining she was looking out over a long, flat landscape and filled the top with sky and the bottom with earth.

She showed the squirrel. “What do you think?” she said, nervously peering over her friend’s rounded shoulder. “They’re about the finiteness of animal life and the vastness of the universe.” She added, nervously.

“They’re nice,” the squirrel said, flipping through them casually. “But I think your horizon line is a little high.” She looked out the window and squinted. “Yeah, the sky starts a lot lower than what you have here. You’re just too close to the ground to see it clearly.”

The next week, she worked to make a new series that set the sky lower in the frame, the bottoms of the clouds brushing the tops of trees. She thought about what it meant that there was a horizon line at all and experimented with blurring the distinction in the distance.

The next Monday, she chose a painting, a sunset with purple and orange hues broken up by hints of little white stars, and she brought it to her office, pinning it up on her desk. She thought someone might comment on it. Whenever someone arrived at her desk, she leaned forward and smiled, watching her coworkers’ eyes carefully to see if they traveled over her left shoulder.

Her manager, a newt, stopped by to ask her about a lunch order. “Is that yours?” He asked, squinting.

“Yes,” she said, moving over to show the work. “It’s about how we situate ourselves in a liminal space,” she said, pausing as he considered it. “We live between something solid and something big and unknown, and I like to think there are mysteries in each.”

“Huh,” he said. He looked at her and smiled and walked away.

Time passed. She began to work through her brother’s death with her therapist and did a series of paintings that reflected the bright blue of the sky that day, removing the ground altogether. She spent a month thinking about clouds, the formations they created, the way in which one might use them as means of divination. What if the clouds were communicating a message? she thought, as she painted. A warning? Or a gesture of kindness and goodwill?

Her brother came over for dinner. After they roasted crickets and drank the hoppy ale he preferred, she told him about her paintings. “Do you want to see?” she asked. She took out the collection and laid them in front him. “They’re about absence,” she said, “and how we understand ourselves in a world that offers no restrictions or boundaries.”

He pieced through them. “They’re nice,” he said. “They would make good postcards. Have you considered that?”

At some point, she became tired of the sky. She put her paintings in a box and put the box in the closet. She needed a break from looking up so much, she thought. And besides, the squirrel had been pressuring her into taking up rollerskating. She bought a pair of white rollerblades and began to spend her Saturday mornings gliding along the bike path next to the water with the squirrel before stopping for pistachio milkshakes. In one small concession to her practice, she decided to paint little clouds on the wheels of her skates.

On a sunny day in October, she had an accident. Her wheel got stuck on a small pebble, choking the wheels to a halt. She lurched and fell on her back, her tail dislocating from the trauma. She laid there, paralyzed from the pain, and a bird swooped down and picked her up for his mid-afternoon snack. As he carried her into the sky, which was overcast in grey and purple, a rollerblade fell off her left foot and fell, a small shoe on three painted clouds now lodged in a pile of dirt.