Day of the Iguana:
Lizards I Have Loved
by Mike Fisher

It’s in the bathroom. Crouched. Breathing hard. Ed, our fat orange cat, is swooning. Two inches to the left of Ed's bristly chin, trying to look anywhere but at Ed, is a stunning green-and-gold lizard, his turquoise throat raised just a bit and his sides puffing in, out, in, out.

He's big. He's scared. And, Ed thinks — “Oh, thank you Patron Saint of Bored Cats Who Rarely Get to Corner Shiny Scaly Things With Little Legs” — he's mine.

I gently shut the bathroom door as Ed and I consider options. Unsure precisely how many choices I have with a lizard and a cat in a Mexican bathroom, I waver. It’s well documented: in the heat of battle, even generals freeze.

Ed bats the lizard a few times. The lizard ducks behind the base of the toilet bowl, peeps out. Ed swats at him. The lizard retreats, advances. Ed is enjoying himself, but I don't want the lizard to suffer.

I grab the small trash basket in the corner and urge Ed to run the lizard toward me. To and fro, I move the plastic trap, urging Ed from the corner of my mouth: “Over here.”

Maybe I can entrance him, like those cobra trainers. No luck. The lizard clearly thinks I'm an idiot. Of course I am. Mexico Holds Breath As Basket-Waving Gringo Baffles Reptile. Army Stands Down.

Ed, reborn from domesticated and spoon-fed feline to jungle cat on safari, runs around the base of the toilet, pursuing the prey. I flail on my knees, trying to herd him. Not working. So I grab a bathroom towel from the wall ring and slowly bring it down on the lizard.

I think I see him roll his eyes. And he sits, still. Giving into it, as if the towel is soaked in sleep-inducing ether.

He lets me pick him up. Ed’s Big Bathroom Safari A Cable TV Hit, Mexico President Will Guest Host. Ed watches his lunch rise heavenward. He is probably thinking: “Ah, Office Guy is taking the lizard to the kitchen, where the staff will prepare him for my supper. Splendid. I shall nap.”

But no — I take the lizard to the backyard and I shut the kitchen door behind me. I am trying not to crush him. My fingers pinch his soft neck. He's not moving. I kneel in the yard, and slowly put him onto the grass. He's breathing, still. In, out, in, out, an angry bellows.

At the base of his neck, the patient head swivels, the scales turn and fade into black at the tips of his front haunches. I move a bit closer. The right eye is a dark keyhole circled with the thinnest band of gold. Inside, something watches.

There is a tiny fleck of red just below the eye that I want to touch. But I don’t want to frighten him.

He seems in shock, suspended atop the grass like a fish in water, biding. The tail surprises me. It doesn’t taper to a point; it’s more like a blunt little finger, bending.

I run the tip of my index finger along his back, a slope of green-gold diamond shingles. It's dry, soft, but the scales meticulously point toward the tip of his tail and when I brush my finger against the grain, they are sharp.



Why Mike Liked Ajijic


I shake the towel a bit to get his claws loose: four spindly toes, grey. I lie down and speak to him, mano o mano. His black eye glints. All business.

“I'm not going to hurt you,” I say, navy-shorts schoolboy in The Land That Time Forgot. “You're okay, you can leave now.” Class dismissed.

The lizard thinking: “All of Mexico and I run into this asshole and his cat.”

I get up and amble away, watching over my shoulder. He isn't moving. I think the worst: I’ve crushed his back and he's bleeding inside.

When I get to the kitchen door he guns across the lawn like his ass is on fire and disappears into the fading bricks of the wall. Making his way back to Lizard Land, I guess.

The Lounge.

“Okay,” he says, leaning halfway over his muscled shoulder to get a better look at a gemstone-necked female lizard as she passes behind, working a toothpick in his mouth, his buddies crowding around him. “You’re not gonna believe what happened to me today…”

Jackie gets home and I tell her the story. Great White Hunter Bursts With Pride. She nods, stops, raises her hand.

“You were petting the lizard...” She steps forward, curls her fingers on the back of the kitchen chair. “You were petting the lizard…” I feel the storm’s early breath. “Did it not occur to you that it might bite you?” she says.

I hang my head a bit. Great White Hunter Reddens With Shame.

“Well, he didn't look like a biter,” I say. It's true. But now even Ed begins to slink away, sensing some kind of post-lizard ass whuppin'.

Jackie says: “You think that lizards have little signs on their heads” (she wiggles an index finger above her forehead),” saying, ‘Hey, look, I don’t bite — pet me?’” Great White Hunter Seeks New Job. Whacks Wife With Frying Pan. Feeds Her To Back Yard Lizard. Neighbors Agog.

“He just didn't look that ... deadly,” I say.

Sudden recall of Sharon Stone’s hapless husband, staggering backward in a smear of blood as he watches the dragon lizard happily guzzle his toe. Then I add, brightening, “I took the towel and put it away to be washed.”

Jackie says: “You ... what? Don't you know that lizards are the worst carriers of salmonella?”

Oh, boy. Now I am wishing I had stuck the lizard beneath her pillow at bedtime. It had jaws that rivaled a New York garbage truck. It could have eaten the bed and everyone spread on it like jam and toast, burped, and lumbered off to cause more marital havoc down the street.

No Jackie, no dogs, no cats, no birds. Just my lizard and me. Making the neighborhood safe. And silent.

Ah well. Life in Mexico.

How Mike Came to Be Battling A Lizard In Mexico

“My wife Jackie and I planned to take a one year working sabbatical in the rural Mexico village of Ajijic in the aftermath of 9/11. The plan morphed into three strange years, beginning in 2001.

Why Ajijic? Eternal spring-like weather, horses ambling in a drowsy downtown and broadband Internet: for us, at the time, perfect.

Ajijic sits on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest fresh water lake, about a 45-minute drive from the bustling city of Guadalajara. The village has long been a haven for artists, writers, actors and diligent dreamers. One of the world’s largest English-speaking community of expatriates, attracting primarily American and Canadian retirees, this area has all kinds of wildlife, including breezily confident lizards who assume your home is always eagerly open for their hallway jaunts.”

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Mike has no idea what kind of lizard it was.