The lizard was trapped between the glass door and the screen. Its long, crooked body and small head couldn’t hide the sight of my dry backyard. Yet the lizard was all I could see. A lizard, my sole companion in these strange days of isolation and disquiet. Both of us locked down. I walked to the window, staying two feet away, and studied its shape. It looked like dead branches but wasn’t huge—maybe 8 or 9 inches. And it provoked an absurd prehistoric nostalgia for all extinct dinosaurs. We looked at each other with curiosity, or at least this was how I interpreted the movement of its eyes, each looking at different angles of me.Smoothly, I opened the glass door, just a bit, and shook the screen before shutting it again. I tapped hard on the window. And still it didn’t budge. It ignored me like I was another extinct species. “Who do you think you are?” I shouted; I regretted this right away. What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy now? Having a conversation with a lizard? I went back to my desk and started my day.
Every once in a while, I checked on my lizard.
The spread sheets with millions of rows of data couldn’t capture my full attention, even though every mistake could have cost me my job. Before the zoom meeting, I put on heavy mascara and red lipstick. I wore my blue shirt that everyone told me went well with the black of my hair. And during the whole meeting, I didn’t stop smiling. I barely said two words, and even when I said hi everyone, I am not sure they heard me. After the meeting was over, my head began to ache. No, it was my neck I forgot to move. Next time remember that the zooming is not like someone taking a picture of you. Nobody really cares. We are all trapped behind our monitors. The same. Like the lizard.
But the lizard wasn’t only stuck to the window; it had occupied a place between my brain and the monitor. It had crawled up toward my computer, fascinated by the loud colors of pie charts or the silence of numbers in my spreadsheet. I knew the lizard wasn’t really there, but if it was, unlike me, it should have moved anywhere it wanted, instead of imitating the movement of my hand with its tail. It could have slipped under the opening of the entrance door to the alley, to the nearby park, to the city. It could have wandered free. Why stick by me?
Impossible to work. I took an Advil and went upstairs to keep my mind off the lizard. I made the bed, vacuumed the carpet, and folded the laundry, things I never wanted to do. And then. It was time for me to go back to work, but I couldn’t. I wanted to lay myself down, to close my eyes and—at the same time—to watch how the breeze moved the leaves of the cypress trees in the alley. I wanted to stay still, but the work waited downstairs. So I got up. I refused to look at the lizard, while all along I played with the idea that it must have been trying to free itself.
At five PM sharp, I stopped, glancing at the window. The screen was half open. The lizard was gone.
How did this happen? I had closed the screen. Yes, I’m sure. Or maybe I hadn’t, when I wanted to scare it off. But how did it get there in the first place? It was a lizard of a good size and couldn’t squeeze through the gap between the glass door and the screen. I checked the window to make sure it was fully closed, and the beast hadn’t slipped into the house. A tiny opening at the bottom of the screen caught my eyes. I looked outside, scanning every corner. I opened the door and stepped into the patio. Heedless of airborne diseases, I walked around the backyard, bravely, enjoying the breeze. My garden was supposed to reflect the change of the season, but it seemed to be holding onto its memories of winter. Dry, brown, naked. The tall apartment buildings surrounding my house hid the sun behind their menacing existence. Most units were empty, waiting for their occupants. The only tree in the backyard hadn’t yet grown new leaves, and the lizard could have hidden on any of its branches just by not moving. I approached and studied every spot that reminded me of the shape of the lizard. In vain. Damn. I couldn’t find it. But hadn’t I dreaded its company? So why couldn’t I stop looking for it? It wasn’t outside and yet I could sense its presence, its stare, its weight. I resolved to imagine the lizard was out there playing hide and seek with a rat or had climbed the fence to explore the deserted neighborhood.
I walked to the house, but at the sight of the open glass door I stepped back. The window was wide open. I had forgotten to close it. No. I couldn’t fool myself anymore. It was already inside, I knew it. I took a deep breath before entering the house. It had hidden under the sofa or behind the noisy fridge to follow my every move. The lizard had grown out of proportion and morphed into a possibility. What if it had dragged its stiff claws and long tail up the stairs and was now in my bedroom, under my bed, waiting for me to cure its loneliness?
As I locked the screen and the door, I remembered the lifespan of lizards. Some lived up to fifty years.
I fetched the book I had started at the beginning of the lockdown. Still standing, I read out loud pages and lines of words about imaginary lives and imaginary catastrophes, and slowly sat back on the sofa, the lizard repeating the words after me. Or maybe it was just me echoing its silence, echoing its loneliness. I gathered my forces to get up. I slid my head and my abdomen on the stairs. A sharp pain ran through my legs, but it passed quickly. In my room, shadows darker than darkness danced on the half open curtain of my window to the alley. Someone shouted some obscenity. “Fucking beast,” he yelled. I held my breath like an idiot, as if he could hear us living.
I hauled our body, crouched, and knelt, pulling our arms up toward the window, dying for a quick glance at the apartment building facing us. Was there someone, something out there, trapped the same way? Every window was shut, and like a voyeur of life, voyeur of light, we were mesmerized by the shadows moving within the obscure glow. I inhaled and extended our tongue to the window to feel the vibrations of the city, knowing we were not alone.
Azarin Sadegh, a 2011 PEN America Emerging Voices fellow, and a 2010 UCLA Kirkwood Award nominee, was born in Shahi, Iran. She went to France, studied Computer Science and years later moved to California. A student of late Les Plesko, she has completed advanced novel writing courses through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
Her work has appeared in LA Review of Books, the Chicago Sun-Times, Coast Magazine, Iranian.com, and various anthologies. A resident of Aliso Viejo, she is working on her new novel.
Image By: Narmine Sadeg