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Open Features: Trajectory

...The girls hunt in the yard, where Kate and Lindsey know every bush, every blade of grass, every kind of skink and chameleon, and it is here, under a flowering yellow hibiscus, that they find the tiny eggs. And suddenly lizards are both more and less than they were: babies. Kate scoops up the eggs in their dirt with a spoon and lays them down with care in a potted fern on the front porch...

But lizards can have a deeper, lurking significance, as Julie Drew suggests in this wonderful multi-layered story.

Florida, 1968

While her parents eat meatloaf and watch the killing on the evening news, Kate escapes the stifling heat of the house for the front yard where she and her sister, Lindsey, hunt lizards. The lizards are everywhere, masters of disguise in the mottled green world, outnumbering the girls by a gazillion to one, and lying in wait behind every blade of Bahia grass.

Kate is repulsed by their poisonous hue, the serrated jaws, despite her mother's insistence that they couldn't possibly hurt her. But her mother, with her beige, beauty-parlor hair and careful pink fingers, doesn't know what Kate knows. It isn't about them hurting her - of course they can't, they're too small, it isn't even a contest. It's about what they want, which she cannot fathom.

She knows from experience that a lizard can be on you, out of nowhere, in nothing flat. Last summer she was walking past a lawn chair, its woven plastic seat spotted with mildew, and the camouflaged monster, clinging unseen to the chair's bent aluminum frame, had leapt upon her, tiny clawed feet skittering under her shirt and down her back. She'd screamed bloody murder and spent the rest of the day spooked, unwilling to venture outside.

Even now, the green streaks of miniature reptile bodies launching themselves at her are fixed like the footage of midnight skies sliced by mortar shell trails, their deadly speed made visible in a dizzying curve of neon light. She feels the weight of her fear, her lumbering giant self under siege.

And still somehow she is irresistibly drawn to them. They are everywhere: they fill up her world and she cannot avoid them, and this seems to erase the contradiction. Later, when she is older, she will wonder if attraction is simply giving up, and happiness the manifestation of doing so with grace, but for now all she knows is that the lizards move through her house and across the window screens. They dart across the sidewalk and up the walls. They shimmy through the leaves, burrowing deeper into the bushes, dozens of them moving with every step she takes. She can feel their eyes on her, her skin crawling with the memory of a reptilian tail sliding over her bare shoulder blade. She finds them at the edges of her vision, hears them in the rustling palm fronds.

The girls hunt in the yard, where Kate and Lindsey know every bush, every blade of grass, every kind of skink and chameleon, and it is here, under a flowering yellow hibiscus, that they find the tiny eggs. And suddenly lizards are both more and less than they were: babies. Kate scoops up the eggs in their dirt with a spoon and lays them down with care in a potted fern on the front porch. Every morning she and Lindsey gulp down their Frosted Flakes and race to the porch, still in their pajamas, and they hunker down by this plant. Lindsey, whose job it is to ruin everything, jockeys for position, but Kate is two years older and reigns supreme. They lean in, these sisters, open-mouthed, leaving their flanks unprotected. They will the eggs to hatch, wishing it with all their might.

Then one morning Kate runs to the fern and finds the eggs not so much broken as deflated, collapsed in upon themselves. She calls Lindsey in a voice that is sonorous and heavy, a dirge. They are grief-stricken, until they look closer: clinging to the leaves and stems of the fern are a dozen baby lizards, half an inch long with shorter, rounder noses than their adult selves will have, and that indescribable baby-ness that transforms them into something worthy of love. The infinitesimal bodies decorate the fern like Christmas tree ornaments, their delicate paper sides moving in and out.

"Don't touch them," Kate orders. "Nobody touches them."

Of course it does not last. The lizards grow, their pale gray-white bellies lengthening. They wander further afield, mingling with their kind, until Kate is no longer sure which ones are hers. The world is simply filled, as it always has been, with lizards to be hunted - and Kate is a very, very good hunter. Any miscalculation of force or aim will result in capturing only the tail, bloody and flopping around in mindless diversionary gore, the lizard long gone, leaving her empty-handed and dumb as a cat. But she knows what she's doing. She has perfected the palm-down slap, her hapless victim unable to avoid the black anvil of her hand hurtling toward it. Kate smiles a Road Runner smile when she hunts.

Most girls are chicken, but Kate is not and she wants to make sure everyone knows this, all the kids in the neighborhood. She has learned the lesson of what counts: "tough" and "brave" and "cool," and she is just young enough to think she can wear each of these words like a new red dress. She begins to show off until she is famous for holding a lizard in her fist with the head poking out by her thumb and forefinger, the tail whipping around down by her pinkie, eyeballing each other, the lizard's head turned sideways, only inches from her own, savoring the pause before Kate's big moment.

Her stunt is this: she gently taps the lizard's closed mouth until the razored mouth opens. With her heart pounding, she holds that mouth to her earlobe and the lizard clamps down on the tender, sacrificed bit. A pinch, her indrawn breath, and she lets go, slowly, holding her breath while the lizard hangs, legs and toes gone slack, her horrible adornment.

Kate stands at the center of a crowd, the lizard straining earthward, using her body for its center of gravity. The watching girls shiver and shriek and clutch, performing fear as feminine wile, while the boys practice their ancient alchemy, transforming their own fear into someone else's pain. They grind up "girls" and "fags" and "earrings" into offal flung into the air, splattered on the sidewalk and the rolled cotton socks of the girls.

They don't mean me, Kate thinks. Not me.

She stands tall, barely breathing, looking for the sideways turn of their crew-cut heads and the way their eyes slide over her body like so many quick green monsters.

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