Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Published Fiction: Frozen Iguanas

This piece landed in the Summer Solstice 2015 issue of Kudzu House Quarterly. Inspired by Florida, I think it received the most positive rejections I've ever encountered before finally finding a home.

Frozen Iguanas
The day before the iguanas fell, I touched the waddle of my elbow. My wenis, as I had heard my students call it, had thickened. So in the middle of a lecture on the merits of might is right, I discovered scaly layers in lieu of pliable leather.
“My epidermis is hardening,” I said. Teenagers doodled or played with their phones under their desks, whatever it is they do when I talk. Standing in front of them as a body only to be tolerated and mocked, my personal anecdotes and details mattered not. One asked if my epiphany would be on test. I told him yes out of confused spite and he made note unsure of my sarcasm. They were never sure, hell I was never sure--I’d been told that my every comment was delivered in the same semi-facetious tone so that I could make up my mind after the fact. Class continued; I felt phantom tingles of classification, calcification.
The next day was cold. Miami cold constitutes anything below seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Come sixty-nine, expect sweaters, long pants, woolen coats, and chattering complaints. Temperatures hit forty-one that night and iguanas dropped from the trees. Rigid reptiles hailed from coconut palms as peopled bitched at their dogs to pee; ten pound bodies bombarded the landscape, denting cars and thumping onto the concrete. People were perplexed, local newscasters horrified.
On weekends I collected suburban trash to earn extra money. At first the job had been below my station, but the money mattered. Driving a white pickup along a meandering bike path that encircled a series of interconnected lakes, I stopped to empty trash bins and encounter awkward giggles and cellphone pictures for hashtag fodder. Anything out of economic necessity.
So I collected scattered debris: plastic bottles, candy wrappers, the occasional used prophylactic, and on that particular Saturday, rigid iguanas. Their mass death mystified me. How cold was too cold for the invasive beasts? Equally intrusive, I wore a once black beanie and a jacket with a torn sleeve filched from the school lost and found to stay warm, but their coarse exterior had failed. Actual answers didn’t matter, and I fell into a rut: pick up random garbage, grab three or more iguanas; empty the trash, procure some more, each time thumbing sandpaper skin, each time debating if their condition had something to do with mine, if they hardened like I was hardening and felt their coming demise like I could feel mine. My life was shutting down between the white concrete blocks of my Miami-Dade county classroom and neighborhood litter. No one cared, including myself—but my plight was all too typical, all too hailed and discussed.
When the bed of the truck was full I headed to empty it at operations. Hundreds of lifeless bodies interspersed with human waste filled the space. Half-full water bottle here, medium sized iguana there. I envisioned an updated news story: Iguana Epidemic Sweeps Miami, Invasive Species Mysteriously Destroyed. I sensed fame, I sensed importance, and for a time my internal tingling abated. Perhaps even a minute of fame could veil the truth. After a snapping a few photos, I started the roughly four mile drive, leaving the lakes for city streets in search of the dumpster.
Driving, I wanted the truck to have a working radio. I wanted to sing and jam out. I wanted to go home and bunker myself in, to be warm, to sit the corner and stare at flakes of paint. My life was full of failed wants and perhaps that was my problem.
 Somewhere along the way I started to hear scratching, somewhere I began to take notice. Miami warms up fast even when it’s cold. Forty-nine and sunny combined with the heat of a car engine can create the illusion of seventy-five regardless of one’s misconceptions to the contrary. There, driving down the street, iguanas scuttled around the pickup. Reanimated, they chewed on banana peels, the ripped apart plastic grocery bags—the mirrors exposed all. They began mounting the cab, sliding down the windshield. As they bounced off the vehicle, falling to their permanent death, I struggled to come to grips with their predicament. How had they come to? Was I to blame? As wheels crushed bones, I reached for my elbow and pondered what I had in store, glad I was alone.

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