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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1830538-The-Jesus-Lizard
Rated: ASR · Non-fiction · Pets · #1830538
It's amazing what a mother tolerates.
Thank you Robert Waltz for featuring my story in "Noticing Newbies Newsletter (December 6, 2017)

    Our house belongs more to our pets than the human inhabitants. At the very least, four cats, one dog, seven gerbils, a ferret, and Jimmy Lee the parrot keep my three children busy. All of the animal stories have fascinating tales of their own, but none as weird as the Jesus lizard.

      We bought him from an exotic pet store of dubious reputation. He was a little guy, cute for a lizard, and fit in the palm of the hand. The owner explained the lizard's few needs, nothing when compared to the multiple joys of owning such a specimen. What the heck, he was smaller than Champion the Ball Python.

    Taking my son to the pet store meant we were coming home with one thing or another. I had asked the owner what the name meant.

    "Oh, his scientific name is basilisk lizard; people call them Jesus lizards because they can walk on water."

    "Really?" Jacob's eyes pleaded with me.

    "Well, exactly how do you take care of it?" I asked.

    "No big deal." He scratched his nose. "A dozen crickets a week and some greens. That's all he needs."

    "Excuse me, did you say crickets?"

    "Sure, long as they're still hopping." He dug around in his nose before pointing to another counter. "They're right over there."

      Living with my son's pets requires fortitude; one more thing to feed hardly matters, I decided. After all, it is educational. We walked out with the Jesus lizard and hopping crickets.

    We set up an aquarium and watched the latest addition to our menagerie with a mixture of wonder and disgust. When he consumed those leaping crickets...well...sometimes I just threw them in and ran from the room.

    A few months later, we went to a different pet store for crickets.

    "You're feeding it crickets?" asked the squirrely girl behind the counter.

    "Yes, that's what the owner of the other pet store said."

    "They didn't mention the lizard needs vitamin C?"

    "Uh, no, they really didn't." My mind twirled with imaginings of feeding a lizard vitamin C. Meanwhile, my son wandered off, ogling a yellow rat snake. I prepared my defense before he asked. No way was I taking home another reptile.

    "How exactly do you feed a lizard vitamin C?" I asked with dread.

    A heavily-tattooed man coughed, the wet sound coming from somewhere deep, probably his chest judging by his stained fingers. "I'm the owner," he announced, and admonished us for improper care of an exotic species.

    We left the pet store with powdered vitamins, which, we had learned from the inked owner, you simply placed in the Ziploc bag along with the crazed crickets, and shook. Feeding the lizard turned into a dreaded event. Dumping coated insects into a cage turned my stomach. But it got worse—much worse.

    We returned to the first pet store for our weekly cricket supply. Outside, a crowd gathered, watching Baby, a ten foot python, eat a rabbit. Jacob tugged on my jacket; I hustled him inside. Another employee, with track marks up her arm, asked why we were feeding the lizard crickets.

    "Well, that's what the other guy said when we bought him." One eye watched her. The other remained fixed on the furry side of the store, where my son was surveying rats.

    "Oh, they can't live on just crickets. In fact, he can't eat crickets at all anymore. He's too big— needs pinkies to survive."

    "Pinkies?" I gulped, disgust churning my stomach. I called to my son; if I had to endure this, so did he. He trudged over, his sneakered feet reluctant.

    "Sure, pinkies," Tracks replied. I hoped my son wouldn't ask about the damage on her arms. At the very least, could she wear a long-sleeved shirt?

    "Well," Tracks said, "pinkies are little baby mice."

    "Mice—this lizard needs mice?" I don't like mice, but the thought of them as food? Yuck. Jacob began jumping up and down, excited at the prospect of another animal, even as dinner for a reptile.

    "Not mice," Tracks explained. "Pinkies, here let me show you." My feet dragged as she herded us over to caged animals behind the cash register. Even my son looked disturbed. Around us, birds chirped, kittens meowed, and ferrets slunk.

    "These are pinkies, right here." She waved to a cage of miniscule beings, breed indeterminate, eyes still closed.

    "See, it's okay," explained the cashier, a young man with a few missing teeth. "They's taken from their ma 'fore they open them eyes. Prob'ly don't even know they's alive. You feed your reptile there a six-pack every week."

    "A six pack?" I really didn't want to know.

    "Yes, Ma'am," he huffed as he reached into the tank. "I just toss six of them critters into a bag, and you gotta six pack. Git it?" I turned my back and rubbed my eyes.

    I'm a murderess.

    "When's you bring 'em home, just toss 'em in the cage. Might wanna turn 'round though, it gits kinda messy."

    "Will you buy my lizard back; never mind, you can have him." The kid noted my desperation.

    "Well, 'spose we might, just this once—"

    "No," protested my son. No surprise there. He brushed his hair backward; a huge matter of contention. The more I wanted that hair cut, the more he let it grow. You can't force a ten-year-old into compliance; I considered sneaking in while he slept.

    I completed my purchase, but there was more.

    "'Course you're giving him vitamin C?" Tracks asked as she loitered around the counter.

    "Yeah, I guess. I mean, we're powdering his crickets by shaking them in the bag, like the other pet store owner suggested." I dreaded what was coming next. By this time, the line had grown to several impatient pet owners. Someone called from the back.

    "Lady, ya just shake the pinkies, like you did the crickets, then dump 'em in. The kid's right though. Might wanna take a step away. One time, an eyeball got splattered..."

    I grabbed the pinkies and ran before I vomited. Limits should be established somehow, rules agreed upon before entering pet stores, but for the moment, I had no alternative. I was responsible for a life, lizard-ly or not—it was still a living being. Unsettling turned to disgusting. Feeding those furry lumps, capable of growing into little darlings, to the cold-blooded reptile defeated me. Animals in the wild, that's one thing, but this, in my home? My husband stepped forward and assumed the duties.

    "No more reptiles for you," I admonished my innocent-looking son.

    After a few weeks of live feedings, my husband revolted. We returned to the pet store and discovered you can buy pinkies frozen. At least we weren't first in line to kill them. My husband felt confident he could feed frozen pinkies to the growing lizard, until he realized the reptile refused cold food.

    I hate to explain the next step. He placed the frozen pinkies in the microwave—five seconds—and then coated their warm bodies with vitamin C supplement. Shake and Bake took on a whole new meaning.

    The family—consisting of two daughters and one son, my husband and me—gathered around the lizard's cage.

    "Mom, you have to stop this," my oldest daughter said, hands planted firmly on her fifteen-year-old hips. She considered herself the boss of everyone, except Jacob, who listened to no one unless it suited him.

    Daughter number two chirped in, determined to establish her dominance in the family hierarchy. "Jacob, you're disgusting. You have to get rid of that thing now." She turned to my older daughter. "And who made you the queen of the royal jelly?"

    My son opened the cage. "Look how amazing he is."

    The leaping lizard catapulted from his cage, anchoring its feet in the mesh of the screened door. We all stood and gaped, no one willing to attempt a capture. The thing had grown to monstrous proportions. Eventually, we caught him, and the next day, donated him, his cage, and all his trappings to the pet store. My son started walking toward the ferrets. "Mom—"

    "No, absolutely not," I replied, my voice firm and commanding.

    I won that round, but Jacob's a hard boy to resist, and those ferrets are a riot to watch...


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