Part 1: The Lizard
In retrospect, it all started with the lizard.
“A gecko?” I said. “You want to give an eight-year-old girl a gecko?”
I stared into my bedroom closet with what I’m sure was the same expression Dr. Livingstone had assessing the Nile for the first time, a combination of absolute wonderment and complete confusion. My wife Abby stood behind me, doing her very best not to snicker.
“They make very low-maintenance pets,” she said in a soothing tone, as if she were addressing a potentially dangerous mental patient. “You don’t have to walk them, you very rarely have to clean the aquarium and they never make any noise. Try the blue one.”
She indicated a royal blue Gap t-shirt I had been avoiding. I turned to her, surprised, and pointed at it. Yes, Abby nodded, that one.
“I can wear a t-shirt to a high school reunion? And why, exactly, does our daughter even need a pet that looks like it escaped from The Land That Time Forgot?”
Abby smiled tolerantly, once again secure in the knowledge that I would, indeed, collapse into a heap of quivering jelly without her. She pressed by me (and I did very little to get out of her way, thus necessitating as much pressing as possible) on her way to the bedroom closet door.
“Leah loves animals. I want to encourage her to develop that interest, and this is the easiest way to start her on her way. Don’t worry; you won’t have to do anything.”
“Famous last words.”
My wife, befitting a woman of her dignity and accomplishment, stuck her tongue out at me. She leaned into the closet (we have a lean-in closet in our bedroom, meaning that it’s roughly the size of a small refrigerator, so all you can do is lean in) and came out with the blue T-shirt, a pair of black jeans I actually fit into and my black sport jacket, which is made of something that approximates suede without actually harming any animals to produce it. Abby laid the clothes out on the bed. “There,” she said.
“My Hollywood scriptwriter disguise,” I said, nodding. On the rare occasions that one of my screenplays has generated enough interest for me to actually meet with a producer (and that is upwards of once), I have worn exactly this ensemble. I began to take off the hideous flannel shirt (with only two holes in it) and worn-to-the-white jeans (three, but two are in the knees) I was wearing.
“Certainly,” Abby said. “Show your old classmates how cool you are.”
“Cool, my love, is something I have never been able to pull off successfully.”
“Fake it,” she said. I grunted at that, and considered the question of the lizard again.
“So let’s suppose—and I want to stress that suppose—that I agree to this lizard thing. What does Jurassic Junior eat?”
It is so rare I get to see my wife blush. As with everything else, it becomes her, but it’s unusual that she’d be flustered enough to let it show. I braced myself. She mumbled something.
“WORMS!” she shouted, I presume unintentionally. “It eats… worms. And they have to be… live.”
“Live? As in alive? We’re asking our eight-year-old to feed one living thing to another living thing as a character-building experience?” I had, during this exchange, managed to don my entire screenwriter disguise, minus the jacket (which would make me sweat no matter what the weather, and so was best left for later).
“Well, she’s perfectly okay with it,” Abby said as I sat down again to put on my classy sneakers. “Melissa has one…”
That was all I needed to know; the discussion was over. Leah and her friend Melissa are actually the same person; it’s just that you need two bodies to harness all that energy. They’re constantly in motion, constantly talking, and constantly together, so whatever one does, the other must certainly do. There is no arguing with Melissa. Ever.
“Where do we get these worms?” I sighed. “Do we have to dig in the back yard? Remember, we have no, um, soil in the back yard.”
“The pet store. Then we keep them in the refrigerator.”
“The same refrigerator where we keep our food?” She nodded, and I think actually looked looked a little nauseated.
I stood up and put an arm over my wife’s shoulder. “Is there any power on heaven or earth that can stop this?”
“Any chance I can get some sex out of saying yes?” I figured it was worth a shot.
“Not tonight. I’ll be asleep long before you get home.”
From downstairs, I could hear the doorbell, followed by Leah’s shrill shriek. “It’s Uncle Mahoney!” Abby and I started wearily toward the stairs.
“All in all,” I told her, “this night is not starting out terribly well.”