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The morning I found my pet lizard, Albert, dead in my mother’s coffee mug was the day I should’ve known I’d soon be meeting my pigman. The mug lay in the rear window of our beat-up Chevrolet, and it rolled this way and that as we rounded the curves of Victory Boulevard. Albert had been missing for weeks. We simply hit a pothole and his little body popped up out of the mug while my mother was singing, which is what she did a lot of whenever she wasn’t threatening to commit suicide.
“Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde,” she sang, “and the band played on. He’d glide ‘cross the floor with the girl he adored, and the band played on.…”
Mom’s short bobbed hair wiggled in the wind rushing through the open car windows. Her dark eyes scanned the roadway in front, afraid to miss a single speck of oncoming life. My sister, Betty, a year and a half older than me, sat upon one of our dumpy suitcases, staring forward. She was a very pretty and suspicious girl, with long Sheena-Queen-of-the-Jungle blond hair. Then there was me. Hair like a blond carrottop. A sensitive, slightly nice-looking boy, but I didn’t know I was either at the time. Actually, I didn’t think I cared very much how the world saw me then, but I realize now I did care very much. I mostly thought of myself as a tall, scraggly, ordinary teenager glimpsed in a funhouse mirror.
“Mom, could you stop someplace so I can bury Albert?”
“Of course, dear,” my mother said.
She pulled the car over in front of a parked Good Humor truck. She and my sister licked Creamola bars while I laid Albert to rest in the soft, moist soil next to a wild daisy. I had bought the chameleon as a living souvenir during intermission at a performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Then I brought him home and housed him royally for four months in a luscious grass-and-twig-decorated pickle jar. I even fed him the most succulent flies and wasps I could catch, but he’d escaped at least once a month and hidden in the faded lace curtains of our last rented apartment. He was mind-bogglingly hard to find, which, I imagine is precisely what God had in mind when he designed chameleons.
After Albert’s funeral, we got back into the car, which was filled with everything we owned. We had just been evicted because Mother called the landlady a “snooping, vicious, lurking spy.” Of course, we had also fallen a few months behind in paying our rent, which was the main reason we moved three or four times a year.
“This time it’s going to work out,” my mother claimed happily as we drove on. “This time it’s going to really work out! This will be a home of our own! I won’t have to drag my poor children all over the place!”
“Great, Mom,” Betty said, giving me a wink.
“Terrific, Mom,” I chimed in, rolling my eyes upward.
“Yes, kids! We’ll have a home of our own, with nobody to tell us what to do! Nobody! It’ll be Heaven!”
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