“My logs are disappearing,” said the lizard, pushing his belly down to hide under the last three pieces of wood stacked against the garage wall.
Two yellow eyes gleamed bitterly from the shadow of the logs. “That’s the way it always is,” said the rat. “Sooner or later, they get you. With poison that takes twenty-four hours, corroding your guts, burning you to death from within; you get so hideously thirsty, you drink like a demon. That’s just what they want. The poison sizzles. Your blood goes black and you writhe. I’ve seen it.” He spat out a sliver.
The lizard listened, scared but drawn. The gray-whiskered rat had many stories of the master race around them.
“If it’s not poison, it’s their cream-fed cats,” the rat went on.
“Oh yes,” the lizard nodded. “I lost my tail the first time to one of them.” He couldn’t help glancing at the rat’s bare pink tail, a cord they could drag him to death by. Thank God, his own tail was detachable.
“Yes, the kitties,” the rat continued, “breaking your back, tearing your head, then pushing you back and forth like a rag doll, letting you lie in agony while they break to lick their fur, then back to playtime. Those are the animals humans keep close because humans love torture. They get off on it.”
“I don’t think all humans are like that,” the lizard offered in an uncertain voice. “They might bring more logs. Once, they put down a rock in the sand for me to hide under.”
The rat rolled its eyes. “You think they did that for you?” he jeered. “It’s their decoration. Whether you lived or died was one hundred percent irrelevant.”
The lizard was quiet. An ant wandered in, climbed under the bark.
The rat watched it absently. “Do you know about the glueboards?”
“No,” the lizard said. He had never been indoors at all.
“Oh the glueboards. I’ve witnessed them. You creep along the walls seeking nothing but food and water, mere survival. Then there it is! A big glob of peanut butter out in the open. You step onto a white surface like milk, and you stick. You can’t lift your feet. You pull, but no matter how young and strong, you can’t get loose. If you’ve only put in a single foot, you’re lucky; you can bite your leg off, but be careful. The minute your nose gets close to the glue, it sticks. You scream but there’s no help. You can scream all night. I’ve heard it. Your bones ache from that contorted crouch. And you start to sink. You strain all night, holding your stomach up, but finally, you’re too tired. Your chin falls. You garble a final protest and suffocate.”
The lizard stared at the rat. “What makes humans so horrible?”
A rotten apple plopped from the tree and splattered on the brick. The rat laughed without humor. “God made a mistake when he made them. That’s all.”
Lizard stood, tense in every leg. “But if they knew how we felt, if we could get them to see us, to hear us, if they could speak our language, they might change! Maybe we just have to be brave, come closer, express everything.”
“Yes, go close to them, and I’ll be chief mourner at your funeral,” the rat said. He slowly slid his nose from the stack of wood and licked at the nearest splotch of apple mess. “It’s hard enough for animals. Would we be talking to each other if we ate the same things?”
“Couldn’t we?” asked the lizard. Despondent, he laid his head on the ground.
The rat licked his whiskers thoughtfully. “Maybe. In a billion years and a million universes, there are probably infinite paradises, a thousand planets where humans go around all day feeding their animal brethren. And animals kill without pain and die in an instant.”
“Maybe in a million years, it could happen here,” the lizard offered. Secretly and stubbornly, he thought it could happen in a thousand, and he wished the rat thought so too.
“Why not believe it?” The rat bit at a scab on his leg. “You have to get through life somehow.”
Is it just delusion? The lizard felt an unbearable pain in his stomach.
A cricket slipped under the log, and without thinking, the lizard lept, crunched, and swallowed. With the taste still in his mouth, the lizard’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m just as bad,” he said. “I’m a collaborator, but I can’t help it. I have to survive.” His body felt it would burst from the tension of partaking of evil, even while condemning it.
“It was over in an instant,” the rat said gruffly. “You didn’t do it for fun.”
The lizard felt cold. He looked at the hot brown rock. At least basking in the heat didn’t destroy a life. He could still have that and be good. Partly. “God made a mistake when he made us all,” the lizard whispered. A leaf fluttered to the ground, speckled with the eggs of a dozen unborn caterpillars who would shred their host the minute they were born, and be devoured in turn by the circling birds.
“Hey, here’s another cricket for you,” the rat said, glancing sideways.
The lizard turned wearily away. Trembling, he crept to the rock, making no attempt to blend with its colors. The sun, the blue sky had no meaning. He waited for a snake or hawk.
It was a red-tailed hawk. When its shadow loomed, the lizard flinched but did not flee. Searing pain and the sensation of flying without wings were his end.
“Sensitivity,” the rat said. “Not a survival trait.” He crouched low, gripping the concrete with his pink claws, and inched toward a broken egg that had fallen from a nest.
Lita Kurth received her MFA from Pacific Lutheran University and has published work in three genres. Her CNF, “Pivot,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her CNF “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” presented at the Working Class Studies conference, 2013, won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award (summer-fall 2014) and appeared in Lunchticket 2014. She teaches private workshops online and in her living room (Lita Kurth Writing Workshops on Facebook). In 2013, she co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a reading series in San Jose. She has contributed to Tikkun.org/tikkundaily, TheReviewReview.net, classism.org, and San Jose’s Metro.