by Bryan Russell
The chameleon crept along the line of people. Its green skin filled with shadow blooms like thunderclouds, the color washing through until the chameleon was invisible against the smooth grey carpet.
Small feet, fingers sharp with little claws, crept down the aisle. The chameleon was like a small blur of cloud against a vast iron sky. The black shoes of mourners, the long black-panted legs—they were like trees growing in reverse, growing out of the dark sky and sprouting up toward the distant earth, eyes and coiffed roots searching, searching, always searching.
The chameleon’s tongue touched the air, which tasted of sadness and grief and chemotherapy. The lizard moved forward. A long tail trailed behind, an arrow pointing to safety, to some small crack sheltered from the moist breaths of mourners.
A coffin. Little claws grasping the wood. Up, up, up, like the tree legs. A man lay within. The chameleon stared at the figure with dry little eyes. It was, everyone said, Edgar Martinez, but his skin was not the lustrous skin she knew, smelling of Old Spice and home—it was grey as the carpet, and hinted of some bitter detergent.
The lizard stood, staring, the color of mahogany now, swirls like fingerprints across her skin, like grains of wood, the DNA of change. Edgar Martinez did not stare back. His eyes were closed. It wasn’t him. He was too still. He had the stillness of the chameleon’s baby brother when she watched him, sleeping, unmoving, that moment of stillness before the baby finally breathed, that moment of stillness when she started to worry, to wonder if something was wrong, why wasn’t he breathing, until he breathed, sucking in a breath that made his little chest rise and fall. Except Edgar Martinez did not breathe, his chest did not rise, he was caught in that endless moment of worry and waiting, a premonition of wrongness.
Other people wanted to see this statue of Edgar Martinez. They waited in line. Solemn faces. They could not see the chameleon. She was invisible.
If they could, they would talk to her, these people. Talk to her, pat her head, and look awkwardly away. Their words would remind her that her name was Erica Martinez, but she didn’t want to remember that, her name was dangerous, her name connected her in some way she didn’t understand to the solemn people. They would hand her Kleenex. She would take the Kleenex and sit, tearing it into small strips, and then smaller strips, and then little pieces. They would drift slowly downward like flakes of snow. Little windswept drifts would gather at her feet.
But Erica Martinez was an invisible chameleon and didn’t like the snow. Hers was a secret life of nooks and crannies, of hot sun and cool shadow. There was no snow, just desert winds that peeled off tears and husks of dry skin.