The first memory the lizard has is of a place that is too white, too bright. There are three other lizards next to him, climbing through the crunchy wood shavings, but they were here first and don’t pay attention to the new lizard. He bathes alone in the warm rock pool. He eats alone, munching on the crickets that sometimes fall from the top of the enclosure. It is hot and dry, and there is a large branch that his housemates perch on. Lights shine on him day and night.
Now and then a big face appears outside the wall, and it is usually accompanied by loud tapping. The lizard hides behind the rock pool when this happens. One by one his companions disappear from the cage. A rough, hairy hand snatches them up with no warning. The lizard is scared of the hand and tries to run away, but one day the hand closes tightly around him and lifts him out of his home.
Plop. He finds himself in a dark box, and his claws slide and scrape along the bottom, where there is no traction. It’s also cold, very cold. He is jostled around and tries to keep still until the box stops moving. A roaring noise fills his ears, for what seems like a long time, and when it finally stops, he is jerked around again. The top of the box opens and something is dropped down to him. The lizard finally has light to see, and recoils from the slimy creature that’s been deposited beside him. It is long and thin, dirty, and wriggling around on the cardboard. The lizard stays very still and quiet until the thing eventually stops moving. But he is hungry, and after a while the lizard begins to chew on the creature.
Finally, the box time ends and two small white hands cup the lizard and bring him out into the light once more. The face of a young boy smiles down on him. A dead cricket is given as a peace offering. The boy strokes the lizard’s head, and, although he doesn’t like it, he tolerates it for the boy, who brought him out into the light and fed him a cricket.
Into a new enclosure the lizard goes. This one has four invisible walls, a much bigger pond, and best of all, a warm sandy bottom. It is not too bright. There are big leaves and rocks and branches. The lizard scampers over a branch, slides through the sand, and sinks into the pool. He is content. Outside, there is excited chatter and laughing and the boy runs up and looks into the lizard’s new home with round, joyful eyes. He does not tap on the glass.
Many days and nights pass as the lizard settles into a new routine. Every evening, the boy takes the lizard out with his gentle hands and they explore the bathroom, the boy’s room, and the backyard. At first, the lizard is scared of the outdoors, but he grows to enjoy it. The boy always takes him inside when it starts to get cold.
The boy moves the lizard to an even bigger home, after a long travel in the dark. It takes a while getting used to it. There is a picture of the desert taped to the back of the aquarium that the lizard likes to look at. He memorizes the photographs because sometimes the boy changes them. A new face appears often outside his wall, a pretty young woman with dark hair. The boy is always by her side. The boy and the lizard begin to spend time together less often, but the lizard is not unhappy; he feels more tired lately and prefers resting in the pond to running around. He dreams about the outdoors with the boy. Once in a while, he dreams of the other lizards he knew so long ago that ignored him, and is glad to be on his own.
One day the boy opens the top to the lizard’s home. His hands grip the outer edges of the enclosure and tremble. The lizard wants to say hello, and he climbs up on the branch. The boy falls backward and knocks over the lizard and his home. Sand pours out over the floor and some spills onto his shirt. Strange sounds are coming from the boy. The lizard is confused and upset; his home is destroyed. The boy is shaking and twisting on the ground. The lizard crawls over him and out of the room. He wants to go outside where maybe he can feel the sun on his back again.
He hardly remembers his way around the house, but looks for landmarks. There is a large red armchair the lizard thinks he might have played on once. Where is the boy? He wants to go outside. The taste of fresh air calls to him from the hallway. Finally, there is sunlight and warmth.
Outdoors, the lizard darts into the brush. He walks for a while. The pretty dark-haired girl is sitting far away, reading her book in the sunshine. Over the lizard runs to say hi. The girl looks confused to see the lizard. She stands up as if something is wrong, and speaks to the lizard out loud. He doesn’t know how to respond and takes cover under a lawn chair. Away the girl races with her hand on her belly, heading back to the house.
A long time passes and the day has cooled off. The lizard watches the commotion around the house from afar. There are lights and people and loud noises. Nighttime comes and the temperature is dropping. The boy usually would have brought the lizard in by now, but he is nowhere to be found. Later, the lizard circles the house and finds all the doors are shut. There’s no way in. He crawls into a flower pot and falls asleep.
The next few days pass slowly. When the sun goes away, it gets very cold and sometimes there are wolves howling. The lizard finds flies to eat and sleeps in the flower pot, but he misses his rock pond and sandy floor. A big arrangement of flowers arrives on the porch one day. He tries to eat a nice-looking yellow flower, but it makes his stomach turn. Inside the plastic wrap around the flowers, it is damp, but warm.
The lizard wakes up indoors, and crawls out onto the kitchen table. The house is quiet and cool. It looks like a garden; there are flowers all around. A strange woman spots him on the table and makes a squealing noise. The lizard shrinks back into his flowers, but the woman grabs them up and shakes him off into his aquarium. Home, at last! He is warm and dry. A few crickets are dropped in for his dinner.
The lizard doesn’t know how much time has passed until he sees the dark-haired girl again. Her face appears at his window and it looks so tired. She scoops him out of the cage, lies on the couch, and sets him on her stomach. It is tight and round and warm. Something moves beneath the lizard and he freezes. Then he hears a noise in the hall. It is the boy, who is sitting in a chair. The boy rolls into the room and chuckles at the lizard. He looks tired, too, but happy. The boy touches the girl’s hand and they smile at each other. He strokes the lizard’s head.
The lizard smiles back.