Fiction: WATCHING THE IGUANAS by Richie Narvaez

Oonie did not want to be in a nameless bar in a town called Contrahecho being stared at by a woman who looked just like her grandfather. A big, fat face, long, white dirty hair. But her grandfather was more than a world away—and dead. Oonie never liked him anyway. This woman wore a wide brim hat and kept her goggles on inside the dark bar. Oonie sensed trouble puro.

She had been lingering at the bar for hours and the bartender was looking for a reason to push her out. She was starving and had no money to catch the next shuttle back to where her man Manolo was. She wondered who she would have to suck or fuck to get a meal and find a way out of this pod town and back home. Oonie looked around the room and saw the same empty, aimless faces she had seen in every town in the last five years. No one looked back.

Except the woman with the hat.

Oonie wanted to escape from the stare. There was one window, in a bay next to the bar. She took her rucksack and went.

The bay was a large, gray-streaked window that looked outside. No one else was there, no one else was looking. Humid air clotted on the window. Black rain fell softly, spitting on the surfaces of the pods. She could not see very far in front of her, some stunted trees, the interlocking pods, and then darkness.

Underneath the sound of the rain, she could still hear the sound of machinery wheezing like a dying man. You heard the sound everywhere inside the town, all the time. She’d have to find a place to stay before the townspeople got tired of her hanging around. It had already happened plenty of times.

Then there was someone next to her. The woman with the hat.

“Nice view,” the woman said. “You like the outdoors, kid?”

Oonie said nothing.

“I once saw a man got caught outdoors for over a week. Fried skin. Coughing up black blood. Not a good place to be.”

They stood there looking at the dark rain.

“You know anything about iguanas?” the woman said.

Oonie wanted to go back, but she felt the emptiness in her stomach.

“Green reptile. An animal.”

Oonie nodded, acknowledging the woman for the first time.

“I need someone to watch my iguanas, to take care of them while I’m out, feed them. You think you can do that?”

Do whatever it takes to survive, Manolo had told her once. Everyone else does. Don’t be stupid.

“What do they eat?”

“Lettuce.”

“Lettuce?”

“A green vegetable.”

“Sounds exciting,” Oonie said.

“It is. You stay at my house. Just one day. Clean up. Get some rest. Eat as much as you want. I’ll even pay you a shuttle to get wherever it is you want to get. This is easy work.”

Oonie wondered what the difficult part would be.

“One more thing,” the woman said. Oonie could not see the woman’s eyes behind the goggles.

“Yes.” Whatever it takes.

“My husband will be there,” the woman said. “I need you to kill him.”

Oonie was glad to know the difficult part. “Sure. Can you get me a beer?”

“Of course.”

Oonie moved to go back to the bar.

“Wait,” the woman said, touching her arm. From her cloak, she took out a rag. She opened the rag and inside was a small, metal object.

“Know what this is?”

“Looks like a gun. An old gun.”

“Good. Yes, it is an antique. The authorities won’t trace it. Use this.”

“How?”

“Move this here, then press here,” the woman said, showing her how to hold the gun. “Do it when you’re close. There is only one bullet.”

“What if I miss?”

“Then do whatever it takes.”

Oonie put the rag with the gun inside her rucksack. “Can I have that beer now?”

“Of course.”

Back at the bar, the bartender looked at Oonie. “She’s all right,” the woman said. “She is with me.

Two beers.”

Oonie had to stop herself from drinking the entire sweet beer at once. Outside of a half a sandwich she’d stolen from someone two days before, this was her largest meal in a long, long time.

“Can I have some snacks too? I could use something salty.”

“Me too,” the woman with the goggles said and ordered snacks. Then she said, “About the iguanas. We can learn a lot from them. The common green iguana is a notorious escape artist that must be kept under constant surveillance if ever near access to outdoors. They’re cold blooded.”

“Where is your section?” Oonie said.

“Outside the town.”

“Outside?”

“Yes, I have a vehicle. I’ll start it and it will take you directly into the house. In twenty-four hours it’s programmed to come back here and pick me up. The dash is locked, so don’t try to fuck with it.”

“Sure.”

“Finish your beer. You better get going. Don’t forget to feed the iguanas. You can pet them, if you want. But don’t handle them by the tail.”

They went down three levels to the shuttle depot. There were very few other vehicles. “There it is,” the woman said, pointing to the newest one. It was big, shiny, black.

“Very nice,” Oonie said.

“Remember the dash is locked. Don’t try to fuck with it.”

The woman passed her hand over the lock and it opened. Oonie got in.

“Twenty-four hours. Then get in and come back.”

“Got it.”

“Enjoy,” the woman said.

* * *

The vehicle sped through an underground tunnel for a long time, and then it emerged outside, pelted by the dark rain.

This was crazy, Oonie thought. Why the fuck would she take care of this woman’s iguanas when she could take control of this vehicle and probably drive most of the way back to Manolo before the fuel ran out? It was a nice fucking vehicle.

The dash showed the route to the house. She was getting close now.

Oonie had not stolen a vehicle in a few years, but she thought she remembered how to do it. She sat back in the seat and then began to kick up at the underside of the dash.

“Ka ni na!,” she cursed, kicking again and again.

The underside cracked. She squeezed under the dash and pushing her hand into the crack, she widened it and found the two crystals she would have to switch.

The steering wheel emerged from the dash. “Yeah.”

Oonie clambered back into the seat and put her hands on the wheel. She tried to turn the wheel, but she had never handled such a powerful vehicle before. She wanted to make it slow down, so she could turn, but she couldn’t remember how to do that, so she decided to try to turn around.

Manolo was in the other direction.

The vehicle reacted like it was alive. It bucked back and twisted and then reared up and rolled over and again, skidding, screeching on the road. In the driver’s seat, Oonie was well protected but shaken up. She had no choice but to get out of the vehicle. She touched the door and it slid open. Oonie felt humid, ashy air on her face.

She climbed atop the vehicle. The rain hit her, little burning droplets on her skin. The sky was black overhead. She didn’t have much time.

The house sat on a hill, just half a kilometer ahead. Its lights were on. There was no other house nearby. “Fuck,” she said.

* * *

It was like a single pod, not connected to thousands of others the way most towns were. Without the vehicle, Oonie could not get inside. She walked around it and came to a large window. She thought she could smash through it with the gun. But then she saw something moving inside.

Four-legged. Long-tailed. Scaly. Iguanas. Twenty. Thirty. Maybe more. From a few centimeters to almost a full meter in length. Lounging in what looked like plants.

If she smashed the window, they would escape. The woman would be upset enough if the vehicle was damaged. But she seemed to care the most about the iguanas. And the husband. Maybe the woman would still pay for a shuttle.

Oonie went around the house and found the front entrance, large, round, solid door. She was about to smash a window next to it, when the door slid open.

A man stepped out. Oonie thought it was Manolo. The one who always told her the truth, who could make her stop traveling, stop looking for whatever the hell she was looking for, make her not want anybody or anything else. That Manolo. But it could not be, because he was in polar city very far away. But the eyes were similar, maybe the smile, too. Black hair, blue eyes, thick lips. He wore a bright orange sleeping gown.

“It’s much easier to come in through the front door,” he said.

He went inside and Oonie followed him. The door slid closed quickly behind him.

She sat down on a bright blue coach. Soft music played in the air. “Daya will not be happy with what you did with her vehicle,” he said.

“Nice music,” Oonie said. “I can’t hear anything else.”

“Of course. Daya only gets the very best. Are you running an errand for her?”

Oonie walked around the room. It was the biggest room she had ever been in.

“She wanted me to check on the iguanas. And you. She said she would be gone for a day.”

“Why does she think I can’t take care of myself? That woman is ridiculous.”

Oonie turned to look at him for the first time since they’d come inside and saw that right behind him on the couch was a small, blue iguana.

“Is that safe?” she said.

“Are you talking about Babe here?” he reached up and pet the iguana. It stuck its tongue out and put it back in several times. “He is like a child to us.”

Oonie continued to stare.

“Have you never seen an iguana before?”

“I haven’t seen many live animals.” The truth was that she hadn’t seen any. Unless you counted roaches.

“Of course,” he said. “Would you like to touch it?”

She went around the couch and stood behind him. She touched the iguana. Its skin was tough, cold. She was very close to the man. He did not turn around.

“I’m Chandresh,” he said. “Please call me Chandresh.”

“Hello, Chandresh,” she said to the back of his head. It was the perfect opportunity to take out the gun and use it. Then she could eat.

“Are you hungry?” he said, getting up. “Of course, you must be. I will get you something.”

She started to follow him.

He turned and said, “Why don’t you freshen up? The shower is past the bedroom, which is right past the iguana den?”

“Okay, Manolo,” she said.

He didn’t seem to hear her.

* * *

The iguana den smelled wet, and there was something else, a kind of fecal smell. She was in the room she had seen from outside. But from inside the window was a viewscreen that showed a jungle of thick, dense leaves, shivering with dew and a million shades of green Oonie had never seen.

She ignored the iguanas. They ignored her back.

She went through to the bedroom, which was even larger than the living room. The bed was up on a platform, almost up to Oonie’s shoulder. The room smelled sweet and soft, and suddenly Oonie realized how she must smell after weeks on the road. She quickly went into the bathroom.

After seeing the other rooms, she was not surprised at the size of the shower—it was the bathroom, the whole room—or of the pressure that beat on her skin, making her hot and red. She heard Manolo’s voice in her head, If you leave me, you’ll never find a way back, you’ll never amount to anything, you’ll just die. She let the heat and water beat at her back. She watched a whirlpool of dirt disappear into the floor.

“You’re much more pleasant to look at wet,” she heard. She turned around and there in the doorway stood Chandresh, with a pile of clothes in his hands. “Put these on. I’m sure Daya won’t mind if you use her things.”

He was waiting for her inside the iguana den.

“Sit down,” he said, pushing an iguana off a chair made of something Oonie did not recognize.

“Sit in Daya’s prize wooden chair.”

Next to the chair, on a table, was a glass of white liquid and a plate of brown cubes. She had to step around and over three iguanas to get to the chair.

“There sure are a lot of these animals,” she said.

“Yes. They are actually very rare,” Chandresh said. “Very expensive.”

“I’d guess.” The chair was cool where the iguana had been sitting. She took the drink. “It’s sweet.”

“Yes,” he said. “Tell me something about yourself.” He changed the viewscreen to a scene of a beach. Blue water crashed against a pink beach. The red sunset colored the room and lit him from behind. The sleeping gown became almost transparent.

Oonie realized she should have gone after him in the kitchen, gotten things over with. Now, looking at him, she didn’t know if she’d be able to go through with it.

“I’m just like everybody else,” she said. “Trying to live.”

“There is so much more to life than merely living.”

She ate the food in three quick handfuls. “If you have the means.”

“If you have the means,” he said and laughed. “Of course.”

“Tell me about you,” she said.

“I’m just a prize. Like my wife’s iguanas.”

“Is that so bad?”

He laughed at that. “Come with me.” He held out his hand and she took it. “Bring your drink.”

She brought her rucksack with her. There might still be a chance.

He led her to the living room and sat her down. As she sat, she felt warm. She looked down and his hand was on her thighs.

He handed her a thin disc. “Here,” he said, and she took it.

After a few seconds, the music in the room began to turn into colors and the colors began to float and make little explosions in her head.

“Amazing,” she said. In her mind, she saw the man called Chandresh and Manolo mixing together, their dark bodies intertwining, becoming one. She realized she liked it. Realized she wanted to keep things that way.

“I hate being alone here with all these cold animals,” he was saying.

That was it.

That was a new plan.

Oonie would stay. She would keep this woman’s stuff. This woman’s pleasures. Everything she needed was here. Why go back? What was there for her that she could not have here?

“I like you even though I don’t know your name.”

She was about to tell him, but then he said, “I don’t want to know it either.”

Then she felt his hand moving, caressing her. She wanted to say something, but his hands were doing wonderful and amazing things to her.

She thought about the gun.

She would wait for the vehicle to pick up the woman and bring her back and then she would shoot her.

“Mine,” she said in a whisper.

“Don’t talk,” he said. “That ruins everything.”

He put his mouth on hers. As he kissed her, she saw the blue iguana moving away and off the couch.

Her body moved and responded. She remembered moving back through the iguana den—all the iguanas seemed to turn their heads to follow her as she was being led—into a bedroom, and even in the haze she was in she had reached for her rucksack and brought it with her. It was a huge bed covered by a bright, soft material. The gun made a soft thud in her rucksack as she threw it on the floor.

* * *

Oonie woke up alone, feeling sore and starving. Light blazed into the room from the unshaded windows. Her head hurt. And then she heard a sound. A muffled popping sound. She reached for her clothes on the floor. She slowly got dressed and picked up the rucksack. The blue iguana Babe was on the bed, looking at her. Oonie picked it up in both hands and it wriggled its tail as she shoved it into the rucksack.

She realized then that the gun was gone.

Her plan was to go out the front door. But she had to pass the iguana den first. And there, on the floor, was the woman called Daya, on her back. She wore a full bodysuit, the kind people wore if they had to go outside. There was a red hole in the middle of her stomach, and blood leaking from behind her. Iguanas walked slowly through the blood, leaving small red clawprints.

Chandresh sat on the wooden chair with the gun in his hand. “This is a nasty little thing.”

He pointed it at her.

“A man always knows what his woman is up to,” he said. “Some men blind themselves to it, but I’m not than kind of man.”

Oonie smirked at him. “There is only one bullet.”

“Daya lied to you, child. There are two. I have inserted the other one. The authorities are on their way.”

“Why?”

“Because you killed my wife.”

“No. I—.”

“You stole her vehicle, convinced me to let you into the house, and raped me. When my wife arrived to rescue me, you killed her.”

“But—”

“Then while you were resting from the vigor of your ardor, I recovered the gun and killed you.”

Oonie watched the way he held the gun. He knew how to use it. He held it firmly and with control.

“Before I do that, please tell me something. Who is this ‘Manolo’? I’d like to know, since you called me by his name a dozen times last night.”

“He is dead. He has been dead for years.”

“Sad,” he said. “Daya came back early, I suspect, to kill two birds with one stone.”

“What is a bird?”

“I don’t know. It’s just an expression,” he said, shrugging, and in that moment Oonie saw a chance and flung the rucksack with the wriggling iguana at him. He fired the gun, but the shot went wild—there was that popping sound again. Oonie pounced on him. She hit him in the face again and again, bloodying his mouth and nose. He pushed her back and she fell on her ass. He moved toward her, but she held the gun at him.

“There are no more bullets,” he said, standing up.

“Liar.” Then Oonie fired the gun the way the woman had said.

She missed, but the bullet went behind him and through the viewscreen, cracking it.

“Bastard! That was mine,” he said. He began to move toward her. She fired again.

The impact sent him back into the window and pushed his body through it. A hole opened.

Through it she could see the dirty world outside.

* * *

The hole in the window was big enough for her to walk through. She stepped over the man’s body. She considered taking Daya’s boydsuit, but there wasn’t time.

She started walking fast, then running, feeling the weight of the iguana in her rucksack. She looked behind and saw the house, not so far behind. The sky was gray, but she felt the sun blazing through, heating her shoulders, beginning to burn them.

She found a small dune. The authorities would find her. Or the sun would. It would not be long.

She sat on the warm sand and opened up the rucksack and took out the iguana. It blinked back at her, flicked its tail. Her mouth began to salivate. Anything to survive. She stroked the animal’s rough skin once, twice, then lifted it to her mouth and bit into it.

***

R. Narvaez was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His work has been published in Mississippi Review, Murdaland, Thrilling Detective, and Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery. He is co-editor of The Lineup crime poetry chapbook series.

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Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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About Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

2 Replies to “Fiction: WATCHING THE IGUANAS by Richie Narvaez”

  1. Absolutely fantastic.

    I could gild the lily by going over all the parts I liked, but it distills to this: You’re an expert at fusing the poetic into prose. The layers of meaning are lush while the prose is trim, and that’s the best writing, in my opinion.

    And the coherence of vision – setting this story of privation as a Spec Fic piece in a not-so-distant future, the precise selection of the events and objects and concepts introduced, the pleasant curves of the plot taken at brisk pacing – it all was so complete.

    Excellent piece, Richie.