Stories

ERNESTO
published in Fractured West, Issue 1

One day, like a little prince, I went on a very long trip.

I left Ernesto in charge of my pet iguana, and my plants, and my sheets, and my pictures, and my fridge—a very old pistachio-green fridge that belonged to my grandfather and still smelled like rotting figs.

A childless man, I prided myself on keeping all these things alive. I gave food to Ernesto and the iguana, both of whom ate very little. I gave water to the plants, washed the sheets every week, dusted the pictures on the walls, defrosted the fridge. It was a good home, but the time had come to leave. Keep well, I will be back! And I kissed them all goodbye.

When I returned, Ernesto was paler, the plants were dusty and stiff, the pictures and sheets were gone, the fridge was disgorging its frost, and the glass tank was full of sand. I asked him why; I had trusted him. He said he did not bother with nimieties and preferred the walls and mattress bare. As for the iguana, he said every day instead of food he poured a handful of sand in the tank. If I loved home enough, I would be back before it was buried.

For a long time we both sat in silence, smoking cigarettes and watching the iguana swim in the sand, emerging now and then for air, and diving back in, mermaid-like, the striped tail following in slow circles that were smaller and smaller until the sand gulped up the tiny hole. I could not stand it any longer. I turned the heavy tank to its side; the contents spilled, the iguana rolled out to the foot of the mound, breathing terribly slow. Ancestral dragon, silent devil; its head had grown too large and it had lost most of its colour. I approached it with care, but it did not seem frightened.

When I ventured to pick it up, it broke in my hand. It was nothing more than a hollow shell, fragile, wafer-thin. I burst into tears. Ernesto put his hand on my shoulder, a human gesture reserved for only the worst moments of despair. I reached for him but my fingers sank through his hand, pieces crumbling onto my jumper. Ah, Ernesto! How long was I away, my sweet, for you to vanish like this?

 

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