DUDE • by Katherine Hart

Jon is over at his father’s house this weekend. There is no Wii, although Dad has promised to take him to Best Buy to get an Xbox. But that was two weekends ago, and he wonders when they will buy it. There is nothing to do. Dad is inside laughing and drinking coffee with Jen. His sister, Amie, had a sleepover, and Mom is dropping her off at dinnertime. Stupid Amie would be better than no one. Maybe Dad will get a dog.

Jen slides the screen door open and steps out to the patio. She wears jeans like his sister’s, skinny and dark, and her feet are bare. Her toenails are too long and unpainted. Mom always has red toes.

“Hey, buddy,” she says. “What’s up?”

He is sitting where the paver bricks meet the tiny lawn — too small, Dad says, to build a swing-set. Two ants creep past him; a few lizards shade themselves under the plastic chairs. He says nothing.

“Pretty day out. You want to go to the pool?” Jen settles on one of the chairs and rests her mug next to her ugly toes. Jon likes the smell of coffee, but he sipped some of Dad’s once and coughed it into the sink. Nasty. He’d rather have a Coke.

“Maybe,” he says. He turns away from her and watches a lizard scurry across the bricks. The two greenish lizards beneath the chairs vanished when Jen sat down. This new guy pauses just a few inches from Jon and does push-ups, the red under its neck flashing each time it presses up.

The screen door rattles a little when it slides open again. Jon hears footsteps and the scrape of the other chair. Dad’s cup clinks when it touches the pavers.

“Hey, that’s Dude,” Dad says.

Jon turns around. His father has a hand on Jen’s knee.

“Dude?” Jon asks. He looks around the backyard. Is there a puppy after all? Even a friendly neighborhood dog to chase around the yard would be something to do.

“Yep, Dude. My pet lizard.” Dad laughs. “He’s right next to you, Jon. See? He’s not scared of us. I think he recognizes my voice.”

Dude is an anole. He’s not one of those gigantic curly-tails nor the slimier-looking newts. Jon shifts his body closer to the lizard. It pauses in its push-ups, flares its red neck, but doesn’t run away. It lowers its head, and Jon watches an oblivious earwig amble into Dude’s line of sight.

“You’re too funny, Spence.” Jen’s giggle sounds a little like a donkey’s bray. “The kids need a pet.”

Dude chases and catches the earwig. Jon watches him swallow the bug. As far as lizards go, Dude is nice-looking. Under the warm sun, his brown skin has a faint tinge of paver-brick red. Dark horizontal stripes run the length of his body. His tail is long, and he has big feet. Slowly, Jon reaches for the grass and pulls up a blade. He offers it to the lizard. “Here, Dude. Good boy.” The lizard does a few more push-ups but doesn’t eat the snack.

Jen says, “You should try catching it. We can get a little cage.”

Jon looks at the adults. They hold hands, and their coffee cups touch on the bricks under their seats. He feels like he did that time Mom took him fishing on a charter boat—his stomach heaving like the waves.

“It’s called a terrarium.” He feels good correcting her. She has gross toes, and she’s dumb when it comes to lizards.

“Okay. We can go to the pet store and get one, if you want.”

“Dad, when are we getting an Xbox?” He doesn’t want Jen to get him anything.

“Later today.” His dad lets go of Jen’s hand and lifts the coffee cups. His movement startles Dude, and the lizard scurries to the patio’s edge. “More coffee?”

“I’ll come in with you.”

The adults go inside, and over the banging and swishing of the sliding screen, Jon hears her say, “I wish he would warm up to me more.”

Jon closes his eyes and tilts his head towards the sun. When he opens his eyes, the world is swirly green and Dude is gone. He waits a little, then goes inside. The kitchen is quiet, but from his father’s bedroom, he hears the shower running. On the countertop is a square, glass vase and next to it is a note: “For Dude.” It’s not Dad’s tiny printing; Jen’s big, rounded letters remind him of Amie’s handwriting, and Jen has even drawn a smiley face under the words. He wishes Amie were here so they could laugh at Jen together. A vase, for a lizard?

He returns to the patio with the vase in his hands. The sun is hotter, and a thunderhead is building in the west. The lizards scatter when he opens the door, and he stands on the baking bricks. He raises the vase overhead and imagines smashing it on the pavers — the sound of crashing glass and shards sparkling in the sunlight. Dad would be upset, and there would be no trip to Best Buy, no new Xbox. Jen’s an idiot, he thinks. They could go to the pet store and get a terrarium.

He lowers the vase and tiptoes over the hot bricks to the small patch of crunchy, brownish grass. In the corner of the yard, there’s a leafy bush, and underneath, Jon sets down the vase, turning it on its side so a lizard could run in, if it wanted to. He puts a couple of leaves and a few blades of grass inside and sits next to it.

“Dude,” he calls. “Dude.”

Katherine Hart grew up in New England and currently lives in southern Florida with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. She teaches middle school language arts and writes flash fiction, short stories, and is finishing up a novel.

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