Chameleons

By Curtis Vandonkelaar

Michael’s afraid the TV will blow up again. Two others have burst right here in this living room. He pads his fingers against the TV’s black face. He loves the television. When he pulls his fingertips from the screen, they’re gray, powdered in fine dust. He drives his hand down the power cord all the way to the socket, acquiring a trace of dustbunnies in his palm.

“Be a big boy,” his mother says. “Good rain coming. Good, bad rain.”

He stands, moves to the living room picture window, and kisses his cheek into the windowpane until raincold sinks into his jaw. In the side yard, a wet haze — thick, the color of his watered-down pee in the toilet — spreads from gray clouds to the driveway and a pair of jeans on the line turns green. The pants change color, as Michael once thought his pet chameleon would do, but it doesn’t. The chameleon disappoints him. He thinks it might be sick, or broken, or that maybe he just got a bad one. That’s what Lindsay next door would say. Lindsay two years older, almost nine, and she won’t ever play with him, only when he brings out his basketball.

“All the time,” she says, “your house gets struck by lightning. Because it wants to be struck. Your house asks lightning to come inside and lightning says yes.”

The pants on the line transform, and Michael imagines that chameleons have made them. Good, working chameleons. A block over, he sees wind bending a stand of pines, the tallest trees in the neighborhood, and he cranes his neck, hoping to see their tops. Raindrops fall fat and hard against the window glass, and runnels of water distort his vision. Hail on the grass, misshapen chunks like lead slugs. In the drive, they batter the Oldsmobile’s hood. He sees tiny, angry men fighting in the clouds. They throw snowballs to make the hail.

His mother runs out for the jeans. Michael runs for the television cord and yanks it from the wall, not because he’s agreed on this responsibility: to be big, to swear off cartoons in the rain, to unplug the television on thunder, but because he’s afraid of more than losing another TV.

When the picture tube blows — this is what happens, his father says — he’s afraid that shards of glass will catch in his eyes and he’ll be blind. Michael knows what blind is. Blind means you see nighttime in daytime. He’s old enough to know that his mother can’t kiss his eyes, as she kisses his scrapes, and bring back green, or blue, or magenta. The Oldsmobile is magenta, she says, and if he forgets to pull the cord and the television explodes, magenta is only a word for him to remember, and not something to put into his eyes, like grapes into his mouth.

He wanders to the porch. He’s never seen this, all so yellow. It’s on everything, on Lindsay’s house — she must be afraid inside, as old as she is — on the car, the front oak, on his mother, cradling the jeans and two clean sheets from the line. She winces from pelting hail.

“Bad one,” she says. “Get inside, silly boy.”

He looks up. Clouds melt, and the whole sky becomes a single, pale sun. A slab of butter, spread thin over leaves, the trees of his street. He raises his arms and his fingers become yellow antennas.

The lightning strike sounds like a tower of blocks, falling flat against the kitchen floor. The biggest tower of blocks he could ever make. His mother has already whisked him into the yard by the time their house catches fire. She clutches him, turns his head away from the blaze, into her shoulder, but he looks beyond her to watch. Fire is dancing with the walls of his room.

Michael huddles with his mother, the both of them soaking through. Even the insides of his knees feel wet. He wants to tell her that he unplugged the cord. He wants to prove this, but she won’t let him go, and slowly, he understands. Inside, his chameleon is changing.

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About Curtis Vandonkelaar

CV is most recently the winner of the 2016 Literal Latte Short Short Contest and the Gateway Review’s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, and he has been a finalist in a number of fiction competitions, including the Puerto del Sol Fiction Contest, The Laurel Review’s Midwestern Fiction Contest, Harpur Palate’s John Gardner Fiction Contest, the Tusculum Review Fiction Contest, Pulp Literature’s Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction, and Passages North’s Neutrino Prize. His stories have appeared in the Vestal Review, Western Humanities Review, MAKE, Hobart, and DIAGRAM, among others, and have been positively reviewed by Dark Sky Magazine and The Review Review, made the Wigleaf longlist, and been nominated for Best of the Net. He teaches writing and editing at Michigan State University, where he is the faculty editor/advisor of The Offbeat literary journal and a consulting editor with Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction.

See curtisvandonkelaar.com for more.

One Comment

  1. Giant Lizard
    Posted May 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Vivid imagery and descriptions.

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