Active Predation by Dan Souder

A baby lizard came into the house. It was no longer than a pinkie finger, the lizard, and it was a greyish mottled yellow with black eyes and long wormy toes. It was fast for its size, faster than a roach, as it ran sideways on the drywall, gravity no more important to it than a book. But the lizard froze on my approach as though I had headlights pointing in its face. Excited, the first of these I’d seen in Brazil, I went to grab it gently between my thumb and my forefinger. It seemed to want to will itself to blend into the wall, but it didn’t have this gift. As I took its tail, it darted off along the wall. I was stupefied. In my pinching fingers was its springy tail, thin to a point at the end dangling down, and red with blood on the fatter other. Had the blood bubbled off the end or dripped I would have dropped it. But the red was flat as though it were just a splotch of skin. I realized I was looking at the color of its insides. I glanced over. The lizard’d found a hiding place. The wall was still, as glancing would expect. I dumbly held the tail. Though lizards have evolved to lose their tail to predators, for just this type of scene, I think I must have caused it pain. I was upset with myself, but the feeling was outweighed by the instinctive hunt. I discovered the lizard in shadow behind a table leg, and I caught it in my cupped hands and put it in an empty salt shaker. In the light I could see it had a lighter underbelly, like a fish, and another daub of red on its rear-end stump. It was statuesque on the glass’s beveled bottom, the only movement the pulsing of its too large heart stretching out between its ribs. I set the shaker on the bathroom sink and threw the tail into the yard.

I caught a spider. It was all legs and you’d need a microscope to see its face. I found it in the corner of the unused shower, seeming to float above the gluey sealant on its invisible home. I put it in the shaker with the lizard. The next morning, the lizard had struck a different pose that it would again hold for half the day. “Hello, Lloyd,” I said. I thought the spider gone until I lifted up the bottle and saw it hiding up against the silver lid, the holes like bars, if it could even see. I would get an aquarium and ask the pet store what was best to put inside. A hot rock to start, I thought. The next morning the spider really was gone and Lloyd was pointing yet another frozen way. A faint and yellow stain was on the bottom too. I tried to talk to him but it felt foolish and one-sided. A mammal will at least look your way. I took the lid off and shook him out into the grass.

From time to time I’d see him back inside the house. On sighting him I’d yell excitedly, “Lloyd’s visiting again!” I always thought of it as him although it could’ve been another. I’d changed him to a sometime pet. These meetings kept up a while, but I haven’t seen a lizard come inside for six months or more.

I was in the yard behind the cacqui tree when my stomach dropped, another instinct from an ancient time. There was a dead rat. It was on its side, had been well fed, and its head was stretched and pointing. I fixed my gaze away. What I hate most about the rat its bald and rangy tail, especially where it begins to issue from a tuft of fur. Its naked feet repulse me too. I feel if rats were all fur like the bear then I could break into a lab and set all the tumorous free. Nevertheless a dead rat close to home is no comfort. I covered it with a palm frond. Then I could look around. If something killed it, there was no evidence on the ground. I was not going to examine the beast. I got the shovel and scooped it, frond and all, and awkwardly with my arms tried to catapult it over the back fence into the empty lot behind. I made it on the first try, thankfully. In the following days there was no smell.

Another day when the sun was so bright and hot it seemed to brown the air, I took a little swim. It’s days like this that make the white dots on my forearms become more distinct. In just a couple weeks the sun had killed all the grass in the city, and the green of the medians was now the red of clay, as though all our eyes were seeing with a photoshop filter. But the sun is not the most stubborn force of nature: that would be the wind, which can never be stopped or blocked, only itself choosing when to stop, to let the sun torment a tenement, or tease a sailboat with its absence. The wind blew a bruise-colored cloud before the sun and seeing the room inside go dark I felt it safe to venture out. I peeled the cover off the pool a bit to give myself a swim lane. On finishing I tucked the cover back in place and only then did I notice something was on the other corner. I am nearsighted and had stopped wearing contact many years ago, prefering to live in an impressionist painting. So I walked closer and my stomach dropped again. Lying on the pool cover was the dead fetus of a bird. It was pale peach in color, featherless. There was no trace of eggshell. It was positioned awkwardly, its neck a question mark, its bill against its chest, lying on its side. How many creatures die upon their side. Its wing was the unsharp triangle of that of a plane, and reminded me I’m sad to say of the raw meat that goes into the fryer. Its eyes were too large and protruded. I didn’t look into them. Its body lay as I say awkwardly as though it were still inside the eggshell, the fetus upside down and warm. This outside in the air was wrong. Something had pecked out it. It had itself never moved. Perhaps some predator flying over dropped it. If not for the cover it would have sunk into the water. I ought to have buried it, but I took the pool skimmer and tossed it how I did the rat.

Another day and the pool cover was off. It had begun to rain again. The grass was coming back, but the nights were still cool. Some early mornings I could even see my breath. So the cover needed putting on, its blue bubbled plastic was a solar blanket for the pool, heating up the water in the sun. I set it in the water and began to unroll it. Some little motion caught my eye. There was a lizard in the water, swimming for its life. It reached the side of the pool, but the tiles were wet and it could not get a grip. It was the size of Lloyd when I’d thoughtlessly pulled off his tail, so I knew it couldn’t be him, but maybe was his son. I cupped my hands into the water and tried to bring him up, but the water ran out fast from my palms carrying the lizard back into the chlorine. It took another try or two before I got him out. You can barely feel a baby lizard on your palm. Perhaps like birds on power lines your nerves cannot detect him. Because he was frozen I could not set my hands down, I had to toss him. He landed on the concrete porch. How I should have put him in the tall grass, or underneath a shrub. He crouched there on the white porch, exposed. I went back to the pool. He took a couple snake-like steps. No straight lines for the lizard, they walk as in a loping helix. Then there was a streak in the corner of my eye. A bird, like a big robin but with a yellow underbelly, a common noisy nuisance in the dawn, launched like a javelin nearly in my reach. It grasped the lizard and was gone.



Dan Souder is an American living with his family in O Distrito Federal. He’s been published by The Missouri Review and X-Ray Magazine, among others.