This Week in Short Fiction
This week, a woman mysteriously becomes pregnant with a lizard egg in a short story at Guernica that is weird, funny, and surprisingly sweet. By Benjamin Schaefer, Prose Editor of Fairy Tale Review, “Lizard-Baby” explores themes of motherhood, difference, and community, and all through the fresh new lens of immaculate lizard-birth.
Last year, while on vacation in New Mexico, I went on a vision quest with a South American shaman, met the Devil, and came home pregnant. Mother keeps saying, Sins of the father, but I’m trying my best to remain optimistic.
The story jumps right in, never questioning the provenance of the lizard-baby or the mechanics of conception, with the kind of storytelling confidence and nonchalance that defines the best weird fictions. As the narrator’s belly grows dramatically day-by-day, she breaks the news to her shocked mother and her confused boyfriend (“No, Tomás, it is not yours, I said… For a moment he looked relieved. Wait, what do you mean it’s not mine?”), picks up a fondness for sunbathing under heat lamps, and files for maternity leave at work (“It always seemed strange to me that, for all intents and purposes, maternity leave and disability are practically the same thing”). Throughout the story, Schaefer’s narrator exudes a calm self-assurance in the face of those scandalized by her lizard-baby, or, in the case of her mother, scandalized by her unmarried state. She is confident in her choice to have her lizard child and raise it on her own, but that does not mean that it’s easy. After the narrator gives birth to the egg and while she waits for it to hatch, Schaefer captures one of the most profound and difficult aspects of motherhood:
I relocated the nest to the slate slab and spent my days adjusting the temperature of the heat lamps, caressing this hard speckled thing that was of me but no longer a part of me.
There are also plenty of opportunities for humor in this unusual setup, and Schaefer takes advantage of them with an excellent ear for the absurd, such as when a firework frightens Lizard-Baby and the family must spend a large part of July 4th coaxing him out from under the lake house deck. Many moments are simply delights, while others blend Schaefer’s whimsical humor with cultural commentary, such as the paragraph about the advantages of having a lizard son, which mostly concerns the obscene price of clothing and goods for human babies. “I soon realized we could get everything we needed for a fraction of the cost at a commercial pet store… [Doggie diapers are] less expensive than Pampers and there’s a hole for the tail.”
Humor aside, underlying this wonderfully weird story is a message about raising a child who, for whatever reason, is different from other kids. We see this struggle in glimpses, such as when the grandmother describes Lizard-Baby to a police officer: “[His tail is] big and gray and ugly. No! Not ugly! It’s beautiful! My grandson is beautiful.” It’s also a story about the gruelingly hard and often lonely work of being a parent, and how it can be alleviated through a sense of family—however that may look—and community. Or, as one mother says to the narrator, “We parents are all in this thing together. It’s not easy being green, I know.”
Logo art by Max Winter.