Eric was helping a customer at Shopmart when he felt a tap on his ear and heard a croaky voice: “There ya go again being nice to people. What are you a boy scout?”
Eric looked around.
“Over here, loser. On your shoulder.”
And there it was. A fat green lizard, about a foot tall, sitting on his right shoulder, one claw holding his ear for balance. “Big help to the world you are,” it said, flashing a crocodile smile like a lumpy zipper. “Shoulda kept the old job. Flying a fighter jet ain’t good enough for you?”
“I’d rather work with people,” Eric said with a shrug, hoping it would dislodge the creature.
But the lizard held on, sharp claws embedded in his shoulder.
The lizard wasn’t Eric’s only visitor. There was the jet pilot who would parachute down to the parking lot, a lantern-jawed hero in a flight suit and helmet, eyes covered in a green visor. “What is the matter with you?” he’d say as Eric pushed a line of shopping carts. “How can you stand these people? You could be flying with us!”
Then there was the beetle-browed lady on the bus who impaled him with a hateful stare every morning just for taking his place among the other passengers. “What are you doing here?” she seemed to say. “Do you really like slumming with the great unwashed?”
Even his mother had turned against him. “After all that money for college! You get a good job, a good salary and you quit to be a store clerk? You’re an agony in your mother’s heart!”
He tried to talk to his girlfriend, Sarah. “I’m having a terrible time on the job. I see stuff. Lizards on my shoulder, angry people on the bus, jet pilots in the parking lot. They tell me I’ve chosen the wrong path in life. I know they’re not real but I talk to them! I’m afraid I’m crazy!”
Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes.
His company medical plan paid for some psychotherapy. He steeled himself and dialled the personnel office from the kitchen table, trying to ignore the accusatory stare from the baked potato he’d been too squeamish to eat. “I think I need to talk to a therapist,” he said. “I’ve been under a lot of stress.”
But the counsellor the firm assigned wasn’t happy to see him. “Shopmart is my biggest customer so we’ll have to try, I guess. What’s the problem?”
“Can you see the lizard on my shoulder?”
“No. He’s your fantasy not mine. Can you see my God above?”
Eric looked up. No God.
“See? We all have our fantasies. I see God all the time. I’ve learned to listen to her. She can be quite helpful.”
“I should listen to my fantasies? They’re not very nice. What if they tell me to kill myself?”
“They won’t. They’d die with you. Just talk to them. Find out what makes them tick.”
Eric felt a rush of affection for the man. Finally he’d met somebody who didn’t judge him so quickly. He began to talk to his creatures and ask their advice.
The jet pilot admitted he was terrified of thunderstorms and had once cried behind his visor. He sat next to Eric on the bench while he waited for the bus. “Don’t you envy me?” He flipped his visor up, revealing obsidian eyes. “I get to fly above this filthy world.”
“It’s too lonely up there. I have to be with people,” said Eric. “I can’t help it. It’s the way I am.” The pilot recoiled in disgust and headed back to his jet.
The bus arrived. He sat next to the angry woman. She turned away. “Why don’t you like me?” he asked.
“Because you’re disgusting!” she hissed. “Sit somewhere else!”
“Look, I brought you a gift,” he said, handing her an electronic tablet. “It’s the best one we sell. Comes with the latest click bait. Have you seen that cute puppy video?”
She swiped at the screen. “Aww, that is cute! Okay, you’re not all bad.” She turned away again, lost in the click bait, ignoring Eric at last.
The lizard was living on the top shelf of his locker at Shopmart. “You again,” he sneered, crawling onto Eric’s shoulder. The locker stank of lizard shit. The tenuous connection Eric had felt for the creature vanished.
He dumped the slimy body in the washroom sink, pumped cleaning fluid on its scaly skin and scrubbed. The creature wriggled and bit. Eric grabbed its tail, rinsed it under hot water and wrestled it into his briefcase.
“It’s working,” he told the therapist. “I’m talking to my demons and kicking them out of my life.”
Back home he rushed to his mother’s room. “Hey, Mom, I’ve got something for you!”
“What? Really? So you still care for your old mother!”
“Here it is!” Eric reached into his backpack and pulled out the lizard.
“Oh, my! He’s so cute! Eric, he looks just like you!”
“Wanna hold him?” He held the creature at arm’s length. His mother grabbed the lizard, held it in her arms and cooed lovingly.
“Glad you like him Mom!” said Eric. He felt a burst of love as he watched his mother eat the lizard, crunching the delicate bones between her raggedy, yellow teeth.
“Eric,” said his mother, licking the blood from her lips. “I know you’ve been seeing one of those therapists, but there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just a normal lizard and people hate us. They don’t like it that we’ve taken over their silly planet, but they’ll just have to get over it. Stop feeling guilty! You’re all skin and bones! Here! Eat!” She held out a severed arm.
Maybe she was right, thought Eric. His little brother looked delicious.