This story first appeared on Feathertale in 2012, shortly before the author’s death.
Even considering the late nights, rowdy men and drunken outings, considering the one party we had that was broken up by the cops, and the time we threw water balloons out our front window, the stupidest thing Angie and I ever did was Steve. There was a homeless woman who chased us both down an alley one night, a guy we met at a bar who tried to break down our apartment door, and a pair of high-school boys who we dared to run into the river with all their clothes on one November night.
But it was nothing compared to Steve. Because even though Angie once picked up an entire minor-league baseball team and had them watch as I mooned the governor’s mansion, the stupidest thing the two of us ever did was adopt an iguana named Steve. Until today, when Angie, who’s apparently gone insane, gets married and destroys everything.
Iguanas seem like easy pets at first. They look like miniature dinosaurs, sitting in their glass cages, staring off into space while languidly chewing on kale. But then take them out for a little exercise, and they practically fly across the room. The first time we set Steve down on the kitchen floor, he took off before I’d moved my hands away, his toenails clicking on the tile as he raced to the wall, leapt onto the door frame, and climbed halfway up, where he suddenly turned apathetic, rotating his head, staring down at me and Angie, and flicking his tongue out as if hanging from wood mouldings was the most normal thing in the world. Meanwhile Angie and I collapsed into laughter, arguing halfheartedly about which one of us would have to get him down.
But after today there won’t be any running reptiles or giggling girls. No emo photo-club boys trying to take our pictures in the parking lot outside Applebee’s. No Triple-A prospects checking out my ass. Tonight the whole world will be quiet and empty, like the blue-white walls of a dark apartment on a night she’s out late with Greg. Like Steve the iguana asleep and alone in his cage.
Angie’s in her bedroom now finishing her makeup, and I’m outside the room, guarding the door from her family and friends. I knew being the maid of honour meant throwing a shower and wearing an ugly maroon dress. I didn’t realize it also meant running interference against Angie’s mother.
“How’s my little angel?” Angie’s mother asks, barely moving her dark red lips as she walks down the long hallway, wearing a faux snakeskin dress and holding an empty champagne glass.
“Busy,” I say.
She stops when she reaches me and looks me over for a moment, as if she can’t remember who I am. “I just need to talk to her before she comes out.”
“She doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
She leans closer. “Sometimes Angie does her makeup wrong,” she says in a loud whisper. “And it makes her look like a Mexican. I have to check.”
Angie’s mother reaches for the doorknob, but I sidestep and block her access. “Angie’s really nervous,” I say. “And she’ll do better if she’s not disturbed. You understand.”
Obviously she does not understand, because she grabs me by the shoulders and shoves me to the side. Since reason isn’t working, I have to go for something else.
“Is that the alarm on your Escalade?” I ask.
Her eyebrows rise. “I’ll be right back.”
The other problem with iguanas is their waste: it’s the worst smell in the world. Imagine the smell of dog crap, human crap and rotting vegetables combined. Now multiply that times twenty. Now add vomit.
Every time Steve pooped, the entire apartment building knew it. And whatever we were doing — studying, watching TV or hanging out with friends — we would jump up and hurry to clean out his cage. But no matter how much we cleaned, scrubbed and Lysoled, the apartment always smelled like a mixture between Steve’s poop and his favourite food, bananas.
Steve was crazy about bananas. He would only eat his kale about half the time, and he’d usually let it sit for a while before he began to reluctantly munch on it. But as soon as he smelled a banana his beady little eyes lit up and his thick neck strained to the top of his cage.
Angie usually bought Steve’s food on her way home from work. She’d break the banana into pieces, drop it in front of him, and it would be gone in an instant. Soon afterward, a familiar stench would fill the room. We’d have to work together to clean out his cage, covering our noses with one hand while scrubbing with the other, laughing and gagging the whole time. In retrospect, it was one of the happiest times of our lives, though I haven’t been able to eat a banana for the past five years.
Now Amanda is making her way toward me in a hideous dress identical to mine. She’s Angie’s old high-school friend, and if she’s any indication of the people in this town, I’m getting out of here as soon as the bouquet’s thrown, and I’m never coming back.
“Do I look fat in this?” Amanda asks, stretching her arms out to the side.
“Yes,” I tell her.
Amanda sighs. “Where’s Angie?”
“She’s nervous. She can’t be disturbed.”
“I’m so excited,” Amanda says with a big smile. “It’s gonna be great when she’s married to Greg. She can volunteer at the hospital with me, she can come to cookouts at my house, and she can have tons of kids. Won’t that be terrific?”
It wasn’t long after we got Steve that the phrase “poop and bananas” made its way into our lexicon. We used it to describe anything we didn’t like. “My professor said I can’t turn my paper in a day late, and I said, ‘Well, that’s a bunch of poop and bananas.’” “I’m never going out with that guy again; he’s so poop and bananas.” “Change out of those dirty clothes; you smell like poop and bananas.”
A club with a high cover charge was poop and bananas. A bar with no cute guys was poop and bananas. Coming home too early on a Saturday night was poop and bananas. But this —
The flowers and champagne glasses and maroon dresses. The tent in the backyard with wooden folding chairs that leave horizontal lines on your thighs. The waiters circulating silver trays of mini egg rolls. The photographer having everyone line up under the elm trees first by how they know the bride and groom, then by height. The elderly relative parked in a wheelchair in the front row who keeps nodding off and snoring. The two-year-old flower girl who keeps lifting her tiny white dress over her head, then dropping it to reveal a mouthful of red day lilies, and spitting them out while growling and chasing a terrified ring bearer around the altar. The groomsmen all sweating in their tuxes, elbowing each other, talking about football and chuckling deep in their fat stomachs. The man who’s going to marry Angie, looking sticky and scaly in the sun. This is the biggest poop and bananas of all.
Amanda sighs again and walks off, nearly colliding with Angie’s dad as he appears at the end of the hallway. “I don’t know about this fucking guy,” he says loudly as he approaches. “He’s got red socks on. What kind of man wears red socks?”
“They’re maroon,” I tell him.
“They’re gay,” he says.
“Angie can’t be disturbed.” I’ve just about had it with her friends and family. Surrounded by people like this, I have no idea how Angie turned out to be such a good person. The kind of person who would, when you lost your job, come home with two pints of Häagen-Dazs and stay up with you until 2:00 a.m. talking about how you were way too good for that place. The kind of person who, when your boyfriend broke up with you, would attempt to replace him with an entire baseball team. The kind of person who would love and care for her iguana forever.
Angie’s dad pauses, stares at the door, and chews on his lower lip a bit, the first display of real emotion I’ve seen from the man all weekend. “Just tell her . . . tell her that if this fucking guy ever doesn’t treat her right, I’ll fucking kill him.”
“Angie’s an adult,” I snap. “If Greg doesn’t treat her right, she’ll kill him herself.”
He nods sadly.
And in that moment he looks like Angie looked when she had her one big fight with Greg. She walked around the whole next day staring at things like she’d never seen them before. She would just stop, look, and blink dumbly, at everything from the toaster to the telephone to Steve. That night I took her out to see my favourite unsigned band play at a bar, and we danced right up front, our arms and legs naked and glistening in the lights, and everyone looked at us, and everyone wanted us. And I thought that was enough.
I put my hand on his arm. “Angie will kill him,” I say. “But you’ll have to lie to the police and give her an alibi.”
Angie’s father smiles. “Anything for my little girl.” He points at the closed bedroom door. “Anything for you, honey!”
“She’ll be downstairs in just a minute,” I tell him, and I usher him to the top of the stairway.
I met Greg after his second date with Angie, when she brought him into our apartment for the first time. He complimented the way we’d painted the kitchen, was impressed by our selection of snack foods, and was a little unnerved by Steve. As Angie changed in her bedroom, he sat at the kitchen table, staring off into space while languidly chewing on pretzel sticks.
I opened the bedroom door, revealing Angie in a T-shirt and panties, apparently locked in the eternal struggle over which jeans make her look thin. For the record, it’s her low-waisted boot-cut jeans. Aware of how small the apartment was, I leaned forward and silently mouthed, “He looks like the iguana.”
I don’t know what Angie thought I said, but she responded with, “Sure, I can lend you twenty bucks on Friday.” And she put on her high-waisted skinny jeans.
Later that night, after Greg left, Angie appeared at my bedroom doorway with a big grin on her face. “So what do you think of him?”
And even considering the late nights, the maxed-out credit cards and the drunken bonfire parties, the stupidest thing I ever did was say, “He’s okay.”
When I come back, the bedroom door is open, and Angie stands there looking beautiful even with her eyes bloodshot and wet. Her lipstick’s uneven and her hands are trembling against her stomach, as if she could massage out the nervous butterflies.
“How do you feel?” I ask her.
She smiles weakly. “Like poop and bananas.”
I get a tissue and blot her lips. She smells like baby powder and Dentyne. When I get home I’ll find her empty packs of gum on the kitchen counter, along with her CD player, Steve and everything else she’s left behind.
Angie presses her lips together and checks her reflection in the hallway mirror. She looks like she’s about to either start giggling or burst into tears. She takes a deep breath. “So tell me the truth,” she says. “Am I doing the right thing?”
“No,” I say. “Dump him. Come home with me, and we’ll feed Steve, and we’ll go out dancing tonight, and we’ll live together for the rest of our lives.”
When Angie turns around, she has a big smile on her face. She leans forward and hugs me. “You always make me laugh,” she says. “Thank you.”
Angie turns and walks the length of the hallway. She continues down the stairs, where day lilies wind around the railings, making a red twisted pathway toward the outside. I follow her as she walks through the front door and out into the sunlight.
Illustration by Andrea Rossi