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  • Cold War Kirby
  • Joseph Earl Thomas (bio)

I bought Imani a green anole with some money I earned shoveling snow. She named him Gex. He was ribs-thin with a needle-sharp nose and turned brown or green whenever the mood struck him. After school we tossed twigs and bark into his hand-me-down, waterless fish tank, laughing as he dodged the falling debris. Until the day Imani dropped in a half-dead daddy longlegs.

Gex, in a gruff, estranging voice said, "What the hell is this?"

"It's a spider, Gex, for dinner," Imani replied in the same way she spoke to the characters on DuckTales. Gex turned to me expectantly, and when I decided to leave it between the two of them, he sighed. Then Gex rolled his lizard eyes and turned softly back to Imani.

"Awweee, thank you, Imani," he said. "But I don't really like spiders very much." Then he glanced back at me. I hated when people spoke down to Imani like she was a baby. And I wasn't overjoyed with Gex's boldness in selecting food. I imagined him coaxing Imani into even pickier eating habits, so in that moment, just briefly, I considered returning Gex, or maybe setting him free to hitchhike to Florida, back into the ground war with scrappy little Cuban anoles. My expression hid none of this.

By the time Dad got home, Imani was cleaned up and ready for dinner, but right back at the lizard's cage.

"Why you standing all up in the door, Imani?" he asked, just one boot inside. Dad always emptied the bolts and screws, plugs and uncut keys from his orange apron as soon as he walked in.

"Talking to Gex, Daddy!" Imani said.

"Aww, that's cute, honey," he replied, patting her on the head. She ducked to protect her hair, laughing and shaking her beads back and forth. Then Dad turned away from her and into his room like always while I got dinner together. Walking in and out of the kitchen, I watched Imani and Gex arrange Dad's bolts and screws into faux gorilla and [End Page 45] crocodile sculptures next to a dilapidated skyscraper. Gex, of course, was the foreman, and the figures were so complex that I had little time to consider how such a rag-tag assemblage of hardware could manifest opposable thumbs and razor-sharp teeth and symmetry.

"Good job, Imani! Now bury that screw in the mulch over there," Gex said, upright and pointing with his little toothpick index finger. To avoid burning the grease, I cut in and out of their world.

Imani was both giddy and serious. She nodded or giggled at Gex's instructions in equal measure, sometimes pressing her face up against the glass for a better listen; it was the kind of cute I imagined when getting her a pet. She wasn't difficult to please, or to make laugh, but her cheer was always so temporary, and I needed something alive to keep it going. So often she was quiet when Mom was away, but potential eating habits aside, maybe Gex could change that. Mom video-called from Iraq while I was making dinner, and I put the laptop in front of Imani, who started talking her head off about Gex.

"Mom!" she started. "You know I got a new pet? He's a lizard, his name is Gex, and—"

"Aw, that's cute, honey," Mom said. "Now let me talk to your brother."

Mom was rapid firing questions before I came into full view of the camera. "Did you remember to make the doctor's appointment for her annual physical? And what about the outfit for the school play? I picked one out with her last time I was home. Did you get that exact one?" Mom always started in like this. Always repeating, always trying to close the distance with more words. "How are her grades?" she continued. I wished she would just speak to Dad about all this. But it was difficult to imagine any conversation happening between them, let alone two kids.

"They're good, Mom. Everything is great. She's...


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pp. 45-57
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