From the leather armchair in the far corner of the kitchen, Ezmeralda (“Izzy”) the iguana eyed Sven with her familiar expression of suspicion. While she was clearly annoyed, Sven wouldn’t quite call her look a “death stare” yet, but her narrowed eyes did at least seem to say, “If you don’t get me my peaches soon, I’d be glad to bite off your finger instead.” For a second, he considered rubbing her head to see if it might calm her down, but quickly decided that might be a bad idea
“Look, I know what you want, but Camilla's convinced I’m going to give you diabetes.”
The iguana continued to stare at Sven, clearly unconvinced. He found himself wishing he’d had the good sense to tell Camilla iguanas can’t get diabetes… but to be honest, he hadn’t thought of it at the time, and he wasn’t completely sure it was true besides.
Izzy’s head turned slowly to the kitchen table. Sven followed her gaze, eventually noticing his cell phone sitting on the tabletop. At this point, there was no other choice: he’d just have to call Camilla at the tattoo parlor. Just the thought of tattooing made his stomach a little queasy… all those needles and straps and shiny metal equipment… but he picked up his phone and flipped it open anyway, taking a deep breath as he did so.
After two rings, a deadpan but familiar voice answered. “Etz Hayim Tattoo, Pittsburgh’s only Jewish owned and operated tattoo parlor. This is Camilla speaking. What pretentious Chinese character can I help you get permanently carved into your flesh today?”
A nervous chuckle escaped Sven’s lips almost before he noticed it. “Hey, Camilla. How’s work today?”
The voice on the other line let out a long sigh. “Oh, hey, sweetie… I’m really glad it’s you. If I get one more college student asking for a tattoo of something in a language they can’t read, I’m going to carve it into their arm myself with a goddamn Bic.”
Sven laughed again. “Listen, I’m sorry to have to bother you at work…”
“Trust me, it’s no bother. Nobody’s really coming in today, so it’s either talk to you on the phone or field some more calls from these clueless douchebags. I’ll give you one guess which option I like better.”
“Okay, I can talk for a while then. I need your help, though. I’ve been looking for those peaches you hid from me…”
A short pause. “Sweetie, I told you, you’re going to give that poor iguana diabetes.”
“Camilla, I really don’t think iguanas can get diabetes. I’m pretty sure it’s mammals-only.”
A crunching sound on the other end of the phone – an apple? A pear? “Well, that’s just ridiculous. I know I read about this one lady whose boa constrictor ended up with diabetes from eating too much chicken teriyaki. And really, if I was Izzy and you were feeding me all those peaches, developing a raging case of diabetes would be the first thing I’d do. I’m trying to look out for both of you here, y’know… I do know how much she means to you.”
Sven let his head drop forward, smacking into the tabletop. “Camilla, that’s really thoughtful of you… I guess… but I’m getting worried that she’s going to pee on the armchair if she doesn’t get some peaches soon. Just tell me where they are, and I promise I’ll talk to the vet about reptilian diabetes… if there even is such a thing.”
A long pause this time. “Okay, okay. You’re her dad, and I only get to be her crazy aunt if you let me, so as long as you promise to talk to the vet this week, I can let you have those peaches. Just don’t give her too many of them, all right?”
Sven groaned, holding the phone away from his mouth for a second so she hopefully wouldn’t notice it. “Sure, don’t worry. She only likes a couple slices at once.”
More crunching sounds from the other end of the line. Sven thought they sounded more like a pear than an apple. He couldn’t say why or how he knew this.
“All right then, tough guy,” she said, the smile evident in her voice. “I put them in the laundry room, behind all those empty detergent bottles. Hey, that reminds me, are you using those?”
Sven shook his head, then remembered he was on the phone. “Um, no. Do you want them for something?”
He started walking toward the laundry room. “Yeah, that would be great,” said Camilla, her mouth still partly full of half-chewed fruit. “I wanna cut them up and make some kind of fabulous pop art sculpture out of the pieces. I mean, think about how great that would be – all those different colors of plastic, fused together somehow into a cohesive whole – can’t you just see the fantabulous awesomeness?”
Sven couldn’t, but even after only a few weeks living with Camilla, he knew he should probably just lie. “Yeah, that sounds really great, Camilla,” he said, holding the phone with one hand while retrieving the can of peaches from behind the empty detergent bottles with another.
“Hey, why do you have so many different kinds of detergent bottles in there, Sven? Were you trying to find the one that worked best on your clothes? And why did you keep all the empties?”
He thought for a moment. “Well… no, not really. I was just buying whatever was on sale, which was a different kind every time I went back to get more. I was never really sure whether I should recycle them, but I didn’t want to throw them away just in case, so I guess I just left them in there until I figured it out.”
“Sven, can I be really honest with you for a second?”
He said nothing, waiting for the inevitable bombshell. “You really need to find some more interesting things to talk about than your detergent decisions,” she opined, after waiting maybe ten seconds for his answer.
He scowled as he put three peach slices on a small plate, setting it on the floor in front of Izzy’s leather armchair. She began uncoiling herself, in preparation for plopping onto the floor to munch them up.
“But Camilla,” Sven tried to protest, “You were the one who asked me about –”
“Not the point,” she cut him off. “You could have come up with a hundred more interesting stories than ‘I just bought whatever was cheapest’.”
Izzy had a peach slice in her mouth now and was devouring it, a look of contentment on her reptilian face. “But it’s the truth, Camilla.”
Camilla laughed her signature laugh, a near-perfect laugh that made Sven think of gossamer and fairies and rainbows and chicken tikka masala. “Sven, if there’s one thing you have to learn, it’s this: The truth is only useful when it’s interesting. If it’s boring, that means the universe wants you to embellish it until you have a good story to tell.”
Sven shook his head. “What if I just want a good roommate who pays the rent and the bills on time, and who I can occasionally hang out with? One who doesn’t try to teach me grandiose lessons about life?”
She laughed again, much more deeply this time. “Then you should have picked someone else besides me, sweetie. Don’t you know it’s my job to drag you kicking and screaming into seeing the world more clearly?”
“But how can lying to people help anyone see things more clearly?”
Camilla paused for a moment, taking another bite of what must be a huge pear. “Look, it’s no fair getting all logical about this. It’s just something I know. Gotta go now, customer, sorry sweetie… we’ll talk when I get home, k?” Click.
Sven glanced over at Izzy, who had finished her peaches and was lapping up the syrup. “What the hell was I thinking letting her move in here? I swear that girl is going to be the death of me.”
The iguana cocked her head to the side slightly, giving him a quizzical look. Sven was pretty sure the gist was, “Stop being such a drama queen.”
He scowled at her. “Let’s see what’s on, eh girl?”
Izzy looked unimpressed… either that or just reptilian. Sven was never really sure of the difference. He waved his hand at the wall video calendar, and another swoosh of his arm triggered the TV app. It was President Gaga, just beginning her first State of the Union address.
“Hey, I didn’t know the State of the Union Address was tonight! Lucky, too… I really want to watch this.”
Izzy shambled over and began clawing lightly at his leg. He picked her up and set her in his lap. Sven knew this was probably mostly about his body heat, but still it made him feel loved. It might be self-delusion, but wasn't love always?
Sven moved his hand again to zoom in on what the president was wearing. The gown was stunning, seemingly made entirely from tiny pearls. Between them, tiny bits of her skin were visible, but overall the effect was very tasteful. From the neck down, at least. But around her neck was a necklace of bloody eyeballs – Sven couldn’t tell whether they were real or plastic – and her delicately coiffed hair was adorned with a tiara made from human teeth. Those, at least, seemed to be bone-chillingly real. And small… could they be children’s teeth? Sven stared, unable to look away from this ghastly spectacle, as she began to speak:
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congress, my fellow Americans, Little Monsters everywhere, today is a day that will change the course of American history. Not just the day a woman first gives a State of the Union Address, but the day we take the first steps toward restoring the American dream. I know you will all join with me in helping to make that dream a reality.”
Thunderous applause. Sven had to give her credit… President Gaga could give political speeches like a real politician. But it was creepy not just what she had decided to wear, but how little emotion her face betrayed. She looked cold and detached as she continued to speak: “Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering what I mean. In order to ensure that all Americans not just tolerate but accept and celebrate each other’s diversity, and that all people worldwide have that same opportunity, I demand Congress pass the Born This Way Amendment. This amendment to the Constitution would guarantee the United States will never interfere in the affairs of another country, never impose its way of life upon people who want to be left alone, unless formally petitioned by the United Nations. I promise the world: US imperialism is over. We love and respect you for who you are and for who you want to become. The Amendment will also provide constitutionally-mandated funding for the steps I plan to take at home.”
More outrageous applause. The president waited for it to die down a bit, then continued. “Now, you may ask what those steps are. That’s the part of the plan I’m most proud of. Take a look.”
A sudden noise of many doors opening at once. The camera panned slowly around the room, displaying two well-muscled young men, naked except for black briefs with bow ties and AK-47s, standing in each of five doorways. “These are my new Secret Service men. They’re die-hard Little Monsters and members of my personal harem who will answer only to me, and whose job it is to root out intolerance and bigotry throughout the country. To all the citizens of this great nation, I say this: If you make disparaging remarks about your neighbors, about any person, or about any group, one of my Secret Service men will shoot you until you stop moving. It’s as simple as that. And heaven help you if any of them find you saying unkind things about yourself… I have a special torture in mind for self-haters.”
A silence descended over the room as the congressmen looked around, clearly shocked but also clearly unsure what to do. “I forgot to mention,” said the president, “Civil servants who try to flee this room will also be shot. The Secret Service will remain here until the Amendment is passed - unanimously.”
She looked directly into the camera. “The culture war is over, folks. The good guys have won. Now get that fucking camera out of my face; I have work to do.”