The writing prompt this week was, “Talk to the animals.”
“Nice day, don’t you agree?” The small voice caught me by surprise—no one else was on the deck. I looked down over the rail and up at the low cumulous clouds speeding across the blue mountain sky. A pair of hawks whirled in the breeze high above.
Then my eyes fell upon a six-inch lizard, a blue-tailed skink, perched on the bench beside the picnic table.
“Excuse me. Did you just speak to me?” I asked. The skink bobbed its head and body as if cheating on a pushup. It wag-walked closer.
“Yes,” the skink said. “I come out whenever I see you cooking, so I thought we should get acquainted.”
“But you’ve never spoken before.”
“Don’t you think it’s about time? We live in the same forest, practically the same space.”
I pulled over a chair. “I admit, I look for you when I’m out here. It cheers me to see a forest creature on the deck. I’m surprised you never seem afraid.”
“I’m a pretty good judge of character,” the skink said. “And besides, my real enemies—hawks, snakes, raccoons, that sort—won’t come around when you’re here. So I can relax and catch some rays. I always marvel at your great hunting ability.”
“My hunting ability?” I said bewildered—having never successfully hunted.
“Don’t be modest. Every time I see you, you’re roasting some big bird, fish, or animal. No wonder my enemies keep a safe distance.”
“Ah,” I said, getting a sudden intuitive flash. “The sort of hunting I do is called shopping.”
“Shopping?” the skink said and licked its pink tongue across both wide eyes. “Well, it’s very effective. Is it something you could teach me?” I chuckled at the thought of taking a lizard to Food Lion.
A goldfinch swooped across the deck, alighted on a lantern hanger, and hopped around to keep us in view. Considering my recent revelation, I didn’t feel silly asking, “Do you talk, too?” It gave out a short trill followed by two chirps.
“What a handsome fellow,” the skink said, “such a pretty shade of yellow. When I’m older, I think I might become a bird.”
I hesitated to comment. The skink’s admiring gaze at the goldfinch convinced me that it was serious. It never occurred to me that self-aware creatures—other than humans of course—could have identity problems.
“Can you sing?” I finally asked.
“Not a note,” the skink replied. “All the more reason to be a bird.”
“Well, you cut a very fine figure as a skink,” I said. “Your shiny black scales, yellow racing stripes, fiery red throat, iridescent blue tail, they’re beautiful. I suspect any young female skink would love to find you and have your children.”
“I have racing stripes and a red throat?” The skink lifted a foreleg and twisted to look at me. “I’ve only seen my blue tail. You really think I’m an attractive skink?”
“You are like molded polished glass. A work of art.”
The lizard seemed to ponder that thought. “I suppose if I was a goldfinch, I’d have to change my diet. I don’t like seeds. I’d have to sit on branches day and night and never have a cool dark den.” I nodded.
“Hmm, okay,” the skink did a couple pushup nods then wag-walked toward my grilling station. “What’s for dinner tonight?”
For another story on communication with animals see: Aliens Among Us