There are Geckos

There are Geckoes – first published by 3 AM – Harper/Collins Press

There are geckos crawling up the sides of the tent. The moon is so bright that I can see their silhouettes as they trot across the canvas. The only problem is, I can’t tell if they’re inside or outside the tent.

Beside me in the dark I can hear my sister’s soft breathing, and the harsher breathing of my mother and her boyfriend as they try not to make the cot squeak. It makes no difference to me. What bothers me is the thought that maybe a gecko will leap on a spider and they will both fall onto my face during the night. The thought keeps me awake while the soft moans from across the tent fade and snores take their place. My eyes trace the geckos’ paths across the tent, while the moon slides through the tropical night and waves crash softly onto the beach.

The next morning we snorkel around the reef. I’m tired, and let the waves carry my body where they will. Up and down I bob, my hands dangling beneath me, my hair floating all around, my eyes half closed and the sound of my own breathing in the snorkel-tube lulling me to sleep.

“You’re the only person I know who can sleep in the water,” my sister tells me. I crawl just far enough to reach my towel and then I sleep again. Parrotfish, yellow tangs and angelfish swim through my dreams, while my back burns to a crisp.

That evening we eat at a cafeteria. We were going to have a barbecue but we didn’t buy meat, my mother’s boyfriend is too stoned to light a fire, and besides; the bright neon lights and white linoleum tables lure us into the cafeteria like moths. I take a tray. There is wilted salad with anemic tomatoes, half grapefruits with faded maraschino cherries, and tuna sandwiches. I take a sandwich and a can or orange soda. “Get your elbows off the table,” my mother hisses. “Stop slurping.”

Her boyfriend says, “Leave her alone,” and gives me a wink. Lately he’s been winking at me a lot. I turn away. He has bright, gecko eyes.

We spend three nights camping on Saint John. Each night I stay awake, listening, watching. There are rules to living in a tent. A blanket becomes a wall. In the morning, take your toothbrush to the showers and hold the toilet door for your sister so you don’t pay an extra dime. When you fall asleep on the beach, make sure you’re in the shade. No one tells me the rules; I learn them by myself. When the sun sets, we take the ferry back to Saint Thomas. My mother’s boyfriend lights a joint and when she isn’t looking, offers it to me. I refuse. As the boat cleaves the waves, I wonder what rules guide other people’s lives, and how they learn them. Then I close my eyes, and think about geckos.