Nothing Out There to Save You

Justin Lawrence Daugherty


Each night, the lizard-boy, Aurelio, went to bed and placed coins over his eyes before he fell asleep in case anyone might kill him in his slumber. Men had tried to murder him before. The mother brought men into their trailer. Some paid for the sex, some paid to hear their own future-stories told to them, the cards laid out. The cards telling their fates. Sometimes, the mother, too much in love with her child, too unable to do it herself, would allow the men to pay with attempted murder.

One man took the lizard-boy, an infant then, to the river. He threw the boy in the rushing. The thrashing of a child, the instinct for life. The going-under, the near-death of almost-drowning. A throng of salmon, forming one solid body, under the boy, carrying him to the banks.

The coins on his eyes. The waking in the night, the coins falling, the man pulling him from his bed. Are you going to try and kill me, the way my mother asks? Asked the lizard-boy, Aurelio. Almost a laugh, a scoffing at the notion.

The man drove him out in the desert, so far away from the safety of the trailer home, away from the mother, the mother who would turn her head away as men left with the boy, the mother who would attempt her own drowning in whiskey and sleeping pills. The man drove him out into the cold of the desert night and left him inside an abandoned church.

I'm sorry to do this, the man said.

The lizard-boy saying it don't matter, wasn't going to work no matter what.

The mother, knowing this, turning her head away as men left the trailer, drunk, her knowing the lizard-boy would return, always, always with new scars and fresh blood at his lip, his scaly nose, from the fresh cuts in his leathery skin, and her always lighting up with his return.

The man, standing in the doorway of the church, asked for forgiveness. Of the lizard-boy, of God. He reached for the boy's hands. Aurelio withdrew, back to the altar, toward the wall of half-melted candles, the crucifix, the dried-up well for holy water.

The man realized there was no forgiveness, not from the lizard-boy, not from God, not from the howling outside. The boy wanted to tell him he was already doomed, that there was no returning from the monsters we're born as, but he kept quiet as the man, bawling, exited the decaying church, watching the man try to find his way in the dark of the desert, only the light of the moon to guide him.

The man left the coins behind the lizard-boy tried to give him, the coins for his eyes, the coins as payment to take him.

The boy shivered in the cold of the desert night, the beasts singing and howling.

Knowing the mother was waiting. Knowing she was drunk and cursing the frailty of men, their willingness to do as she asked, the absence of reluctance when they were asked to dispose of her wretched progeny. Knowing the instinct of the mother, despite her better notions, to sit in their ruinous trailer, waiting for the lizard-boy to return.

There's nothing out there to save you, the lizard-boy called into the dark from the doorway, the coins on the floorboards left behind, calling to the man and to anyone else in the night, to the snakes and coyotes and scorpions, to the mother.

The lizard-boy stepped into the night, knowing there was nowhere else to go but home. Knowing you can always leave and stray far away, but that you will always return. Knowing there is home and there is the world outside, and that neither is safe. Knowing of security, of warmth. The falseness of home, of place. How we return, how we leave.