Thursdays I visit the Salamander Man. He lives in an adobe studio on the edge of civilization. Okay, on the edge of Maple Street, which might as well be the edge of civilization because the people who live on Maple street are the kind of people who believe in smoke signals over phone calls and river water over faucets and honest conversations over whatever the hell my mother gets out of prayer.
I met the Salamander Man a few months ago on accident. I skipped my last class and went for a walk down Maple Street. The studio’s backyard gate was wide open. That’s when I first saw them: two glass salamander sculptures the size of Great Danes sat in the backyard, looking right at me.
In the Salamander Man’s backyard, glass toads and mushrooms big enough to sit on surround an elder tree. Hand-blown angels and spheres hang from the branches, catching sunlight. But there are more salamanders than anything else. That’s why I call him the Salamander Man. They vary in color and size. Some are too heavy to lift. Others hang like chimes from the rooftop, linked together by their tails. There are women, too. Glass ones, I mean. Tall, naked women with hair like that of Greek goddesses.
That day, the Salamander Man approached me while I was admiring one of his toads. He wore his large green safety goggles and Kevlar gloves. He looked kind of goofy and there was a friendliness about him, too. He smiled and asked what I thought of the place.
I couldn’t remember the last time someone asked me what I thought. The people on my street have wallpaper over their hearts.
I think love is like this elastic that stretches farther at the thought of some people then snaps in two at the thought of others. Movies try to convince you that love’s on its way all FREE 2-DAY SHIPPING-like, but I don’t buy it.
I looked around the backyard and told the Salamander Man what I thought.
“It’s crowded,” I said, “but I like it.”
“Do you have a favorite?”
“They’re pretty weird, huh?”
“I know the feeling.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t really fit in anywhere, either.”
“Oh yeah? Could’ve fooled me.”
“I always thought prettier girls had an easier time.”
“News to me.”
“You fit in here just fine.”
He looked at me with this dorky smile. I wanted to leave and I wanted to stay, like that time I waited in line at the fall carnival to ride the dumb Tilt-A-Whirl even though the ride was rickety and the screams were deafening. I followed the Salamander Man to the patio where there was a kiln and a couple of lawn chairs. That’s where I sat every Thursday for the next two months, talking to him about school and books and astrology while he made worlds out of glass.
The guys in my class like girls who put on a good show. Yesterday, Marlena Perez “accidentally” sat on a piece of birthday cake then looked at her plaid skirt with mock horror. She let out this sound that was part cry, part orgasm, then started fanning her perfect ass as if it were on fire. The guys howled with laughter then rushed to her aid. They did everything she said until the clock struck 3:45.
At school, performative self-abasement is all the rage. Sometimes I think I should make a joke out of my invisibility. I could show up for class in heels and a white sheet over my head with two holes cut out for my eyes. Then maybe the guys would notice me. Maybe they’d be all, “yo check out the sexy ghost.”
The Salamander Man’s arms are broad and tattooed with brightly-colored lines and shapes. He’s got a beard now and that smile doesn’t look so dorky anymore.
I could spend a lifetime watching the Salamander Man work. Maybe I could live in the backyard without him noticing. I imagine myself getting real small. I slide down a salamander’s translucent throat and move deeper into its belly, a satisfied Jonah, then tuck myself into its big toe as if into a sleeping bag. From there, I’d watch processions of greedy ants flee underground with stolen food on their backs. In the mornings, I’d watch the first bird get the worm.
Today when I visit him, my skirt’s shorter, and I’ve darkened my eyelids with this shadow called Venus Sparkle.
He doesn’t seem to notice me at first. I stand beside him as he dusts the kiln with a rag. He just keeps cleaning. My face flushes. I’m about to turn around and run away when he tosses the rag onto the table. He looks at me for a long moment, then puts his hand in my hair. He kisses my neck.
“Lovely,” he says. “You’re so lovely.”
Later, my parents and their lawyer will tell me that wasn’t a lovely thing for us to do. I’ll see their point, but also I’ll miss the Salamander Man’s breath on my face. I’ll miss going to his house and imagining what the world looks like behind glass. I’ll think about that early bird getting the worm and about how deep down I’ve always rooted for the worm a little more. The bird thinks it’s getting away with something, but the worm’s the one that took in this world in fat, risky gulps, making itself seen.