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What Do They Know?

On a particularly sunny day in some city or another, a small lizard was basking on a big, grey rock, enjoying the morning warmth after a chilly night. Its cold-blooded body was getting close to functioning temperature, and it would soon be going to look for some lizard breakfast. Or so it had been planning.


A clever reptile would’ve been paying closer attention to the tall building behind it. But this one wasn’t, and during the dopey lizard’s morning bask, a big hawk quietly soared down to catch it completely unaware before ripping out its guts and devouring it.


Dammit! Why can’t I come up with anything good?


Delete. Yes, I’m sure. Delete.


Under the gun to produce a sequel to ‘Lucky Lizard’, and I've got nothing. Who the hell gets writer’s-block trying to write a sequel to a thirty-page children’s book with no more than fifty words per page?


A drunk, recently divorced hack with a penchant for adultery and self-destruction, that’s who. One who happens to be hungover and completely devoid of any ideas that might be considered suitable for children. I'm pretty sure most parents don’t want their kiddies reading about ‘Getting Lucky Lizard’, who dropped two grand he doesn't have on booze, drugs, and ladies over the last few days.


Oh, God! If only people knew what trials faced the lonely creative.


So many little hearts depending on the heroic deeds that must somehow originate from these oft-sullied fingertips. The pressure is almost too much to bear.


I numb my anguish with liquid-forget, and fuel future torment with Colombian lying powder and a litany of other bad decisions. The companionship I seek in the wee hours is just as much for them as it is for me. We briefly duck our demons in a smokescreen of emotionless interaction and substance-inspired merriment; whispering sweet nothings with the best of intoxicated intentions.


My selfish ex-wife took pleasure in crucifying me for seeking solace in the comfort of hired company. Not understanding my need for artistic release; a necessary outlet employed to avert utter madness. Choosing to fixate instead on unfulfilled book deadlines and incriminating financial statements. Flinging resentment and blame until those quit offering her sufficient satisfaction.


Heartless divorce papers descending upon this worn and tattered soul from shining towers-at-law for her final thrill.


I don’t know what that spiteful witch tells the children to get them to project the revulsion and discomfort they do at their tender ages. How could they possibly recall our drunken, late-night episodes when they were still in diapers? You’d think that seeing their psychotic mother beating on me would have skewed their sympathy in my favour.


The insincere apologies and empty promises were just a ruse to avert prolonged domestic violence in front of the brats. I often sacrificed my dignity to that end. To this day, I bear scars from wounds suffered while letting her use me as a physical and emotional punching bag.


To pay the bills that fund their now-distant contempt, I struggle to fulfil contractual obligations committed to in times of naive optimism. I just want to honour my word and move on, but am beset on all sides by vampires, continuously sucking away what little faith I have left in humanity.


Staring off into the distance for momentary relief, another part of the process she never understood. She was always walking in right at the wrong moment.


I need a break once in a while, you know. Creation is a taxing mistress, and the girls on these websites are my muses. Sirens really, calling out to me in the storm of an unhappy marriage, mercifully guiding our doomed relationship to splinter into a million pieces against the rocks.


Ours was an ill-fated union from the start, and it quickly fractured beyond any hope of repair.


The lies I used to tell, thinking I was sparing her feelings, while in actuality I was only digging a grave for any sense of trust she may have once had in me.


After the first bestseller and still no intimacy, I told myself she must need some time alone to sort it all out. I was lying to myself. As much as I tried to pretend otherwise, we were already deep in the throes of hatred. My version of stepping back was to be completely absent. And with that level of separation between us, finding alternative female companionship became easier and easier, as I was no longer under the same roof as my guilt.


At first it was only a few times a month, but then graduated to dinner dates and posh clubs on a fairly regular basis. A parade of fragrant curves, expensive vices, and mutual disconnection. Many ships passing in the many nights of shared loneliness.


Alimony and supervised visits were clearly vindictive measures taken to lash out at me for my selfish attempts to find solace amidst the maelstrom. I had never held any of the many sexual exploits she enjoyed during our marriage against her. In fact, I was impressed. You go, girl!


Out on the balcony of this office I can't really afford, but have somehow convinced my publishers to pay for until the end of the financial quarter. What a chore that was. Light up a foreign cigarette, given to me by a cousin who just returned from abroad. She still believes my best is yet to come. She's only a cousin through marriage, yet we’ve been close friends since childhood.


I lean over the railing to watch the living below.


An older, unexceptional model car, rolling along the boulevard in the dying light. Pumping rap out of an obviously after-market stereo. Good rap, not the tuneless new rapid-fire garbage all the kids listen to nowadays. Tupac, Snoop, and Nickatina are as rare as hen's teeth in this hip-hop age of creative anorexia. Bulimia is more like it, puking forth from Wal-Mart sound-systems, mounted in the plastic dashboards of characterless not-rods. A generation of disposable nobodies desperately trying to impress the insipid as they cruise the strip.


Thanks, down there, in your white-bread Impala, bumping music I don’t understand but do appreciate.


Time to face the demons now, to confront myself and somehow transcribe my issues into a harmless tale for the children. Reward their loyalty with the further adventures of a lizard more heroic than I could ever be.


Sitting here, alone, the scariest scenario of my existence, being chained to a family I don’t love was a close second. I can admit to myself and my maker that becoming a family man was my biggest blunder to date. An irresponsible oversight, now impossible to take back.


I can see why she hates me, the bitch. I hate her. How was I ever supposed to fool any of them into believing I wanted to be there? It got better when I just stopped trying. It’s easier to walk away when you’re despised. So I did what I could to make sure I was.


Rip back a few inches of powdered anxiety and stare at the screen. Nothing jumping forth from my fingers yet. Sensuous distraction is just a few clicks away. Maybe I can get some inspiration from these lovely ladies I like so much; voluptuous goddesses, flaunting irresistible temptation in my defenceless face.


Drug-induced fear of contractual obligations confines me to a chair that offers only debilitating alternatives to productivity. Me, fruitlessly clambering to force a tale from the poisoned mind of an all-too-willing victim of myself.


If only these clueless parents had an inkling as to what kind of reprobate crafted the heartwarming adventures that their precious little shits love so much.


I remember when she kicked me out for good. I knew at the time that I shouldn’t bother pleading at the door, so I just walked west for a while until I found a comfortable-looking set of concrete stairs about two blocks from the beach. The bottle of Tequila was still mostly full by the time I sat down, and I’d stopped at the corner store for cigarettes ten minutes before the final rejection, so I was set for solitude.


As I eased down onto the second step of my self-induced misery, a beautiful little pit-bull gingerly approached me, her with her issues and me with mine. After making the decision that I was hers, she sat politely between my feet and just listened. I cried on her pretty head for some time, more for the general state of my life than for my recent eviction from purgatory, and she kissed away my tears.

I don’t know what led her to me, but I’ll be forever thankful. She’s better than any best friend I ever dreamed I would never get to have. And, for a while, she was my only real reason to continue living.


Just before the blackness of that night, I recall, from the left side of my blurred vision, a fuzzy little German Shepherd puppy stumbling into our world. Lost, but not in the slightest bit afraid. The three of us walked the remaining two blocks to the beach and I fell asleep with the fuzzy puppy snuggled into my chest, his baby breath injecting joy into my joyless life. Empress, as I called her, curled herself into my thighs and kept watch over us all night. It was the best sleep in ages.


I awoke at first light, with the fuzzy brat licking my face. After some snuggles and wrestling (with Empress sitting patiently by until we finished), I found the pup’s address on his collar, and stumbled him home.


His mom was overjoyed.


Her human babies happened to be away for the weekend, and their baby dog meant everything to them. She was so easygoing and approachable that when she invited me in for tea, I didn’t even think of refusing. I ended up staying for the entire weekend. No sadness for two days. Blissful clemency from my trials, briefly granted to me by the kangaroo-court of life.


That weekend was a minor miracle at a time when I desperately needed one. It gave me enough faith in people to not lose all hope in humanity. I owe that to my new friend. She often assures me that I also bring plenty of value to her life, and that she’s very glad we met. In an ideal situation, I might’ve tried to make something more of our relationship, but I was too much of a mess. We both knew that in my state it wouldn’t have possibly gone well. And she only deserves good things.


And so here I loaf and loiter, sitting, pacing, and leaning over the railing of a financially and spiritually tenuous predicament, watching the mundane goings-on on the boulevard below as I battle through my self-imposed struggles and perpetual fear and loathing.


Empress is at my new friend’s house for a couple of days so I can try to come up with a story-line for the ridiculous sequel to my regret.


In the bliss that follows the birth of a child, I had created something so far from who I feel I am that its origin remains a mystery. And a contractual thorn in my side.


"Lucky Lizard", Ha! What does that even mean?


It means legal repercussions that I’m in no shape to withstand if I don’t come up with part two, so I’d better get writing.


The original story tells the tale of "Lucky" and his best friend, "Butterfly". Not generally a match we would expect to bear fruit, but it does, much to the chagrin of the lizards on one side and the butterflies on the other. It could never work, they all said, but the two misfits defy social norms and follow their hearts.


A Freudian glimpse into the workings of my own psyche: always defiant, always difficult, and always finding unlikely companionship in situations that shouldn’t work.


The butterfly goes missing one day, and Lucky sets out on a mission to rescue her. He travels along in search of his lost friend, o’er hill and dale, engaging in meaningful and tender interactions along the way, completely oblivious to the near-fatal situations he unknowingly avoids at almost every turn. In one instance, he slips off of a branch just as a hungry bird reaches for him, and falls onto a pile of leaves below, where he encounters a mouse who saw where the butterfly left the yard.


Those kinds of things. Thus the name ‘Lucky’. And on it goes.


Eventually, he finds his butterfly bestie at a children’s hospital, behind glass, in a beautiful atrium with many other lovely butterflies. The two of them have a very heartfelt conversation, and come to the agreement that these children need beauty in their lives.


The right thing is for Butterfly to stay, but Lucky can’t live without her, so he purposely gets captured. He gives up his freedom to be with his unlikely friend, and the two of them bring happiness to suffering kids.


I know! Where in the hell did all that come from?


It makes me sad to think I have this in me somewhere, yet I’ve become the person I am now. But I am who I am, and it’s pointless to wish I wasn’t. Maybe I’ll fix my broken self later. Maybe.


Another small toot of Colombian marching powder and a stiff whiskey, and then it’s really time to sit down and think up the next part of the tale. Flick through a few images from a preferred website or two first. Just a couple more and then I’ll ‘X' out of here and start working, before the disgust I feel for myself pushes me to abuse more substances. It doesn’t take much to nudge myself over that cliff.


Alright, no more avoiding this. I have an idea. I think the story picks up a fair way past where the first book left off.

The butterfly is very frail now, and about to pass on. The two best friends have had very relaxing and fulfilling lives together in meaningful captivity; they regret none of the decisions they’ve made. Before Butterfly breathes her last, she asks Lucky if he is willing to do her one last favour. And, of course, he is. Nothing would make him happier. What is this last request?


Butterfly doesn’t want to be thrown in the hospital garden after she goes. Would Lucky be able to carry her body back home and lay her to rest by the rose bush where the two of them first met?


He assures Butterfly that he’ll see the mission through.


She dies, the members of the atrium shed a tear, and Lucky formulates a plan of escape, with their cooperation. The next day the plan goes off without a hitch, and he sets off on his epic journey back home.


This time, because all of the critters for miles around are aware of the sacrifices made by both Lucky and Butterfly, they do everything they can to help Lucky get Butterfly home. A sign of the respect they have for the noble manner in which he and his mate chose to live their lives.


Lucky is old now as well, and the trek is very hard on his tired body, but he forges on, determined to uphold the promise he made to his best friend.


Good fortune once again lends him a helping hand, and he eventually arrives at the rose bush. He puts Butterfly down in her final resting place, lays down beside her, closes his eyes for the last time, and floats toward her as she calls him across from the other side.


All of the animals in the yard (and many creatures from all over) come to pay tribute to these great beings, acknowledging their many virtues and vowing to do everything they can to ensure such values live on in the community.


Well, ain’t that a peach?


If only I could’ve come up with that bit of brilliance two years ago. I’d still be married to a wife I never loved and saddled with children I never wanted. It's funny how some things that seem terrible in the moment turn out to be blessings after the fact.


Is it so awful to admit to having no parental connection with one’s offspring? They only exist due to the dishonesty of their devil mother and her desire for a free ride. How is it on me if she purposely neglected to take the birth control I was assured she was on track with? On multiple occasions.


The way I see it, I was completely candid from drink number one, and any ensuing consequences resulting from her reproductive manipulations are on her withered soul. The products of our unhealthy alliance are the responsibility of the demon that deceptively engineered their existence. Take your spawn, succubus, and be gone!


Sooner or later, you’ll realize your efforts to use them against me will only backfire in your conniving face. I don’t care if they never love me; they’re yours, and when the poison you’ve injected into their hearts eventually incites them to turn on you, know that their mutinous manner is only a product of your own wickedness. You’ll reap what you’ve sown, and I’ll gladly throw money at you to keep you and your odious offspring at bay.


Oh, dear! With such flagrant sincerity, I seem to have left myself standing out on a limb, one which I cut deeper and deeper with each forthright admission. And still I don’t care. I’ll drink my coffee as bitter as I’ve brewed it; at least I’m awake to the truth. For whatever that’s worth.


I certainly don’t expect to win any awards for my humanitarianism. The only worthwhile and genuine expressions of my jaded heart are a fictitious lizard and his butterfly bride. And they’re not eligible.


I’m going straight to hell.


But not before I finish this long-overdue story for a party of professional letter-peddlers that most certainly hate the sound of my insincere platitudes and broken promises. The only mercy bestowed upon their patient heads is my physical absence. Shame and shirked obligations have been driving me to employ all manner of desperate avoidance tactics over the last few months.


They stopped coming around for face-to-face interactions long ago. My obvious but effective alienation techniques creating situations that were too embarrassing and uncomfortable for anyone to confront. Every once in a while, hesitant emails and imploring texts are sent down the wire; reminders of deadlines passed, upcoming functions (intended as polite gestures more than actual invites), and, occasionally, information extolling the virtues of a few highly-reviewed rehabilitation facilities.


This recent bit of contractually coaxed literary brilliance should begin to bridge the divide. My magnum opus, serving to repair channels of communication I’ve been systematically destroying for some time. Open arms and forgiving smiles, times of renewed kinship with the long-suffering team of good people I’ve been shamelessly victimizing with my selfishness. That’s the goal anyway. I sincerely hope that this latest offering lays some solid groundwork on the long road to redemption.


But, because the success of the first children’s book was such an accidental (and mostly unwanted) boon, I’ve pigeon-holed myself into a genre where I don’t belong.


The lifestyle I lead (and my entire persona) is not one in which tender tales for the tots comes naturally. I need an out. And in much the same way a writer engineers their words to fit their stories, I intend to engineer a few well-planned social gaffes to discredit myself as someone who parents would want writing books for their children. But first, I need to present the latest instalment of my unwanted talent to my agent.


Mix another drink, flesh out the story with appropriate details, polish it up with a few more libations, and send it out to my representative through an invisible mystery known as the internet.


Today was a great day! I’ll just pass out in the office tonight, floating into unconsciousness on a cloud of personal satisfaction. Something I haven’t known for a long time.


Deep in a flying dream, one where I was soaring high over the world, looking down upon a magical castle sitting by a rolling blue sea; golden sunlight glinting off of the water in a thousand twinkling sparkles. I soar lazily down, down, down, and realize the castle belongs to me.


As I descend onto one of the ivory parapets, intending to explore this palace from top to bottom, an intermittent soundtrack begins to steal my attention. I try and ignore it. To no avail.


The sense of loss I feel as I transition from dreamland into the sparsely-furnished office of my sad life is heart-breaking in an all-too-real sense. Gonna have to change the ringtone on my phone now. I don’t want to subconsciously associate one of my favourite songs with loss.


It’s my estranged agent on the line, sounding eager and very happy. I refrain from openly hating him for ruining my blissful slumber. He loves the lizard sequel, and has already been in touch with the publishers. They love it as well. Can I make it in for a meeting at noon? I assure him I can, and then show up at one.


My tardiness is completely ignored. I’ve become the favourite son once more; a shining apple in the eyes of glowing parents, all wringing their hands with glee while counting anticipated portions of profits to come.


Much back-slapping and hand-shaking. Drinks all around. Even in my low state of hungover pessimism, I must admit that there seems to be a fair measure of genuine happiness in the room. I also have to admit the uncomfortable fact that many of my associates appear to genuinely care for my well-being as a person.


Add more guilt to a soul already groaning under the weight of its own foulness. I will endeavour to do better by these people in the future.


Over the next few weeks, the final details are worked out between myself and the wonderfully talented illustrator, a woman they must have brought in since the last time I was around. We work like dogs, organizing the ideal marriage of pictures and words, and complete the book ahead of schedule. Which only increases the general sense of well-being for everyone involved in the project.


By the time we have everything buttoned up, I must admit, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.


The illustrator and I celebrate by going out for a night on the town, where we run into her fiancé, a man I was unaware existed. His bride-to-be and I had become exceptionally good friends since early on in the project, and had often been spending up to twenty hours a day together. He happened upon us in an alley outside of a popular nightspot, with me holding her hair and rubbing her back as she threw up dinner and drinks against a dumpster bin.


She’d insisted on covering the night’s expenses, so watching her vomit out her good intentions was, to me, rather hilarious. For the husband-to-be, not so much.


He failed to appreciate the irony, or the humour, and instead opted to conduct himself in a most ungentlemanly manner.


Initially, I tried to reason with him, even after the abusive opening tirade directed toward his fiancé and myself. But appealing to his higher nature was an exercise in futility, and I eventually had to resort to baser reasoning by rendering him unconscious.


To impugn my honour was understandable; to impugn the very character of my new friend was not. Nor was it forgivable, even if she had betrayed him somewhat. But it takes two to tango, and I had to wonder what he was doing so wrong that his lady preferred my company.


I thought she’d be angry with me for administering such a sound drubbing to her beau, but she wasn’t. She was instead relieved to have some closure concerning a love that had died long ago and had been waiting to be buried.


The festive atmosphere of the night was extinguished at that point, so we staggered to a hotel room, put on a feel-good movie, and went to sleep.


I helped her move out of her apartment later that week, and into the condo that my ex-family and I used to inhabit. No strings attached; just pay the bills.


The ‘Lucky’ sequel was released, and the response utterly shattered even the most optimistic expectations. In a very short period, I became one of the most successful writers of children’s books this century. Something I didn’t feel at all comfortable with.


Book signings for kids? Appearances at schools and charity functions? I was an accidental natural in a genre I had no business being associated with. A fraud. When my agent told me there were whispers of a children’s television series with an impressive writing budget for me, it was the last straw.


Thanks for the appreciation, kids, but I’m out.


Over the last six months, the questionable "novelty" of being successful in this field had completely worn off. I noticed that had started not long after the money began drying up. And now, even the thought of the money wasn’t enticing enough for me to continue down this path.


I decided to rent a very foreboding-looking character home for a late-summer weekend theme party. An occult/pagan sort of idea. Anything goes. Prizes for the most authentic get-up and that sort of thing. Leaning toward the darker side of the occult was encouraged.


Invites went out well in advance of the date, so the word would have sufficient time to spread around, and all those planning on attending would have plenty of time to find suitable costumes. I had also made sure to invite some world-class gossips, so news of the party would spread far and wide.


It was a smash, and to anyone looking in from the outside, terrifying.


Full goat-headed devils were drinking blood-coloured cocktails from fake (I think) human skulls. A satyr, flute in hand, pranced through the unholy throng until he passed out and fell into the pool. Two scantily-clad succubi pulled him to safety and revived him with mountains of cocaine before mounting him poolside in front of the entire ominous entourage. Which led to more of the same type of behaviour all over the property.


Witches and warlocks, vampires, demons, and all sorts of other unholy-looking characters, painted, tattooed, and otherwise branded or decorated with sinister-looking symbolism, engaged in every manner of deliciously sinful vice. A costumed orgy of booze, drugs, and sex. It looked like a medieval artist's rendition of hell. I couldn’t have scripted a better outcome.


At the height of all this wickedness, an anonymous call was made to one well-known tabloid sleaze-ball. The exclusive inside scoop was his to scavenge. Get your bottom-feeding carcass over to this address for the biggest opportunity of your greasy life.


He slithered right over, lurked in the shadows for an hour with an expensive camera, and wore out his trigger finger.


Within two weeks, anybody that lived on the topside of a rock had heard of the Bacchanalian soirée, hosted by a well-known and beloved children's author.


I was swiftly pilloried, soundly discredited as a suitable entertainer of children, and was no longer the undisputed king of that world.


Thank Christ! My plan had achieved exactly what it was designed to.


As a completely unexpected bonus to the career-crushing event, every single copy of both lizard books sold out, and limited numbers of prints are still being released at well-researched intervals. Tomorrow's cult-classic collectibles.


If only I had known earlier that this was all I had to do, I could have minimized many months of anguish and turmoil. But, such is life.


Committing career suicide turned out to be the best career move to date.


My memoir (I had it half-finished before I even threw the shindig) was released three months after the party, and my cousin was right; the best was yet to come. Book two is well underway, and things continue to look up.


* * *


Here I sit, half a year later, on the ocean-facing patio of my fairly modest home, drink in hand as I watch my dog trot around the beach. I have no major plans for the immediate future. I live here with my puppy, and often with the lovely illustrator I’ve previously mentioned, although we’ve agreed to maintain separate dwellings for the time being.


I signed the condo over to her as a bonus for the stellar job on my book, and because I love her. She spends just as much time here with me as she does there.


The broom-pilot (ex-wife) and her spawn live light-years away and cause me no strife. Her new marriage is still intact, so the monsters have a replacement father, which is better for everyone except him. Poor bastard! My legally binding financial obligations to them are on auto-pay, and I don’t concern myself with any more than that.


I have somehow emerged from the chaos of my own making, shining like a new penny, and I don’t quite know how. Some people say good things happen to good people, but what do they know? They also happened to me. And for that little oversight, I’m very thankful.


A gentle wind floats into my little space, softly caressing the decorative grasses in their pots. A bead of sweat slowly rolls down the side of my glass as I raise it to my lips, and, every so often, the soothing sound of the sea makes its way up the beach to my ears, briefly drowning out the music playing inside.


Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a big, yellow butterfly dancing on the breeze, and a small, motionless brown lizard contentedly watching her from the handrail a few feet away.

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