I first wrote this story about twelve years ago now. As with this one, I leave it up to you to decide how true it is...!
THE LEGAL BIT: This is copyright material and may not be copied or distributed in any way without prior permission, © Sam Enthoven 2008. All rights reserved.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an iguana.
Why? Well, for a start imagine spending half your life lying stretched out on a rock in the sun, your scaly belly soaking up the warmth of the stone underneath, your back toasting gently while you muster the energy to amble off and do whatever it is you're going to do: pretty appealing, no? Claws are good things to have too, of course. And eyeballs that can rotate in opposite directions. But what I always truly wished I had, the number one thing that made me sure I was in the wrong species, was an iguana's tongue.
I have a problem with my eyes: they're very dry all the time. They're always crusted with gunk when I wake up in the morning. They sting and weep whenever the slightest bit of dust or grit gets in them. And as for what happens when I chop onions… Oof.
If you're an iguana in that situation, though, the answer's quite simple. All you have to do if something gets in your eye is… lick your eyeball with your tongue.
I ask you, how brilliant do you think it would be? Whenever your eyes start to itch, imagine if instead of all that rubbing, scratching, watering, looking for eyedrops and so forth, you could just suavely flick out your tongue, coolly caress your eyeball, and – THLP –back it goes in your mouth.
Well you don't have to imagine, because I'm going to tell you.
I was just reading the advert that was going to turn my childhood dream into reality when I first caught sight of Nicola. As soon as she came through the door all eyes in the canteen immediately rotated to watch her.
She was wearing glasses. The rims were made of thick black plastic, and the magnification on the lenses made her eyes seem about twice their normal size. I could overhear everyone in the room talking about her, how amazing she looked and where could they get a pair? But Nicola just allowed herself a thin smile as she glanced around. She knew she was on top of things. And right then, of course, I knew she was the one for me.
The question was, what could I do to get her attention? Truth to tell, at first I felt kind of discouraged. It was obviously going to take something fairly major to impress a girl like her. Then my eye fell back to this advert.
It was for a new clinic in East Finchley. I can remember the ad almost word for word. "Eldritch Incorporated are proud to announce that now, for the first time, you can truly fulfil your dream of having the PERFECT BODY." In smaller print it went on to say how, thanks to their dramatic technological advances in the fields of retroviral genetic reprogramming and something else that was completely unpronounceable, they could now offer the greatest step forward for humanity since the invention of… well, you get the picture.
"We can now add to your body literally any new feature you can possibly imagine," trumpeted the ad, "at a price to suit any pocket. Change your life," it went on. "Be all that you can be." And at the bottom, in the smallest print yet it said, "Part exchange considered."
Well, that was it. I left my lunch where it was on the tray and headed for the nearest phone. That afternoon I took the Tube to East Finchley. By five o'clock I was shaking hands with Mr Eldritch himself.
Actually this was an unusual experience. He grasped my hand with two of his, so when a third reached round from behind his back and patted me on the shoulder I was a little surprised. I had to admit I was impressed though, and he seemed very friendly.
"Welcome to Eldritch Incorporated, my boy," he said, and smiled. The last of the sunlight was glinting off the smooth plastic of the eyepatch he wore over his left eye. A hand waved me to a seat while two more held and lit a large cigar. "I'll start right off by saying that I don't usually meet my clients face to face, but I've got to tell you that as a scientist I'm particularly fascinated by your request."
This sounded hopeful.
"Let me be frank with you: if there's one major downside to my business, it's that the vast majority of my clients tend to be fairly - how shall I put it? - unimaginative in their choice of what we can do for them. In fact, you wouldn't believe the kind of cheesy stuff people ask us for. Quite apart from all the usual nip/tuck/suck/yuck, the general picture seems to be that people want to walk out of here and spend the rest of their lives pretending they never walked in. I mean," he added, "if I wasn't so rich I'd almost be insulted, you know? The way they strut about the place as if they were born with a fourteen-inch-long, two-inch-thick, discretely reinforced-"
He stopped and gave me a rueful look. "Well, young fella, I don't mean to lay all this on you. The truth is, I'm just kinda pleased you've come to me with this. Let me tell you why…"
Here he detached his head for extra emphasis and placed it on the table between us. He massaged his neck-stump soothingly while his spare hand stuck the cigar directly into his windpipe and took a long drag. In front of me, the eye of the head of the company closed appreciatively.
"I have a dream," his mouth began. "You, my boy, and others like you, represent the start of something big. A new generation: a new breed as it were. Right now, I'm engaged on the process of giving humanity the capabilities other species have possessed for aeons. One day, however, I hope to witness the new era that this will usher in: an era in which the human race evolves at last into an entirely different life form. Young fella," he added, excitable jaw movements making his head wobble alarmingly, "we're standing on the cusp of history!"
It was a good speech. I let a couple of seconds go by to show how much I appreciated it, then took a deep breath. "So," I said. "You'll take part exchange on a kidney?"
"That'll do nicely," he replied.
Four months later I was back in the canteen, getting ready to make my move with Nicola. The operation had gone like a dream, and Eldritch's physiotherapists had been very accommodating in helping me learn to work my new muscles. Of course, my little addition was everything I could've wanted. Any time my eyes even felt as if they were going to get itchy on me, I just let my slippery pink tongue do a lazy flick - THLP - and it was better than if I'd taken my eye right out and dropped it in a glass of warm water. Which reminds me: Eldritch was thrilled. He'd even made some improvements to my other kidney, free of charge.
But this was when it all had to come together. I'd been spending a lot of time at home getting tips from old nature documentaries and practicing, practicing, practicing. I'd kept my new talent to myself, in case word got around. I'd even gone as far as still using eyedrops in public – yes, despite the taste. Anything to make certain that nobody had the slightest inkling of what I, and my new tongue, could now do. When the moment came, everything had to be just right.
Nicola was looking even more delicious than ever. That day she was sporting a new hairstyle I had never seen before: it looked like someone had put a bowl on her head. With the glasses as well, she looked just too cool. She was sitting on her own, keeping an easy distance from the rest of the room. I picked up my tray, took a big breath ("I am the lizard king," I told myself). Then I headed over to her table.
"Mind if I join you?" I murmured, nice and natural. She looked up at me and raised an eyebrow. Out went the tongue, suave as you like, and - THLP - back in my mouth it went again.
The rest of the room, already curious, suddenly went dead silent. But Nicola just looked at me, stoney-faced, not even a twitch.
"Think you're pretty flash, don't you?" she said.
There was a pause.
Of course, I had no reply. I think at that moment that I wished the world would swallow me up. I was on the point, in fact, of gibbering a bit, and quite possibly running away, when-
"Is that a chocolate HobNob you've got there?"
I looked up. Nicola was pointing at my tray and smiling inscrutably.
"Um – yeah," I managed.
"Hm," she replied.
I looked down at my tray just in time to see something long, pink and sticky whip my biscuit away from in front of my eyes-
-and when I looked up, Nicola was munching contentedly.
I just stood there until, eventually, she finished her mouthful and gave me a slow smile.
"Nice tongue, iguana boy..." she said. Hers seemed to coil around the words, glistening. "...But the future definitely belongs to us chameleons."
I stared at her. I kept staring at her until she took the tray from my nerveless fingers.
Then we kissed.
Ladies and gentlemen, chameleons and iguanas… words fail me.
© Sam Enthoven, 2008. All rights reserved.