Fiction | Wonder women of the lizard world


I was fanning myself with a textbook when the tradie told me about the gecko. It had, in search of reprieve from the burning meteorological irregularity, crawled inside our air conditioning unit, damaged the wiring, and gotten itself fried. Without climate control, we had suffered through December and January, red-faced and irritable. Dishes went unwashed, pasta cooked onto the rim, frozen coke cups erupted from every refuse, and nakedness went unremarked. James, our housemate, didn’t believe in climate change and said that the heat was simply a side effect of the megafires ravaging the country, which, before we interjected, also weren’t caused by climate change.

And Heidi didn’t even care about the gecko.

Act I: Rituals

The morning air is heavy and fills the room so violently it feels as though we are being squeezed out of it, but opening a window is to hold your face over an oiled stovetop to be burned and smoked. Instead, we trudge to the sink to splash cold water on our faces, water the same tepid temperature as my sweat.

Heidi goes to work, her face a watercolour of bronzer and liquid foundation. I study full time and could make my way to campus in search of air conditioning, but the thought of being in proximity to other people on a bus is nauseating. I open my laptop and google geckos.

Everything feels pointless. Not the millennial, end-of-the-world, Sally Rooney variety. More like every day I wake up and start performing a play about humans that I concocted from watching too many sitcoms in my teens. I say this to Heidi, expecting it to be a universal experience, but she stares at me. ‘I love my job,’ she says. I file that away for contemplation at a later date.

When Heidi gets home from work, the building managers call. The part needed to repair our air conditioner has been delayed. Four more weeks of this.

The Australian Bynoe’s Gecko was sent to Oregon in the early 2000s for comparative speed testing with other species of gecko. Scientists put them on tiny lizard treadmills. Living in absurdity, hurtling towards nothing.

My eyes water from the smoke. The sky has been black for days. Apparently, they can smell it in South America. I don’t know what to do with this information and the magnitude of pain and panic it causes me. I felt the same after hearing that the global heating was thawing out fossils in Serbia, releasing ancient anthrax into the air and infecting the local population. I used to rock back and forth in a ball when I was younger. But I haven’t since Charlotte in year 1 called me a spaz. Instead, I turned to constant fidgeting, peeling back the layers of my cuticles and hiding my ravaged hands, ensuring they didn’t appear in photos. Today, however, when the panic and smoke subside, I open my eyes to find myself once again, legs crossed and lapping back and forth at the edge of my bed. How much more climate anxiety I can endure before I take up smoking again?

James is using the oven. He says he is sick of eating stovetop dinners and takeaway. He sounds accusatory, as though our collective decision not to cook with the oven to reduce heat is some irrational, feminine ploy to prevent him from roasting his meats. But I am not a good judge of intentions, and James’s behaviour frequently baffles me, so I leave it. I sit in the shower until my rage over his casual disregard for our agreement subsides.

Some geckos are parthenogenic. An exclusively female species capable of reproducing without males or sex, essentially cloning themselves. Their offspring can run faster and further than their sexually reproducing counterparts. They are called the Wonder Women of the lizard world. In captivity, breeders simulate rainy seasons to control when they lay their eggs. Females of any variety are not to be trusted.

The air conditioning part arrives. It is the wrong part. I wipe away the sweat from my upper lip.

Act II: Miscommunication

Heidi says we’re going out because she cannot be in the apartment for a moment longer. I understand; the heat is making us mad. We are in a steel pot slowly approaching boiling point.

The bar is known for its live jazz band. Drumbeats pound in my ears atop saxophone screeches and powerful scatting. I’ve always said this venue is too small for its volume, conflicting noise being the epitome of unpleasant. Surprisingly, that is an uncommon opinion.

I don’t get embarrassed the way other people do, the way Heidi does. I have never dressed appropriately for an occasion or withheld an opinion for the sake of propriety.  And I dance in public compulsively. Heidi hasn’t dated any women before me and I wonder, if we were to break up, whether she’d go back to men, citing women’s behaviour as too erratic, too dramatic, too frivolous.

We get drunk. Heidi gets high. She is pretty and people like to give her coke for free. I am masculine and poor. I carry a flask.

As always, we are fighting. I am not sure how it started. Previous examples of instigators include: my laugh being too loud, accidentally spilling a drink, cooking dinner too late, and my drunken anecdotes not being well received by her friends. She doesn’t want to leave and we only have one key so we stay at the club, fuelled by animosity. I sneak a cigarette in the smoker’s area—when she fucks me in the bathroom later, she can taste it. I’ve let her down again. She slaps me behind the cubicle door, ‘gross.’

The Gargoyle Gecko has an aggressive mating style with both parties wearing cuts and bruises after successful copulation. Love is, as they say, a battlefield.

We stumble home in the morning light, too fried to appreciate the dew accessorising the grass and the pink hues in the sky. It is already scorching. Heidi stalks into the bedroom, capable of holding on to her fury for longer than me. Although I win when it comes to confusion and self-loathing. I still don’t know what I did. Things never seem to be as big a deal to me as they are to her. I can’t tell if she’s irrational or I’m a sociopath. Neither are ideal. I feign sleep on the couch, cradling an icepack.

Perhaps it is the comedown, or the aftermath of the fight but I cannot shake the feeling that my idiosyncrasies, rather than indicating an uninhibited rebel spirit are, in fact, neurodivergence. I fill out a questionnaire with a centre specialising in assessing adults for ASD. I score 40/50.

Act III: Submersion

I am thinking about the gecko. It fit in the palm of my hand, although why it was handed to me remains uncertain. Or was it handed to me? I thought I had gotten better at social responses, reading them like a script everyone else seemed to have memorised beforehand. But what is the expectation when someone opens their hand to you, revealing a tiny, toasted body as though presenting a gift?

I think Heidi is going to break up with me. And I worry that without her catalytic presence I won’t seek out opportunities to speak to people. Other than James of course. Although ‘excuse me, I need to get to the fridge,’ ‘oh sorry,’ even by my standards doesn’t add up to meaningful human connection. Perhaps it won’t matter. I can’t engage with people when I am this hot and bothered.

The building managers contact us. The incorrect part has been shipped again. They apologise for any inconvenience.

It is afternoon. Heidi is at work. James is reading a book by a category of man with no qualifications and a condescending tone. The centre replies to my query: $950 for an autism assessment and creation of a diagnostic form. I thank them for their time. I continue to wet my hair in the sink. The water drips down my neck and slicks over the palms of my hands. The tap continues running, spilling over the sides of the vanity and down onto my socks, drenching my feet. I close my eyes and surrender to the deluge. The sun will go down soon and maybe tomorrow the replacement aircon part will arrive.



Photographer: David Paul, Museums Victoria

Rebekah Roma

Rebekah Roma is a Sicilian/Australian writer and lawyer. Her work has won the Allen & Unwin Writer's Prize in 2021 and appeared in Mulberry Literary Journal, Archer, and Butch is Not a Dirty Word, among others. She lives in Meanjin with her wife, Eirin, and her cat/son, Robert.

More by Rebekah Roma ›

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  1. This piece feels deceptively simple, but is executed with such precision and control. The narrative draws us into the inexorable slow-burn of a smouldering landscape outdoors, mirroring the main characters’ relationship as it disintegrates. It also provides an unsettling and incisive commentary on how our expectations about what is ‘normal’ so often get in the way of finding solutions – both in relationships, and as a society.

  2. This is excellent in so many ways. It’s simple but filled with profound and all-too-relatable insights.

    “I don’t know what to do with this information and the magnitude of pain and panic it causes me.”

    And “I have never dressed appropriately for an occasion or withheld an opinion for the sake of propriety.”

    The voice rings true and the links between the personal and external realities works flawlessly.

    Great stuff; congratulations to Rebekah Roma and to Overland.

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