Laura Jensen
The Chameleons

Saturday morning the lights were on in the living room and Laura had cold cereal in the breakfast nook.

Then out in the alley Laura walked a block, uphill a block to the corner where, driven into the parking grass, was a yellow post marked bus.

Laura stood and watched the low treetops above houses a block away, practicing memorization for Catechism class.

I lift my eyes up to the hills.
From whence does my help come
My help comes from the Lord
who made Heaven and Earth.

It seemed far off, four blocks back along the street, that a pale green bus appeared around the corner of the wooden board walls of the grocery. When the bus door opened at her stop she saw that today the driver was a Negro.

She got on and sat several seats back. She watched the street out the window and studied.

Therefore I shall not fear
My foot shall not be moved.

And they drove twenty blocks of the same houses and front yards with the small tops of small evergreens and turned onto the business street, all in the pale cloud glare atmosphere. And at last they reached the stop near the church, across from the park.

Every autumn mom drove them to the fair. That was how, once, chameleons had come into their lives, festooned by small ribbons and safety pins onto a felt board of CHAMELEONS at the fair. The small green souls were cherished home to spend their years fed ground beef and dead flies Linnea caught and Cheerios they liked to lick milk off of.

One Sunday morning Laura played with a chameleon before church. Sunday mornings would be leisurely and slow, with the funny papers to see or the book and travel sections. The chameleon held on to the fabric of her clothes and basked in the small, non-reptile warmth of her skin. Laura forgot he was on the collar of her dress.

Then, as she perched, a large child, on the child-sized wooden folding chair, and fingered the unfamiliar cryptic youth hymnal, unfamiliar from the many unpunched Sundays of their valid Sunday School cards, a child’s voice from the row behind offered kindly, “There’s a lizard on your collar.”

But one terrible Sunday evening when they arrived back from Grandma’s, Pop stood before them and explained that something had happened. Someone had left the chameleon out of its cage. The chameleon had crawled underneath the small kitchen rug in front of the sink cupboard doors. And someone had stepped on him. The chameleon was a flat squashed body under the rug.

And one day, when Laura was playing with the other chameleon, when Laura touched it by the tip of its tail, that tail spun off. It twitched, all on its own on the linoleum beside the stove.

So Laura screamed. She screamed and screamed because the tail twitched all by itself.

That chameleon lived on for years without its lovely perfect tail, with the stub of tail, but managing in its cage.

Sunday mornings, mom had them dress for Sunday School and church. Laura wore her good skirt and her spring coat or her winter coat. Until she was confirmed she had to sit in the front pew beneath the pulpit. While the minister gave the sermon she gazed at the small reading light above his notes - his eyebrows looked huge and ferocious because of the reflections of his eyeglass frames.

On Saturday mornings she had confirmation class. In the church building classroom there was enough light from the wall of windows for them to study their catechism. Laura drew a picture of the Descending Dove, and she drew an aerial view of the church building, trees at the park, the steeple, the Sunday School classroom, she drew all this in the margins of Luther’s Small Catechism.

And nobody said anything about that.

Later it was Saturday afternoon. She had changed from her skirt and was into her sweatshirt on the floor up in her room. On the newspapers over the linoleum she had put down a canvas board for a still life she had made up. She used oil paints in tubes and linseed oil and turpentine for thinner. The still life with a pottery vase and flowers, had a window and a windowsill. All the flower colors were intense and painted in carefully.