In less than an hour, Mrs. Marsh had prepared a pretty-good-smelling dinner of roasted lizard, some more mashed potato-like tuber things, and some crunchy green vegetables that looked something like a pea pod and something like a Brussels sprout.
Still, the main course looked to George like—well, like a roasted lizard.
“I want that one!” George yelled out, pointing to the smallest lizard.
“No fair,” said Martha. "I want the smallest one.”
“You had the smallest shovelnose catfish yesterday!”
“Well, that's because I'm the smallest Marsh!”
“And you got the smallest grub pie the day before that.”
“Uh-huh,” said Martha.
“And you didn’t even have to eat the mushroom-spider stew, either!”
“That’s ‘cause it was yucky.”
“But George,” said Mrs. Marsh. “Didn’t you like the chocolate-covered ants?”
“Well, yeah,” George admitted. “But that’s because they didn’t burst in my mouth when I bit into them.”
“And you got to eat more of those fruit thingees that mommy picked off that tree with the spider leaves,” said Martha.
“You could have had more mangoes if you wanted.”
“Nuh-uh,” said Martha.
”Uh-huh,” said George. “Besides, it gave me a stomachache, anyway.”
“That’s ‘cause you ate too many bongos!”
“Mangoes! And I did not.”
Then both George and Martha yelled, "Mo-om!"
“How about this one,” Mrs. Marsh said to George, pointing toward one of the lizards. “It's very colorful.”
“Wow, coooool,” said George. “Don't you want that one, Martha?”
“No. I want the little one.”
“Mo-om,” said George.
“Why don't you take that one, dear,” Mrs. Marsh said to George. “It is quite pretty, you know.”
George looked at his mom. He knew she had tried her best to make a dinner that wasn’t too disgusting, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. He looked the lizard over. It was a bright red color, with practically glowing green stripes. “Why does it look—different?”
“Ooooh,” said Martha. “That's pretty. I want that one!”
“You can have it,” George said quickly.
“I believe that's a chameleon,” Mr. Marsh chimed in.
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
“A what?” George asked.
“A chameleon,” his father repeated. “It's a lizard that can change its color whenever it's frightened.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember,” George lied. He hated not knowing things.
“Yes. It can blend in completely with its environment, and it will stand absolutely still so that animals who might want to eat it can't notice it.”
“Like a tree?” asked Martha.
"Yes, if a chameleon is on a tree, it will blend in with the tree color."
“How 'bout a leaf?”
“Yes, it can look like a leaf, too.”
“How 'bout a zebra?”
His father laughed. “I don't think there are any zebras in the rain forest, but whatever is normally found in the forest, the chameleon can probably blend into it.”
"That's really cool," George said.
"Sounds like a fraidy-cat to me," said Martha.
George's father laughed again. "I guess you're both right, kids."
"Well, I'm not eating any fraidy-cat!" said Martha.
"What, are you afraid you're going to turn invisible if you eat it?" said George.
The increasing clamor of a storm crept toward their cabin.
"Ha-ha. You're probly gonna get sick and throw up like the last time—"
"No, you be quiet."
"Both of you, stop it," said Mrs. Marsh. A flash of light from the storm lit up their cabin. "George, eat your chameleon."
George sighed, "Oh, okay. But I get first choice tomorrow."
George picked up his fork and tore off a tiny piece of the chameleon. He turned the fork over and over, examining the meat. It kind of looks like chicken, George told himself, and the thought calmed him a bit.
Then, ever so slowly, he brought the fork up to his mouth, placed it gently in his tongue, and closed his lips. George was surprised that it wasn’t immediately terrible. He chewed, once, then twice.
“Hmmm,” he said, still chewing. A brilliant flash of light ignited the sky, and a giant boom crashed around them. Even Mr. Marsh jumped at the intensity of the sudden tempest.
After a pause, Mrs. Marsh turned her attention back to George. “Well…?”
“Yeah, well?” said Martha.
“Yes, well?” said Mr. Marsh.
“It tastes…” George seemed to be waiting for another burst of sound from outside, but a steady drumming of rain seemed to replace the bright bangs of thunder and lightning.
“It tastes what?” asked Martha.
George relaxed, then swallowed. “Sparkly,” he said.
“Sparkly?” said Martha.
“Sparkly?” said Mr. Marsh and Mrs. Marsh.
“Yeah. It kind of tingles on my tongue.”
“Tingles?” Mrs. Marsh asked. “I didn’t put that much citrus in. Tingles?”
“Yeah,” said George. “Like little fireworks in my mouth.”
“Fireworks?” Mr. Marsh asked.
“Why is everybody repeating what I say?”
“I never heard of fireworky food,” said Martha.
“You have to admit,” said Mr. Marsh, “she has a point.”
“Yes, and I thought you were going to say it tastes like chicken,” said Mrs. Marsh.
“Well, it does taste like chicken, too.”
“Just—tingly, sparkly chicken…” said Mrs. Marsh.
George took another careful bite of the chameleon and chewed. A smile slowly came over his face. "Mmmmm, pretty good, Mom."
“See,” said his mom, “sometimes things aren’t as bad as you think they’re going to be!”
“It pays to have a nutritional anthropologist in the family,” said Mr. Marsh, who was clearly enjoying his dinner.
“Thank you, dear,” said Mrs. Marsh.
"Ooh, I wanna bite, I wanna bite," said Martha. “I want some of Georgie’s!”
"No, you said you didn't want this one," said George. "Eat your plain old ordinary little lizard."
“Hmph,” said Martha.
“Nyah,” said George.
“Kids…” said Mrs. Marsh in her best I’m warning you voice.
Both of them grew quiet.
“Hey,” said Mr. Marsh. “Listen.”
The room grew still.
“No more storm?” said Mrs. Marsh.
“No more storm,” said Mr. Marsh.
“No more storm!” said Martha.
That was the first time George Marsh ate chameleon for dinner. And that was the last regular summer day for soon-to-be-fourth-grader George Marsh.
After George went to sleep that night, things started to became—well, not so regular. In fact, all night long, his dreams were filled with bizarre adventures.
First he dreamed he was riding on a zebra as fast as he could through the forest.
Then, he dreamed he was spying on Martha while she was playing pat-a-cake with a duck at the nearby lake.
He dreamed he caught an arapaima fish bigger than him, and he and the fish switched places, George swimming happily back into the lake while the fish grabbed George’s pole.
He dreamed he was living in a tree, eating leaves and bugs.
He dreamed giant birds were chasing him, but he ducked behind a leaf, and the birds couldn't see him.
He dreamed a jaguar was chasing him. He stood completely still, turned into a tree, and then monkeys started swinging on his arms.
Though every dream was partly scary, George felt, somehow, safe. As though he were hardly there at all.