5.07 / July 2010

The Chameleon Kid

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The chameleon kid is standing beside a tree. Nobody can see the chameleon kid because, in a sense, he has become that tree. The grainy bark, the knots, even the dull green leaves—the chameleon kid is able to morph all of those aspects into himself.

Two girls walk up and stand in the shade of the tree. They are eating ice cream cones. It is hot out and the ice cream is melting. The chameleon kid would like some ice cream. He has only had Napoleon before. He doesn’t care for it. The color of the ice cream the girls are eating is green. He has never had green ice cream. He would like to try it very much. But he can’t move away from the tree. If he moves somebody might see him.

The girls keep licking the ice cream cones. They cannot keep up with them fast enough. They must think this is funny because they giggle. The chameleon kid doesn’t like the sound of their giggle. It sounds too happy. He wants them to leave but they keep standing there in the shade. Go away, he wants to say but does not say because it would let the girls know he is there. Instead he spits at one of the girls. The spittle hits the closet one on the back of the head. She suddenly stops giggling and goes silent. She turns, a confused expression on her face. The expression doesn’t change when she sees nobody is there.

The girl’s friend asks what’s wrong. The girl the chameleon kid just spit at says she thinks someone just spit at her. The girl’s friend says she’s crazy. The chameleon kid thinks it might be funny to spit at her too. But before he can, both girls start walking again, out of the shade of the tree and into the sun. He watches them walk down the sidewalk until they turn the corner and disappear.

The chameleon kid stands by the tree for another hour. He watches cars drive up and down the street. Nobody else walks by him. He becomes bored. He decides he would like some ice cream. Not Napoleon though. He wants some of that green ice cream.

The chameleon kid finally moves. The moment he does he becomes visible again. A squirrel in the tree jumps from branch to branch in surprise. The chameleon kid laughs. He likes scaring animals.

The chameleon kid walks into town. Because he is walking he is visible but nobody seems to see him. He walks by people and they don’t look at him like he’s not even there. In the center of town is the ice cream parlor. He walks inside. It is cool here. It is bright and clean and the chameleon kid does not like it. There are kids here, kids he knows but does not like. He does not like many people or things. He waits in line and when it’s his turn he asks for some green ice cream. The man behind the counter asks what kind of green ice cream. Some kids nearby start laughing. The chameleon kid feels his face burn. He points at one of the buckets of green ice cream behind the glass. The man grabs a cone and a scoop but pauses. He asks if the chameleon kid has any money. The chameleon kid does not but he reaches into his pockets anyway. Finally he shakes his head. Sorry, the man says. The kids who laughed before laugh again.

The chameleon kid turns to leave but stops. He looks at all the kids laughing at him. He grits his teeth. He walks to the wall close to the counter and just stands there. He stands there and waits. It takes about a minute, but then he disappears. At least he disappears to everyone watching him. He’s still there, though. He smiles at their expressions. He wants to laugh but doesn’t want to give himself away.

Slowly, so very slowly, he moves. If he moves slowly enough, he won’t become visible. It takes a long time but finally he ends up behind the counter. His back against the wall, he spits into each bucket of ice cream. He spits until he has nothing left to spit. Nobody seems to notice. They seem to have forgotten about him. This makes him want to laugh too. But he doesn’t. He makes his way back to where he first disappeared. When he’s there, he moves suddenly, becoming visible again. Everybody close by jumps. Some cry out. One kid—one of the ones that laughed at him—drops his ice cream cone.

The chameleon kid walks out of the parlor. He walks all the way back home. Neither of his parents is home yet. They won’t be home for a while. He goes inside and stands in the living room against the wall. He stands there and waits and then disappears. He doesn’t move. He just stands there, until finally first his mother comes home, then his father. They sit in separate chairs. They turn on the TV. Neither one of them speaks. Neither one of them asks where their son is. The chameleon kid watches them for over an hour. Then he starts spitting at them. He starts spitting at them until there is nothing left and then he just stands there, waiting for them to look at him, to turn their heads toward the wall where nothing is, where nobody is standing, where their son is but is not.


Robert Swartwood claims a seatbelt once saved his life. According to Swartwood, he was at a bar one night and a man came in with a gun and threatened to kill anyone who was a writer. Then, quite suddenly, a seatbelt came in and kicked the crap out of the man with the gun. After the applause died down, the seatbelt said, "Only you can prevent forest fires," and walked out. It was, Swartwood says, a typical Thursday night.