Today marks the prodigal return of Harper Perennial Pets, the series where we examine the creatures behind our employees and authors. I have been delinquent on obtaining pet photos and stories, but I hereby promise that I will make a better effort to bring you more pictures of cats and dogs . . . right after this look at A. Manette Ansay’s bearded dragons!
My daughter had a hamster who ate breakfast with us each morning, crawled around the house in her little green ball every afternoon, and rattled her wheel each night between midnight and five AM. When Explorer died, very suddenly, I did the usual thing; I promised my daughter another hamster. A few days later, we went off the the pet store, and we came home with— a bearded dragon.
This hadn’t been part of the plan, or at least, it hadn’t been part of mine, but my daughter informed me, when we got to the pet store, that Explorer could never be replaced, so the thing to do was get another kind of pet. Dogs were discussed, briefly, and to close the door on that conversation, I suggested we look around and see what else was there. Minutes later, Genevieve was holding a pale, unpromising-looking wisp of a thing that, except for the price tag, seemed like any other lizard scampering down the sidewalk in front of our Florida home. When she tried to stroke it, it snapped at her. Then it opened its mouth and gaped. “Hungry,” said the salesclerk, himself a bearded individual, who claimed to have two full-grown “beardies” at home. “They watch TV with me,” he said. “You can walk them on leashes. They’re just like dogs.” Did somebody say dog? Within minutes, we were walking out of the store, me lugging an enormous aquariam, an ultraviolet light, bedding and a rock, and Genevieve cooing through the breathing holes of a small cardboard box. “It’s kind of puffing up,” she said, pleased. “As long as it’s not breathing fire,” I said. Of course, as soon as she saw “Diamond,” my boyfriend’s daughter had to have a bearded dragon, too.
This is how I came to live with Diamond and Sahara, two full-grown bearded dragons, the largest nearly two feet long from tail to tip. They do watch TV with us, and sit on shoulders while homework gets done, while piano gets practiced, while laundry gets folded—and they really do ride around on my hat. The kids play with them like dolls, designing cardboard houses for them, riding them around on a plastic sleigh. Last week, we even celebrated their birthdays. My daughter created a menu that included “sushi” (mealworms rolled up in lettuce leaves); “potato chips” (crunchie shed skins from cockroaches) and “pinkie pie” (thawed dead baby mice.) There were flowers on the “table” (an old cookie sheet); there were lit candles (on the counter, out of reach.) As I watched the dragons tear up their place settings, happily flicking their tongues, I thought about how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, how love is what we bring to the particular table we set. “I still miss Explorer,” my daughter said, putting a consoling hand over mine, “but the dragons, you know, are family.”
Manette’s latest book, Good Things I Wish You, goes on sale in paperback on June 22. It is not about bearded dragons. Click here to find out more or to preorder!