All of my Konigsburg books include animals. I’m not sure how this happened, it just did. Starting with a diabolic cat and a sweet-natured Chihuahua in Venus In Blue Jeans, I had a greyhound in Wedding Bell Blues, a mostly coon hound puppy in Be My Baby, and a largely Maine coon cat in Long Time Gone.
When I got to Brand New Me, I knew I’d have to have a pet to keep the tradition going, but I wasn’t sure what animal to use. My older son had just gotten a part-Papillion puppy and I toyed with that idea. But it came across as too similar to Senor Pepe from Venus In Blue Jeans. I could have done another cat, but I’d just done one in Long Time Gone, and I wasn’t sure I could come up with one that differed a lot from Arthur (I’m coping with a couple of part-Maine coon cats myself, and that tends to color my outlook). At lunch with the DH and my younger son one day, I grumped about how hard it was to come up with the right pet.
“Why not an iguana?” my son tossed out. Why not indeed?
Now, mind you, I’ve never owned an iguana. I’ve never known anyone personally who’s owned an iguana. I’ve never even been closer to an iguana than the other side of a zoo enclosure. Still, it seemed like a neat idea, and a nice departure from dogs and cats.
First of all I had to find out what it takes to have an iguana as a pet, and apparently it takes quite a bit! They need an even seventy-degree temperature year round, which means they can’t live outside in the Texas Hill Country, where temperatures soar in the summer and there’s occasional snow in the winter. So my hypothetical iguana had to live in a cage of some kind in her owner’s house (her owner, by the way, is my hero, Tom Ames). Then there’s the food question. It turns out iguanas are herbivores, which meant Tom didn’t need to run around catching flies for her (fortunately, since he had other things on his agenda). Finally, there was the question of how much interaction iguanas have with their owners. While there are some YouTube videos of owners carrying their iguanas around on their shoulders and treating them sort of like parrots, the general consensus is that iguanas are not exactly cuddly. In fact, on the Web you’re find several pics of stitched-up iguana bites that testified to the virtues of leaving your iguana in peace.
Having established my iguana in residence and figured out what its cage looked like (courtesy of several iguana cage images I found online), I had to figure out what to do with her after that. All my pets have had roles to play in the plot. Senor Pepe, the Chihuahua, helped to rescue the heroine. Olive, the greyhound, made the hero feel at home in Konigsburg. Sweetie, the coon hound, was attacked by the villain. And Arthur, the Maine coon cat, demonstrated the inadvisability of tripping on a Maine coon cat’s tail.
It took me a while, but I finally figured out how my iguana would fit into the plot—trust me, she does. Her name is Doris, by the way.
And here’s a brief introduction to Doris:
The living room was cool and dark, the light of the setting sun reflected through the side windows. Tom stepped inside and turned on a lamp. From somewhere nearby, Deirdre heard an odd scratching sound, like insects running across a wall. She glanced around the room with a quick shiver.
One corner had its own light. As she moved closer, Deirdre realized it was actually a cabinet, only not exactly. The walls were made of plywood on three sides. The front was something transparent—glass or Plexiglas. She could see a couple of shelves inside, with what looked like tree limbs propped against them. Ivy hung around the edges and bright lights illuminated the sides.
Tom stepped beside her. “So this is who I wanted you to meet. The friend I live with.”
She shivered again. “I don’t see anybody.”
“She’s hiding.” He stepped closer to the cabinet. “Come on Doris, come out and meet the nice lady.”
More scratching sounded from the upper part of the cabinet. Then a large lizard emerged from the shelter of the shelves. Her body looked like it was covered in tiny polka dots that Deirdre assumed were scales. Her head was a deep green that shaded off down her body into moss and brown, ending with a long striped tail. Small spikes ran down the edge of her spine from head to tail. Her long toes were tipped in curving claws, the origin of the scratching sound as she edged carefully down the branch that angled closest to the door.
Deirdre licked her lips. She had no intention of getting any closer. In fact, she wondered if she could possibly move back a bit without being insulting.
He turned toward her, grinning slightly. “Don’t worry. She’s not free range. She stays in here most of the time, although I give her a shoulder ride every now and then.”
The lizard, Doris, raised her head, setting her wattles trembling, and regarded him with black peppercorn eyes. For a moment, Deirdre thought she looked almost affectionate. Probably projection.
“Have you had her a long time?”
He shrugged. “A few months. A customer owned her—she belonged to his girlfriend who took off and left her. He was getting ready to take her out and let her loose someplace in the hills. That struck me as a really lousy idea for everybody involved, especially Doris, so I said I’d take her off his hands.”
“Did you build her…enclosure?”
He grinned again. “It’s a cage. And no, she came with it. Don’t know if the girlfriend built it or if she inherited it like I did.”
Deirdre inched closer. Doris stayed on her branch, watching her carefully, as if she’d head back up to the shelves in an instant if Deirdre started to pose a threat. “What does she eat?”
Deirdre narrowed her eyes.
“Iguanas are herbivores. She gets alfalfa and other greens, like kale. And she’s very big on nopal. Probably reminds her of home.”
“Cheaper than a carnivore.”
“Yeah, the most expensive thing about her is temperature control. She can’t get too cold or too warm, which pretty much means she has to live inside, at least in Texas.” He gestured toward the lights. “Those help. And there’s a heater.”
“And she’s a female?”
He shrugged. “Haven’t a clue. Supposedly males have bigger pores on their rear thighs, but I didn’t particularly want to hoist Doris up to find out.”
“So you just decided she was a she?”
“Hey, I’ve got a fifty percent chance of being right.”