Komodo Island, Now Serving Lemon Cake by Lindy Biller

It started with a school project: Tell the class about your favorite animal. For most of the kids in Zoom kindergarten, this meant explaining what they liked about pandas or badgers or giraffes. Then my kid told them about Komodo dragons. Cannibalism, venom glands, the ability to swallow an entire goat in twenty minutes without chewing. He explained that dragons reproduce both sexually and asexually, and his teacher didn’t mute him in time, and the kids had questions. He showed them the plush Komodo dragon I gave him for Easter, even though our family doesn’t celebrate Easter. It doesn’t matter. We’ll celebrate anything. I bake a cake every month to mark the passage of time. I keep a list of flavors, so I won’t repeat any:

  • vanilla
  • chocolate
  • plum torte
  • apple cider donut
  • pumpkin spice
  • gingerbread
  • black forest
  • red velvet
  • lemon poppyseed

You might think I’d run out of flavors, eventually, but desperation breeds possibility. Just take a cake mix and throw in literally anything. We could go on like this forever. I’m standing at the counter, mixing sugar into thin, runny batter. My son is out in the backyard, lining his burrow with feathers and dead grass. I used to worry about bird feathers carrying disease, which seems funny now. My kid eats raw meat, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. He scales trees in seconds, gripping the rough bark with his claws. Yesterday, he told his class that mother dragons lay 20 to 30 eggs. They guard the burrow for months before wandering off. When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings scurry up the nearest tree. They need to be fast. If their mother is near, and hungry, she’ll spear them on her teeth. She’ll swallow them whole. Nature, my husband said, shaking his head. As though it was a strange, inexplicable thing.  

Yesterday, my son showed his class another picture: three dragon hatchlings stacked up like flat stones. Shining eyes, bowed legs, yellow stripes for camouflage. I wanted to kiss their flat lizard noses. I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and cry for their mother, who warmed those grapefruit-sized eggs with her body for months before thinking better of it. I pour batter into the crepe pan, a little at a time.

When the sun sinks lower, I go out to the backyard with a raw steak and a wedge of blackberry almond crepe cake. Delicate layers of yellow and white, black juice dripping down the sides. My son invites me into his burrow. It’s tight, but I can just fit. The earth is warm, for April, and already there is life. Earthworms, spiders, grubs squirming in fresh dirt. The cake collapses under the tines of my fork. My son, who I still recognize, is quiet and proud. He slides toward me on his reptilian belly. He shows me his eggs, all thirty of them, clustered together like smooth white stones.

LINDY BILLER — Lindy Biller lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two kids. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, X-R-A-Y, The Lumiere Review, and (mac)ro(mic). She is an avid stress-baker.

Art by CLAUDIA LUNDAHL — Claudia is an artist and writer from New York. She attended the City University of New York at Hunter College. She now lives in London, England with her husband and their two dogs. Find more of her work online at www.claudianlundahl.com or on Twitter @claudrosewrites.