Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 3

091102_bow-tieTheodore Green, his thick lips pressed together in concentration, stood at the mirror above the fireplace mantle, trying to knot his bowtie. Its black fabric was decorated with a pattern of white twisted-ladder-shaped double-helixes, symbols for DNA, or, as he liked to call them, “the building blocks of life.” His actions were jerky and excited; he’d had to listen to Tiffany complain for the last five minutes about Zera’s green hair and nail polish, something he didn’t find that alarming.

“That niece of yours. I don’t get her rebelliousness. You’re nice to her, I go out of my way all the time . . . why would she do that?”

“It’s just her age,” he said. “She’s a good kid.” Most of the time he shared information about Zera with Tiffany, but he hadn’t mentioned the zinnia incident at Manning High School yesterday. He had too many other things to focus on with tonight’s events. Tiffany always wanted to help, and usually her help was valuable to him, but this time he felt like he should deal with it on his own.

“Let me do that,” said Tiffany. She tied his tie in a flash.

As Theodore buttoned his cuffs, he saw the scattering of ever-present warts on the backs of his hands, one of the reasons, he knew, his niece had given him the nickname. He had discovered that she called him “The Toad” last year when doing laundry. There was a piece of paper in a pocket of her jeans and unfolding it, he saw it was a note to Abby. It was about how “The Toad” had work that weekend and Tiffany told her she couldn’t have Abby spend the night. There was a cartoon drawing of “Uncle Toad,” a chubby amphibian with Theodore’s warts, glasses, lips, and his unruly shock of dark hair. Abby had written, “Bummer!” and drew a smiley face with its tongue out. Theodore didn’t hold it against Zera. She was just a kid and she had a lot to deal with. He knew she liked him even though she didn’t often show it.

He wished he could get rid of the warts. They were inexplicable; all the miracles of modern medicine hadn’t been able to get rid of them. Zera knew Tiffany had been personally trying to find a cure since the two of them met. The chubbiness, well, he’d had a bit of a stress-eating problem since his sister and her husband died, and the weight, fifty pounds of it, had come on slowly but surely. Now he was tipping the scales at 230. Tiffany sure was helpful in getting me this suit, Theodore thought. It looks stylish, hides the bulk. And the glasses aren’t bad either. Although the majority of people with eye problems had corrective surgery these days, Theodore, mainly out of fear, chose to wear glasses instead, and Tiffany handpicked them all, making sure they were distinctive, vintage styles.

He also liked old wristwatches, ones with hands that went around a clock face, and he was wearing his favorite gold-toned one today. Gotta look my best today, he thought. I may be addressing a crowd.

Deciding she couldn’t put it off any longer, Zera came down the stairs into the living room. The first thing she saw was her uncle. Too bad there’s no suit in the world that can make him look like anything but a toad. Instantly she regretted the thought. To be truthful, it wasn’t the weight, or the warts, that made him The Toad — it was the fact that Tiffany had so much influence over his life. His weakness disgusted her.

The Toad turned. “My, Zera, you certainly look, well, nice.”

Goofy looking and a bad liar. “Thanks.”

“That green streak, though . . . it’s a little much, don’t you think? You really should have asked first.” The Toad’s large eyes narrowed behind the glasses.

Zera looked around the room, no sign of Tiffany. “She gave me a whole drawer full of the stuff. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to use any of it.”

“Hmmm . . .” The Toad adjusted his glasses and appeared to be deep in thought. He cleared his throat with an “Ahhh-hem.”

Here it comes. I wonder what it’ll it be this time, no v-phone for a week, or I’m going to be grounded from celebrating my birthday tomorrow with Abby, or . . .

“I know it’s your birthday and you don’t really want to go to this event, but acting out is not the answer,” he began. He stared at the green streak. “Is that Dye & Go?”

“Yeah. Made with henna, and those ocean plants. It’s the only stuff I found that I’d use. It’s temporary.”

The Toad’s “pseudo-father figure” expression changed. A glimmer of amusement crossed his features. “Well, maybe it won’t be so shocking to the people at Biotech, because it’s one of our own products. Do me a favor though, Zera. Don’t ever pull something like this again. I’m not going to punish you, this time, not on your birthday, but I want you to consider yourself warned. Fair enough?”

No punishment? Cool! Zera’s face broke out into a huge smile.

It was then that she spied the three boxes by the front door. The smallest, about a foot tall and wide, had holes in it. It was stamped with large red letters: LIVE MATERIALS and FRAGILE.

“Are those for me?”

“Got your name on them.”

She went to them. The address labels were penned in curly, elaborate, old-fashioned script that she’d have recognized anywhere without reading the name. They’re from Nonny! Three presents! She didn’t even tell me. Maybe my birthday’s not going to be so bad after all.

“Can I open them?”

Tiffany appeared in the doorway that led to the kitchen. She wore her favorite jacket, a white fur from the 1970s.

Dead animals, thought Zera, figures.

“You may open them later,” said Tiffany. “We have to leave. Get your coat.”

“But this one says ‘Live Materials.’” Zera pointed to the box with the holes. “Maybe it’s a pet, something alive.” The opposite of your coat.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tiffany said. “Your grandmother knows you can’t have a pet.”

Zera’s new bubble, one of brief happiness, burst. Tiffany spoke the truth. In the last three years she had asked for a pet many times, anything to make her feel a little less lonely. Tiffany was clear on the matter. She didn’t think The Toad should allow animals in his home. It was unclean, and inconvenient, and he didn’t need another responsibility. As usual, The Toad didn’t go against her advice.

“You know,” her uncle said, gesturing at the box, “I’m pretty sure it’s a plant. We get shipments like that at the lab all the time. It’ll be fine until we get back.”

“A plant? Can’t I just open it and see?”

“Why in the world would Guinevere send a plant?” Tiffany said, puckering her highly-glossed lips in disapproval. “You don’t need any plants.”

Zera glared at her.

“You can wait.” Tiffany said. “You should get some kind of punishment for your hair-dying stunt.” She turned to the Toad. “Did you get the E-SAT washed?” The E-SAT was The Toad’s brand new vehicle, a huge Electric Suburban All-Terrain truck that he’d bought with his first-ever work bonus.


Tiffany glanced at Zera, at her hair, and shook her head slightly in one last display of disapproval. “Then let’s go.”


To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.

Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.


Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.

First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved

ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)

Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.

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(coming soon)