Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 18)

dragon

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16, and Part 17]

 

“You’re awake,” the girl says.

Dark green eyes peer out from beneath heavy eyelids. “How long have I been sleeping?” the dragon asks.

“About nine years,” she replies. “Maybe ten.”

The creature rouses itself to an upright position and attempts to flex its stiffened wings. “A whole decade?” It begins to recall some things—indiscernible conversations and events from a well of fragmented memories. “Was I awake, at any point, in these nine, maybe ten years?”

A wistful look crosses the girl’s face. A year or a hundred makes little difference to her in this dungeon cell, where time feels so immaterial.

“You awoke whenever I summoned you, but I’d put you back to sleep again,” she says. “Sometimes you’d fight to stay alert; other times you slept soundly.”

“Why’ve you summoned me again?”

“I never know if you’ll be brought back every single time. After so long, I got curious.”

She’s looking out of a pentagon-shaped window barred with iron grilles. The rest of the square-shaped cell is illumined by candle-lit sconces on rough stone walls. The entire place smells like stale wax.

Curious about what’s outside, the creature shuffles next to the girl to take a peek, but not before realizing the window has suddenly risen to a great height. Come to think of it, the girl herself appears to tower over the dragon, which only comes up to her ankles. “I’m … diminished,” it says. “How did this happen?”

She bends down and scoops it into her palms. “Relax, it’s only temporary.” There’s a hard edge to her otherwise girlish voice. “The more you slumber, the smaller you get. But the longer I keep you awake, the larger you’ll grow.”

“Well, then, never put me to sleep again!” the dragon demands.

“Impossible,” she shakes her head, “you become too mean when you’re big.”

“I won’t. I promise to be nice.”

“You’ve made similar promises in the past.”

“Have I? Well this time, it’s true!”

The girl remains resolute, however. “I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.”

“Fine, then, tell me how we ended up here,” the dragon persists. “Who’s holding us captive in this dreadful dungeon?”

“You and I both,” she says, with a sigh. “Nobody else.”

It snorts with incredulity. “If that were to be true—which I highly doubt—at least one of us will have the key.”

The girl looks bewildered. “You don’t get it, do you? There are no locks and there’s never been a key.”

As she releases it to the ground, the dragon throws its head back in laughter. “Who in the right mind would remain here if they could freely leave?”

The creature marches indignantly for the exit, stopping in front of a wooden door that’s held shut by an iron latch and pull ring beneath—both well beyond its reach.

“Do you need some help?” the girl offers. She strolls up from behind and slides the iron latch free. A final pull on the door ring is now all that stands between the dragon and freedom. “Shall I?”

The dragon has frozen. “No.”

“It’s easy. Only a little push.”

“NOOOOO!” it pleads, clinging to the hem of her long skirt in fear. Its dark green eyes have gone wide with panic.

“Why not?” she asks. “It’s so simple. I open the door, you leave.”

It hisses in anger. “Stop asking, you know why!”

“But I want you to tell me,” she commands, extricating the creature from her skirt fabric and setting it upon the window sill.

Its reply comes out in a hoarse whisper. “Because I don’t exist beyond these walls.”

The girl nods. “Do you want to go back to sleep?”

The dragon shuts its eyes in resignation. “Yes, please.”

 

[to be continued]

 

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Shelter from the Storm

In June of 1988, I caught my first glimpse of a gray winter sky.

It didn’t look much different from any overcast day in Singapore, the eight-year-old me had reckoned, though I was sure I was far from home. Where we came from, poufs of mist did not escape your mouth every time you spoke or exhaled. Also, no one bundled themselves in this many layers of clothing. I was wearing a robin-egg-blue cardigan my mother had hand-knit especially for this family trip, but it was buried too deeply beneath layers of pullovers to be seen.

“Where’s the snow?” I’d asked Mum, hoping she could explain why we hadn’t stepped into a Christmas-card-worthy snowscape which to my mind was synonymous with wintertime. For her part, my mother was too preoccupied with the logistics of collecting our luggage from the coach we’d just alighted. I never did get an answer as to why winter was gray and not white.

While waiting to enter our hotel for the night, I studied the streets of Christchurch. In place of falling snow were dead leaves. They were everywhere, blanketing the ground and swirling in the air. On this dramatically drafty day, passersby hurried about with their faces shielded from the onslaught of leaves, their hair blowing in all directions.

I didn’t mind the wind so much. I was eight with a chinadoll bob, also known as a permanent bad-hair-day. No weather condition could do further damage to that.

___________

This morning, thirty years and two months later, it felt like  NZ c.1988 all over again. On a walk around my condo grounds, a familiar scene played out—same leaden sky, same blustery wind, scores of dead leaves scattering about like confetti. Under other circumstances, I’d take that as a clear sign that a storm was imminent and head back indoors. But this morning, I was in the mood to linger just a little.

Sure enough, the rain soon came pelting down in sheets. Together with the cleaning and landscaping crew, I ran for the nearest shelter. But while I revelled in childish delight, I couldn’t say for same for the janitors and gardeners, whose dismay was apparent on their faces.

They’d after all spent all morning painstakingly clearing away fallen leaves and branches, scrubbing and hosing down dirty spots, and tending to the beautiful greenery my condo is known for. And a fifteen-minute downpour was all it took to undo all of their efforts. This was not an uncommon scenario, but it still bummed them out every time it happened. Once the sun came out, the place would be littered leaves and foliage, with slush and wet bird droppings added to the mix. The results of their backbreaking work only ever lasted until the next turn of weather.

When today’s mini-storm passed, I ventured back outdoors to resume my walk. Only a handful of the maintenance crew had returned, however. Can’t say I blamed them for sitting it out a little longer. In fact, if I were them, I might just choose to tear off my cleaning gloves and call it a day.

I began to imagine an alternate scenario. Suppose I decided a large garden was just too much to handle and instead cultivated a tiny garden in a sheltered area. There’d only be enough room for just a few plants and maybe they wouldn’t grow as tall and luxuriant without direct sunshine, but I’d make up for all that with conscientious care and landscaping. Protected from the destructive winds and rains, my tiny garden would always be immaculate. Most important of all, I’d always be in control.

Except, how boring would that be?

Isn’t that large garden we spend our whole lives slogging to make perfect a whole lot more exciting, even if storms constantly reduce it to a grubby mess? Why should the thought of a little rain hold me back from enjoying so many more plants and trees? Do I love them only for looking beautiful, or do I love them for the potential they have to grow and flourish under my care?

As I gave up the idea of the tiny garden, I saw more cleaners and gardeners return. They picked up their equipment and resumed whatever they were doing before—mopping, sweeping, cleaning, pruning and trimming. Some were whistling, as if the rain hadn’t happened at all. The gardens would always be restored, I reckoned, for these people wouldn’t have it any other way, whatever the weather conditions.

On my way home, I realized I had the answer as to why the New Zealand winter of 1988 had looked gray instead of white. The country’s coldest months are June, July and August, but I was there only at the start of the season. There’s a time for rain, as there is for snow.

___________

It finally snowed towards the end of our trip—one morning we woke up and saw the frost on our hotel windows and the roads beneath. It’d snowed while we slept, and we’d missed it.

But just as I’d imagined, winter was white.

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Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 16)

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13, Part 14, and Part 15]

That damn dream again. It was years ago—singular, inconsequential, illogical—but it’s stayed at the back of my mind, refusing to fade from memory.

I’m sitting in a hotel room with green patterned wallpaper. Everything’s sort of out of alignment in the way that picture frames are slanted and door knobs are oddly placed and purposefully out of reach. When I stare hard enough at the walls, they melt a little and threaten to close in on me.

I’m in some sort of maze or sick escape room situation. This ornate room is reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Places des Vosges apartment, except I’m at the Grand Hyatt, even if I have no idea how I arrived at that knowledge. I try to exit the room, but each doorway leads me deeper into a labyrinth of hallways.

In the next scene, I’m at the pool, presumably on holiday at a resort. It’s a nice sort of urban oasis, though the motel-like blocks flanking this one main pool are low-rise and people are chilling on balconies. I’m with someone from my past, and his presence troubles me. Maybe he’s telling me this is our last vacation together, or something in that vein. There is something final and absolute about being in that pool at that specific moment. Enjoy it while it lasts, is the message, but I’m unable to.

In the next and final scene, I’m fleeing. I’m desperate to get away from the mixture of humiliation, sadness, anxiety, and fear that’s bubbling inside me. Along the way, I spot a friendly face from a distance. Someone is waving and calling out to me and at first I think it’s a neighbor because he’s standing in front of a laundry line, in what looks to be a backyard. However, as I approach, I see that he’s that someone from the pool.

He seems like a different person—for one, he’s completely dry and is acting as if whatever conversation or agreement we had earlier at the pool never happened—but he’s eager to tell me something.

I’m relieved to see him and I listen in. But then he breaks into a fit of hysterical laughter that is at once frightening and condescending. “I believed you were better than this,” I say, before turning to run.

As my bare feet pound the ground, his laughter trails me all the way. It echoes in my ears long after I’m jolted awake.

I still remember that crazy hotel room with its green-patterned walls threatening to melt into me. The very pool scene where I felt compelled to put on a happy face even if I was dying inside. However, the thing that haunts me most is that humiliating, maniacal laughter.

Everything about this damn dream chills me to the bone to this day, and I’m almost angry at my inability to simply forget about it. I’ve certainly had dreams I’ve struggled to remember, but never this one. This dream will likely follow me to my grave.

Which is why I may as well write about it.

[to be continued]

Image source: Pinterest