“St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.” (Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose)
Our personal dragons never really leave us. They hover very close to the things we desire, waiting to turn us in harmful directions. So often, and in various ways–through people, or events– we are warned to beware of them, but just as often, we set the warnings aside.
Here is the beginning of “Dragon,” the second of ten stories in Birds of a Feather. Click the cover to order the book on Amazon. It’s now on Kindle, too!
I keep my head down when I sign for a Gulf front room, not wanting to face the night clerk. She directs me to the fifth floor: shell-shaped pillows on a king-sized bed, gauzy drapery mimicking crystal green water, and double-paned windows, framing a fire-breathing, dragon-like sunset.
At home, in Highlow, they’d quoted St. Cyril.
“Beware of the dragon,” they’d said about Richard.
I stretch out on the king-sized bed and turn on the massage. The pulsing reminds me of his fingers and the expensive bottle of sun block he bought, all of which he used on me. Richard liked manipulation, the slip-sliding feel of possession. Maybe he was born that way and couldn’t help it. Maybe I could have changed him. Then maybe he wouldn’t have died.
For months, I was Richard’s only nurse; the one he’d been having an affair with was afraid to touch him after she learned he had AIDS. He didn’t cheat anymore, and he didn’t lie, except in the bed he’d made for himself.
At home I was taught compassion, so I timed out medication every four hours, kept watch that the oxygen hose stayed in his nostrils, that the battery worked in case of a storm surge; but I resented the stench of his bed pan, the ooze of his lesions, the diapers wrapped around hips so thin that bones showed through tissue paper skin. The man betrayed me after all.
“Don’t trust him,” they’d said.
Before I left Mobile, I telephoned Anthony, Richard’s best friend, to say I was leaving. Again, Anthony said, “I love you.” He wanted to know if I loved him. I gave no answer.
An empty pause and then, “Richard’s death was an accident, Liz. You didn’t create the storm. I’ll call your cell tomorrow.”