In Central Park
2.4.2003 by , every Tuesday.
Happy Tuesday! It's 50% more Tues-tastic than all the other days of the week.
Here is a very old story, which I wrote before Bravery, but which involves perhaps the same dragon (maybe a little older and wiser this time).
Please leave comments, whether they're good or bad. It's nice to know when / if people read these things.
Next week: horsies and doggies! Yaayyy!
The lady’s eyes, nested in wrinkles, struggled to focus under the onslaught of the midday sun.
“I’m fine,” she thought. She clenched her teeth.
The grass was as green as primary-school paint; the lady was like a pale chess piece in the very middle of a square of it. Several yards away snaked a path; on its surface bikers wove between pedestrians, and rollerbladers sped by, laughing.
The laugher was too sharp. It prodded at her mind like a bully elbowing a little kid.
The lady reached up with a shaky hand and pulled the sun visor down to shadow her face. This tiny motion set off an unfathomable chain of events that led to a sudden, sharp pain in her right leg, dancing up from her ankle and through her muscles. The lady spat out a rather unladylike curse, took a long and uneven breath, and waited for the pain to subside. When it was almost gone she turned her focus outward and examined her surroundings to the best of her ability.
The grass was dry and a bit prickly underfoot. There was a painful explosion of light in the upper right corner of her vision: the sun. The sky was clear and absolutely huge. It was comfortingly eclipsed by the sun visor, which made a sort of roof for the cave in which the lady found herself.
She was lost. She’d come with a senior’s tour, come for a day in
the park, with the condescending nurses and the bad hot dogs. She couldn’t move very fast. Neither, of course, could most of her party, but somehow they’d left her behind. She didn’t know the park, and she didn’t want to talk to the healthy, tanned, beautiful young people who flew down the path at light speed.
So the lady stood on the grass, in the too-bright sun, with her face in the shadow of the visor, paralyzed by fear.
“I’m fine,” she thought. If one of the young people were to come by and ask, she knew exactly what she’d say. “I’m fine.” For some reason it seemed to make sense. She tried to project dignity. She tried to project fearlessness. She stood for a long time, and thought.
Useful conclusions were quite evasive.
Two children ran past, with homemade kites on lines of yarn
trailing behind them. The lady's pale, watery eyes followed their motion. "I wonder what my face looks like,” she thought. "Do I look scared? Or do I look bored? Probably just dumb." She was right. Her eyes were glazed and her jaw was now slack.
After a time she became aware of an uncomfortable, burning sensation at the back of her neck. "The sun’s too strong," she decided finally, annoyed to find her thoughts moving slower than usual. "Got to get out of it."
Her narrow frame of view held a dark grove of trees at the edge of the park. "Move," she thought. "Move." She glared down at her body. "Move damn you!"
Eventually her feet made their first slow, jerky steps. After an eternity she entered the grove, relieved by the cooler air under the dark boughs. She found a space between trees and, once more, stood motionless.
As the lady began to wonder how long she could stand among the trees without arousing somebody's curiosity, her body answered the question for her. She began to feel a curious coldness creeping up from her feet towards her midriff. Slowly, gracefully, she slid to the ground.
As her head hit the prickly grass, her visor was displaced. A shaft of sunlight lanced between branches and into her eyes, blinding her. "Ow," she thought. Deep within her private silent places the sunlight pushed its invading presence. She could hardly think. For several dazzling minutes she tried to reign in her mind, which was prancing about in panic.
Then, abruptly, the sunlight was gone. Something had moved to
obstruct its path. "Thank you," she breathed. She opened her eyes a little wider, and looked up.
Her visual field was fully occupied by the wedge-shaped head of an enormous green dragon.
"Oh," said the lady.
The dragon looked her over with great, glittering violet eyes. Then, in a voice like a church bell rolling down a mountain, he boomed, "You’ll never do."
The lady pulled herself up just a little. "Never do what?" she asked hoarsely.
"For my dinner," said the dragon. "You won’t cut it. Frankly, I’m rather sorry you came into my woods in the first place."
The lady found herself feeling strangely defensive. She met the dragon's gaze boldly. "I did not come here to be your dinner," she said. "I’m on an out-trip. And, frankly, I rather regret coming out."
The dragon rolled his eyes and lowered into a half-sit. "You have no right feel pride, or regret, or anything else, for that matter," he said. "You’re nothing but an old woman. You’re helpless and useless; you can’t even sit up. You are of absolutely no significance to anyone, especially to a hungry dragon."
The lady turned her head a little to survey her body. It was that same alien thing it had been for so long, stricken with disease and age. It didn’t look or feel like hers. "Rise," she commanded the foreign thing. "Move."
The woods were silent, save for the deep sound of the dragon’s breathing. At last the protesting limbs began to move, ever so slowly. The pain was nearly unbearable but at last the lady was sitting up. She faced the dragon directly and schooled her face into an impertinent experssion.
The dragon snorted, but conceded, "I suppose you can sit up." He lowered his head so that it was on her level; she could make out every glittering scale on his nose, and smell the rank meatiness of his breath. "Still, you’re no catch. You’re not a soft tasty thirty-something, or even a pudgy child. You-" he prodded her chest with a golden talon- "are a completely unsuitable meal."
The lady was still breathless from her brief motility, but she managed to compose herself and cross her thin arms. "That I may be," she said, "but I am not useless. I’d much rather be an older person with the wisdom of years than a stupid fat child or a plush young professional."
The dragon’s eyes, so close to her now, seemed to soften a little. "I think you know that isn’t true," he said almost gently. "Do you remember when you were young?"
He said the last word with a curious emphasis, as if it were a sacred thing. The lady blinked. "Of course I remember," she said. Dutifully, she sent a thin tendril of thought down an ancient mental trail, and called up an image.
She was at a garden party, and she was young, thin, and beautiful. She had dark hair and bottomless eyes shadowed by long eyelashes. She was wearing a dress as red as blood. She could feel the power of her influence, like a network spreading outward, touching every man in the room; she brushed back a lock of satiny hair and laughed.
The tendril of curiosity released the image, and headed further down the trail.
She was younger, and fast. She was pounding along a grassy field pulling her favourite blue kite. She could feel the wind as a strong force against her soft face, and she could hear it in her ear as a roar.
The lady breathed deeply, and cast her eyes to the tangled underbrush. "I remember," she said at last.
The dragon nodded his massive head. "See?" he said. "And now you’re old." He held out a clawed hand, palm up. "You’re a shadow of your former self. This is why I do not want to have you for dinner."
The lady glared at the dragon. He was a massive mythical beast with glittering scales and violet eyes; these things might make anyone pretentious, she decided. Still, there was never a golden excuse for rudeness.
"Anyway," said the dragon, "you can leave my grove now. You are
taking up space." He turned away from her and ambled off into the trees.
The lady flexed her leg muscles just a little, testing them. The
bizarre coldness had left. She hauled herself slowly to her feet and shuffled through the trees to the edge of the grove.
Looking out across the park from the shelter of the last few pine boughs, the lady watched the children flying the kite, the bikers zipping past, and the rollerbladers weaving among them, all glazed by the sun. A young couple marched across the grass, engaged in a loud argument. Shortly after came a youthful businessman in a grey suit with a completely blank expression. He looked like a dog who had been beaten too hard, and not for the last time.
The lady stood, and watched. Her eyes opened a little wider than
they usually did, nestled among the folds. And then she laughed. It was a small laugh, and it hurt her throat, but it was good. She turned around and shuffled through the trees.
The dragon was munching morosely at a maple branch. It swung its head around and looked at the lady, puzzled. A leaf was hanging from its mouth.
"I told you to go," it rumbled tremendously. "Why do you not leave, old and useless woman?"
The lady felt the coldness biting at her legs again, but she ignored it. "Because I am not old," she said, "or useless." She drew herself up very straight. “Only my body is. And I'm not my
body, you know."
The dragon stared at the woman, aghast. He knew it was true. In his mind, the lady’s pained and ancient body fell away. What was left was as old or as young as it had always been.
Caught in thought, the dragon's glazed eyes seemed focused on a point far behind where the woman was standing. He hardly noticed when her knees buckled and she slid to the ground for the last time. Finally he stepped forward, opened his massive jaws and gently closed them around her. Everything became very bright.
Outside, the somewhat gentler light of the evening fell all around. The bikers and rollerbladers headed home. The seniors began to gather at the bus, where the nurses wandered among them, patronizing, reassuring, and putting little check-marks on lists of names. A kid, ignoring the shouts of her father, raised her kite and began to pelt across the grass, intent on one more run.