If I were to write a book of fiction for my children I would construct people for them, community, a family, let’s say, a big, sprawling, messy family
Maybe they would live next to some kind of river
Maybe the dogs would talk or the fish would taste like brightly colored jello confections.
Or maybe these fictional people, these purely hypothetical people, would just be back up
The silhouetted figures you might see on the crest of the hill above the sycamore tree as the sun sets
After the dam breaks
Might need the vigilant ones
C’mon, said Cowboy, our favorite show, Truck Pull and Lobster Dance is on.
Honey barely heard him. She was transfixed by the illustrations in the odd little book. It was not immediately apparent who was writing the book or who was the intended audience, other than that both appeared to be parents or adoptive parents of some sort.
The prose swung between terse and floral. One page had a step by step guide to nursing and the next had a lullaby about a mother rocking her child during a storm.
Sometimes it did not seem like either the author or the reader was assumed to be human. There were, after all, ornate illustrations of a dragon in a floral apron with a fat little baby in her stubby forearms. His stubby forearms?
And sometimes the dragon was visited by a nanny goat.
All very strange….
Cowboy and Honey Bunch trudged through the snow. They had a couple bags of groceries nestled in their arms. HB was still quite rotund with child and chafing for a delivery process that would be a bit more challenging than cable tv.
A bit of gold glinted in the driven snow. Cowboy pulled at the corner of a gilded manuscript. It said Nurturing Sunshine in ornate calligraphy on its cover.
Hey! This looks valuable, he said. I wonder if it got lost or stolen from the university library? Or maybe the Jesuits, mused Honey.
I bet it is valuable. They said together. Jinx! Shouted Honey. Cowboy squinted at her with annoyance until she laughingly said his name. Strange that the big rules of the universe were made to be broken, but jinx was sacrosanct.
Something about the book drew Honey. She knew they needed money, but she did not want to let this book go right away. It looked magical.
It’s so cold, she pouted. I want to go home. Let’s read it first, we can take it to E-Z Cash later.
Cowboy grudgingly agreed.
When they got home and began to unthaw Honey Bunch gingerly opened. The book. It’s lettering was ornate and there were a lot of cherub-y illustrations but the book seemed to be a book of lists interspersed with stories. The stories had intricate little illustrations. The lists seemed surprisingly bossy.
Um, so you are pregnant?
We are worried about you-about the baby.
Well, no job, no church, your boyfriend does not want to marry you?
We need money!!! Mom should get dad to send money. They are so judgmental. If they wanted to help they would send us money.
Mom is worried you will do something stupid…to the baby.
You know, like putting your cat in the fridge?
The cat is fine. The cat wanted to be in the refrigerator.
Promise me you will not put the baby in the fridge. Or the washing machine or dryer. No appliances. babies do not belong in appliances.
Hey. Wake up. You know you came highly recommended and you need to do your job (bozo).
N (sleepily). Huh? Did you just call me Bozo?!
Yes. I did (albeit sotto voce). You have decent hearing.
N. Light sleeper.
Whatever, you are on the clock sista. Where did those two knuckleheads go?
Last I saw them, they were headed for Miss Havisham’s.
Miss Havisham’s? I did not write a character named Havisham. That was Dickens. You know, Great Expectations?
N. yeah, I know. That is my nickname for the extenuated older female relative that they are traveling to scam cash from.
Um, how exactly?
Well a basic combo–Honey Bunch will shop her impending delivery of a child, Cowboy will back her up with some well-played humility and yes ma’ams and both will suggest that if Miss H can’t spare the ducats they could sleep on the futon.
She has a futon?
Oh, yeah, it is buried under 20 years of laundry and a bag of high-end dog food.
How can you sleep through all of that trudging/scheming/prevaricating?
N shrugs. I am a professional. Seen it all.
There is nothing more monotonous than watching someone think. Well. One more thing–reading about a person thinking.
As in–the narrator thought. She chewed on her dilemma. She explored scenarios in her head. She plotted, schemed, planned. Ultimately she just sat and thought, just like The Thinker only more clothes, less abs.
She thought about maternity wards. They have a hushed holiness about them. She thought about the nurses who kept such careful watch over the wee babes. Everything feels safe in a maternity ward, except perhaps for mom. Mom can be stressed. Heck, mom can even fear for her life, her child’s life.
As a professionally trained, bonded, and insured narrator she had performed the necessary internships in nursing homes, elementary schools, courts of law and fast food joints, but it was her elective stint in OB that had stuck in her craw.
The babies are so perfect, so new. It is as though their nurses are their angels–washing, swaddling, protecting their little patients. In a world of chaos and violence that frequently spills out over the heads of children, most were given a day, maybe two of safety.
After that all bets were off…
Honey likes memes with cats, puppies, and rude phrases which stretch the patience of the narrator, who generally perches over her shoulder quietly tsk-ing.
The narrator is concerned about the way caustic emotion seems to erode Honey’s traction on life and grammar.
Honey writes about her predicament:
Tore up? Wat ya mean tore up? I din tore nuthin’!!!!
It was you that tore stuff you bleeping bleep.
Your the one who tares stuff!
Honey, your spelling and grammar are abysmal, chastens the narrator.
Honey looks dumbstruck, not because she doesn’t want to tear into the narrator but because for some reason she can’t .
She blinks at the narrator. Why can’t I cuss you out? She asks glumly.
Well, it is my magic powers of narration. A gift from the author, who, incidentally finds your mad swings at communication tragi-comic. Would it kill you to write “you’re for you are?”
After Herculean attempts at allo-lactation, she gives up. Her mermaid ancestors have failed her. In the intervening days she has prevailed upon a highly skeptical she-goat to abide with her and the child to act as a wet nurse.
Gwendolyn the goat: lifesaver.
The failure of the experiment fills the dragoness with a nameless grief. It is irrational and contradictory to expect dragons to parent much less nurse, but this failure cuts her deeply. She is keenly aware of her scales, her reptilian heft, so much about her unmotherly.
She sits in the mouth of her cave and rakes her long talons into her scaly hide in a mindless show of hopelessness.
What are you doing?
Gwendolyn demands when she arrives to find the baby hungry and his mother a crumpled figure of despair.
The dragon chuffs. Turning away to hide her own blood and the gashes she has made in her skin.
Gwendolyn stomps her feet. You must get ahold of yourself! You have a baby now.
The she-goat curls up next to the hungry baby and nurses him.
Get up right now! She commands. Go clean yourself up. We have work to do.
The dragon reluctantly obeys.
At first there was stillness, the even breathing of the child. The dragon marveled at the tiny child–how beautiful he was and how much she loved him.
She could not bear the thought of ever being away from him. She was afraid of what the world held. Plus, she was beginning to worry about food. What would she do? What could she do? She was a dragon.
It is your choice to believe.
The dragon might have always been a dragon and the story might have been the simple gift of a child.
Or…perhaps the dragon was once a woman who was robbed of her human form by the usual wizardly enchantment. Had she been foolish or proud? Had she refused the wrong man’s hand?
The dragon is not saying. She has wrapped herself in a mantle of smoke. She is thinking about what is to be done with the lovely small thing wrapped in a soft blanket, somehow sleeping next to the warm heft of her serpentine splendor.
Surely no child should be raised by a dragon…
And yet how could she bear to lose him?
How could she ever bear to live away from this bundle of light?