Friday, June 23, 2006
A Story About Summer, 1986
I lay limply on the top bunk in the bedroom I shared with my sister, my face buried in an overdue library book, trying to concentrate, to transport myself someplace else. The light of the glaring afternoon sun poured through the small room's only window. A cheap box fan whirred futilely on the windowsill, failing to move the thick, sluggish summer air.
"Do you want to play horsies with me?" My sister asked.
"No." I snapped the book shut. "Every time we play horsies, you always give your horsies special magic powers so they can escape any bad thing that happens without even trying to figure anything out, but if I try to do the same thing with my horsies, you yell at me."
"I do not!" my sister whined. "I should go tell Mom you're telling lies about me again."
"Good! Go and tell her already." I sighed.
"It's hot," my sister announced to no one in particular.
"It's hot," I agreed, and after a moment, added, "But Mom said we can't turn on the air conditioner until it gets hotter."
"I think it's already hotter," my sister mused philosophically. "I'm bored." Then she brightened. "Do you think the sno-cone man is coming today?"
The sno-cone man came to our neighborhood at least twice a week in an unmarked wood-paneled station wagon, ringing a big brass bell. The back of the wagon was fitted with two rows of flavored syrup bottles, a paper cone dispenser, and an enormous insulated bucket of shaved ice. For twenty-five cents—half the cost of a boring old bomb pop from the fancy painted ice cream truck— a kid could get a big, icy, sugary sno-cone in any color of the rainbow, with a fat gumball at the bottom of the cone. When the sno-cone man came, children flooded out of the rickety townhouses on my street in a cheering sweating tide.
I slid down the bunk bed ladder to the floor, and went to check my bank.
"I've only got ten cents, anyway," I sighed. "You?"
"I've got this quarter," she said proudly, holding up a nickel.
"That's a nickel, you dummy."
"It is not!"
"Is too. A quarter is bigger."
"I'm going to tell Mom you're lying again. MOM!"
"I'm just trying to tell you that that's not a—"
My mother appeared at the top of the stairs, and glared into our room from the hallway. "What is it?"
"She called me a dummy because I was trying to tell her the difference between a nickel and a quarter and she wouldn't believe me," my sister said. "She keeps lying. She's the dummy."
"Can you two stop fighting? And don't call each other names. It's not nice."
"She started it," we both said.
"Jinx," my sister whispered, and poked me in the arm. "Now you owe me a Pepsi."
"Quit it, you two! I'm trying to get work done. Now leave each other alone and quit fighting over that money, or maybe I'll just confiscate it."
"You can't confiscate money from my bank it if it's my money," I reasoned with pious conviction. "It's mine. I earned it doing chores for Grandma. If you took it away it wouldn't be fair."
"Life isn't fair," my mother growled, fixing me with a serious look.
"Never mind," I gulped.
"It's hot," my sister moaned. "Can't we turn on the air condition-thing?"
"Not today," my mother sighed, wiping sweat from her face, "I'm already worried about the electric bill."
"Can we go outside?" my sister asked plaintively.
"It's hot," I protested.
"It might be hotter in here than it is outside," my mother said. "Why don't we go out and see?"
My sister dashed down the stairs. My mother followed, and I tromped down sullenly after them.
Outside, it was still hot, and a cloud of gnats began to gather around me as I sat on the porch. My sister was playing in a clump of weeds next to the parking lot. Sighing, I got up to join her, hoping the gnats would stay on the porch.
"What's this?" she was asking my mother, holding up an egg-shaped chunk of asphalt from a pile that had cracked off an old section of the parking lot while it was being resurfaced.
My mother took it in her hand, squinting, and weighed it thoughtfully. Then she leaned toward us conspiratorially, an excited twinkle in her eye.
"This," she breathed in a reverent half-whisper, "Is a dragon egg."
"A dragon egg?" my sister gasped.
"A dragon egg?" I groaned.
"A dragon egg," my mother repeated. "A real, live baby dragon lives inside, waiting to be found by the right person. And if the right person finds a dragon egg, and takes it, and faithfully, solemnly promises to keep the egg and care for the dragon inside it forever and ever, and puts the egg in a nice, warm, sunny spot in her bedroom, when that person wakes up in the morning, the egg will have turned to solid gold. And that is the sign that the dragon has decided to love that person, and eventually-- sometimes it takes years-- if the person takes care of the dragon egg, then, someday, it will hatch, and out will come a baby dragon."
"Wow," my sister whispered.
"So, Mom," I said, "Where exactly did this dragon egg come from? Where are the dragons that laid it? And why did they leave it out here, by itself, instead of taking care of it like birds do?"
"There's a dragon right now," my mother said, pointing up at the sky.
"A DRAGON?" my sister squealed.
"That's an airplane," I muttered.
My mother regarded me archly. "Sometimes those are airplanes. And sometimes they are dragons. You don't really think a dragon would come to visit this world without putting on some kind of disguise, now, do you? If a dragon came here without her disguise, people would be frightened, and they would try to capture her."
"That's true," I admitted.
"And," she continued, "The dragons have to leave their eggs here, because the only way a dragon egg can hatch is if the dragon inside is loved by a human being."
"Do you think it's hard for the Mommy dragons to leave their eggs behind?" my sister asked, her eyes wide.
"Yes, I think it's very, very hard," my mother answered.
"Are there more of these supposed dragon eggs there in that pile?" I asked.
"Why, yes-- I think I see another one, right--" my mother knocked a pile of rocks aside-- "here. See? You can tell by the shape."
The asphalt chunks were almost identical.
"Why don't we take them inside, and you two can try to convince them to let you adopt them while I make some lemonade?"
Once back inside, my sister quickly busied herself making a nest for her dragon egg. I stared at mine, pensively.
That evening before bed, we placed the eggs under our bedroom window, in the fading sunlight, and our mother insisted we offer up an incantation pledging our eternal love to the dragons inside before going to sleep.
"You have to mean it, now," she said. "If you don't believe in the dragon inside that egg with all your heart, it won't turn gold in the morning, and then it will never hatch."
Aw, what the heck, I thought. What if she's right?
Doing my best to clear my mind of doubt, I tried to visualize a tiny dragon curled within the rough black egg. In my minds' eye, suddenly, iridescent scales shimmered, and a tiny golden eye winked.
In the morning, the eggs were exactly where we'd left them. And they were solid gold.
(Okay, so it's not audio. It was just too long. I'm doing a whole series of these, to complete the meme. Wish me luck! I may do the last one in audio, just so you can all hear my LOVELY voice ;) ).