At night, a ruby-red dragon with shackles securing its legs to a boulder in the middle of an empty plain drifts into a restless sleep that is occupied with images of ties and ropes and various bindings that lead to assortments of furniture and ceiling bolts and exposed beams that may or may not be needed for structural support. In its dreams, the dragon is a girl, and she is handcuffed to the oak wood of a four-poster bed. The wood is polished and rich with oil, and the girl notices its shine. She doesn’t see or hear or feel the man behind her, but he is there, and she knows this, or, rather, the dragon knows this, because, sometimes, there are things in dreams that the dreamer just knows. And in this dream, the girl is being fucked. She is being fucked by someone she can no longer feel, whose name she no longer knows, and this is what the dragon knows when it wakes with a start, and though the planets and stars sit elsewhere in the sky, the darkness remains. The dragon’s legs itch at the metal rings; it sighs a cloud of smoke and remembers something about silks and sashes.
There is smoke and huffs and puffs and nowhere to go, so the dragon uses its claws to dig into the dirt surrounding the boulder. The dragon digs and digs, but the earth moves slowly, and the new ditches hardly amount to anything at all except more dirt caked under the dragon’s claws. The dragon licks its feet clean and hopes the day will be a day when something happens, and maybe friends will drop by as they sometimes do.
There is a hummingbird and a red-winged blackbird who like to come around for a drink or two. The dragon makes a fine Flaming B-52, but it also makes a perfect gimlet if fresh lime juice is around and there is sugar for the rims of the glasses. The hummingbird drinks its cocktail and darts around the chains that are entirely too large to hold such a delicate, flighty bird, and the hummingbird says, “Very shiny; very shiny, indeed.” The red-winged blackbird does something of a caw and hops around and pecks at the holes the dragon has been digging. “Caw,” it says, and drinks another martini. It hops unsteadily into the emptiness of the plain, then flies off to someplace else. The dragon thinks of asking, some day, “Where is it that you go?” but knows full well that the red-winged blackbird won’t ever remember. With the exception of those bright red spots that gleam up from wings, its life is one enormous blackout. The dragon breathes smoke, and the hummingbird darts around the polished metal and splashes of sugared lime until it suddenly sees something else bright and sweet and zips off as well. Watching the hummingbird leave, the dragon begins to scratch again at the dirt. It digs until it is time to go to sleep.
The dragon dreams that it is a she, and she chomps on a cigar and waits for the man to come back home. He left her wrapped in thin shimmery fabric, tied to the dining room table. The table is round and the diameter is not long enough to hold the whole of her body, so she drapes head and feet and arms over the edges, rolls the cigar with her teeth. The man is probably at a diner drinking coffee, like he does sometimes. But this time, she imagines him ordering pie instead of the usual eggs and toast and bacon. The strawberry-rhubarb pie is quite delicious.
When the girl is not wrapped and bound, she visits grocery stores out of boredom. She pushes a nearly empty cart through the aisles and becomes entranced by the colorful packaging or the donuts that have rainbow sprinkles. Just about everything seems to come with an extra bit of razzle-dazzle. Even the fresh produce is saturated with color.
The man should be returning at any minute, and she thinks she should have picked up more apples. After all, they were on sale. But for now, she waits in the ties the man fetishizes and feels somewhat compliant thinking that at least there is someone alive who knows how to get himself off.
During the day, the dragon sweeps up broken glass with its tail after the last martini glass was finally broken and the remaining booze had been drunk straight from bottles and feathery friends had gone elsewhere to get another beer or two. The dragon scratches with its claws, but today, instead of digging holes and ditches, it draws lines and forms. It makes new shapes and devises a new alphabet for a new language. The birds have gone away, but no matter, because this is not a language that the dragon will share with them. It draws its letters in the dust around the boulder, and there are designs of lines and dots and blank space that can be used to construct patterns for something quite articulate and grand. The dragon wants to write a letter. It wants to write a letter to the girl it is in its dreams, and maybe to the man as well, because they say we only dream about ourselves and all characters are a part of who we are. The dragon is capable of a letter of elegance and sophistication. It is capable of more linguistic precision than it has ever felt possible before. There is much that the dragon can say, but the dragon doesn’t know what to say at all. So it eats a fly, just because the fly was flying there.
The dragon revises its alphabet. It works on the visual aesthetic. It strives for a balance between hard edges and softer curving forms. It considers both positive and negative space, larger outlining shapes and the interiority, or the internal guts, of these new signs. The dragon layers sound and tonality within larger frames. It creates systems within systems and gets caught up in its attempt for multitudes of meaning, subtly-detailed steps toward infinite modes of expression. It develops more and more complexity in these new letters that will establish new words and new meanings that the dragon has never even thought of thinking before. In these efforts, the dragon avoids acknowledging that there is little worth saying, little worth communicating. Whatever it finds to say to itself will surely go ignored.
In those dreamy fogs, the dragon finds that the girl it is is no longer tied to anything, and the man is no longer present. His name was David, and the girl and the dragon knew this all along but chose to pretend forgetfulness because there was something dangerous, or tragic, or self-pitying pathetic about participating in bondage with a man who is barely remembered or known or felt. Or maybe the girl was just a bitch because she chose to think of David as a man who couldn’t make her feel, and maybe she was somewhat pleased with her own perceptions of her frigidity. She chewed on ice, and, somewhere in her, she might have hoped it would freeze her veins. When it didn’t, she asked to be tied up and pretended. “Fake it until you make it,” she thought.
Of course, it never quite worked. The girl had known David for years, and he was often felt, even when he left her alone like she had asked of him because the ties that rubbed her wrist were constant reminders of his grip on her. But one day, he didn’t tie her up and he left anyway.
The girl is completely free, and she is overwhelmed with all she can do with all of this movement. She goes to a mini-mart and buys a scratch-off lottery ticket for a dollar. She scratches the silvery latex from the cardboard and wins enough money to buy two more tickets. She buys two more tickets. From those two new tickets, she wins four dollars. She buys four tickets. Expecting to double her luck again, she finds the first three are total losers. She scratches at the fourth card. $100 is the first prize and she needs three to win; Free is the second; $2; $100; Free; Free. She wins a free ticket. The free ticket wins nothing. The girl thanks the man behind the counter and thinks the past six minutes were a good use of her time. There is still much of the day remaining and she feels the possibilities are endless. She decides to buy more apples.
The girl is running out of things to do. Her kitchen houses softening fruit and fruit flies because she isn’t even hungry. A pineapple rots rather quickly when it is used primarily for display, as a piece of décor carefully placed to establish a sense of home and health. The girl even lacks the desire to suck on ice. The fruit flies are gross, so she decides to ignore them.
During the day that is the real day, the dragon establishes new words and new syntax with its new language. On rare occasions, the hummingbird and red-winged blackbird visit and ask the dragon how it has been spending its time, as if those chains were no longer there or no longer visible. The dragon recognizes the question is a matter of politeness and social convention, but it doesn’t speak. Instead, the dragon uses the new letters and scratches out a code that the birds can’t read. “Caw” says the red-winged blackbird, feeling totally trashed and dumb when it can’t decipher the dragon’s response. The hummingbird can’t stay still long enough to focus on the details of the designs in the dirt and says it would be much more literate, in any language, if only it wasn’t so hyper and not at all ADD. It isn’t its fault that it just has so much energy, it argues. Both birds decide that it is time to get going. Their visits become even fewer.
The dragon looks at the clawed response. It is gibberish, even in the new code, because the dragon doesn’t know how to answer any of those questions anymore. “How are you?” “What have you been doing?” “What’s new?” Yet the dragon would like to give an answer, even when there is none. The dragon doesn’t want to be rude. And maybe it wishes that the gibberish in the earth at its feet would add up to something, send a message to the dragon and tell it something that it doesn’t already know. Sometimes there are answers, and sometimes they are real.
There are no longer any red marks on the girl’s wrists, or legs, or neck, but her skin still itches just the same. Her body slowly sucked up those bruises, absorbed the reminders of a man she once knew. When the girl hears that David is dating a redhead who blindfolds him and does things he cannot describe, the girl concludes that it is much easier to name loss. It now runs through her blood, and David and those red sashes have yet to be frozen still.
The dragon is getting desperate. It no longer waits anxiously for someone to say something to. It is now anxious for something worth saying at all. The language, with all of its precision, still feels meaningless. The dragon needs something dramatic to happen, and maybe then there will be something to talk about, it thinks. Nothing is happening, and the dragon is tense. It exhales smoke, and in a rush the dragon breathes out flames and begins to set the world on fire. The flickerings of orange and yellow light bounce off the rock, and over the ground hovers a green glow. The dragon blows smoke and fire, and the plain is a blaze of heat. For a few moments, the land shines like the sun or a star that is about to burst.
But the dragon must stop to catch its breath, and when it does, it sees the rock and earth are still in their places. The shackles and chains have softened, shifted and melted, but they are just as quickly now cooling and hardening. In other words, the dragon is still chained to the rock.
The girl misses David and fabric that cannot be torn with ease. After all, there is something sexy in the beast who threatens to chomp off her head but chooses to hold her closely in a way that somehow feels like being wanted.
She takes a walk with nowhere to go. She is tired of buying losing lottery tickets, and the grocery store lost what little pizzazz it once had. She goes into a tattoo parlor and flips through the books. There is nothing that appeals to her. “I once had a dream of a dragon,” she says, “but it was no ordinary dragon. It was a cubist dragon, a dragon that Picasso could have painted.” She thinks of the bull in Guernica and says, “That is what I want. I want it wrapped around my neck.” The tattoo artist starts a sketch on paper, but the girl tells him to sketch directly on her neck. She likes the feel of his hands around her throat but knows it doesn’t mean much.
When the man finishes the tattoo, the girl and the dreaming dragon are anxious for the mirror to be held up and the portrait revealed. In the reflection, the girl and dragon see the image of a bright-red tail circling the front of her neck while the dragon’s head sits on her skin at the base of her skull, two eyes, side-by-side, wide open on the profile of its head. This dragon is not one that will ever have a wide range of perception, as it is limited in seeing only what has come and is now going away. It only looks backwards, and even then the clarity of its sight is probably not the greatest.
As for the rest of the dragon, its body comes together as a series of fragmentations, puzzle parts that don’t fit neatly together, don’t belong together at all, but are somehow jammed into connecting, forced into making something that is whole and complete, though there is always a sense of fragility and temporality as if such a thing cannot hold itself together for very long and the pieces will soon become unstuck and simply fall apart. There is a sense of incompleteness, a slight awareness that a mistake most likely has been made. But the dragon is bright red and its pieces appear as segments of stained glass, or rather as plains in the cut of a precious stone. There is a suggestion of reflection and refraction of light, emphasizing both effects of brilliance and disjointedness.
When the dragon is awake, it breathes its clouds of smoke and begins to think of smoke signals and simpler means of speaking existence. It thinks of those times when young men took out pocketknives and carved into trees or steadily dug into the sides of cliffs and wrote something like, “I was here.” And the dragon thinks, “Screw immortality.” Without consciously being aware, the dragon has been smoke-signaling out into the empty plain, “I am here; I am here,” and hoping someone flying above might take notice. Maybe those birds will return, even if all they bring is silliness and another martini, or maybe someone else who crawls along in the grasses will see, or maybe another dragon who waits elsewhere might signal back, “I am also here.”
In the meantime, perhaps the only thing left to do is to keep digging, to keep moving the dirt, one bit at a time. The dragon’s claws are covered in dirt and they are beginning to crack. The skin at the base begins to bleed as the claws pull away, but the dragon digs anyway. It digs and watches for progress as it moves the earth with those tiniest of shovels.