An Old Song

It’s hard to come down without being seen from a flight through the clouds on the back of an albino dragon. I left Plato behind the house, walked around front, knocked on the door, and when it opened, went inside and said, “Hello. You are beautiful today.”

Of course, the woman in question fussed about my being late and asked for an excuse.

Still half-dizzy from the descent, I said, “I think, Janet. Therefore, I’m screwed up. That’s the first truth I live by. The second is: I think. Therefore, surprising possibilities await my finding them.”

“You’re so full of it, you stink.” She stood by the still-open door and waved me out like a cop directing traffic past a bad accident, which she apparently thought our union was.

As I passed her, leaving, she said, “A simple apology would have done it. But no, you have to insult me with bullshit. From now on, forever, leave me alone.”

The door slammed behind me, but so it goes. Ahead lay who knew what. Plato heard me leave and rose up over the house, wings flapping in ascent, then soared ahead just above the trees in the direction I took. Already, Janet’s voice and image were parts of a dream I’d just had. She herself was no more.

I sang as loud as I could, “Is this all there is?” and glanced up.

Plato’s jaws gaped, his head turned, and he glared down at me. His nostrils dilated, inhaling, and fire flared as he exhaled, staring at me, awaiting explanation.

I stopped my forward momentum because of Plato’s belief that words have meaning,
sometimes what the dictionary says. What everybody expects them to mean.

“Sung words are something else,” I told him. “I didn’t mean what I sang to be taken

Plato’s bellow of anger rocked the landscape despite my intentions. The trees vibrated shrilly and the ground itself shook. He plummeted down and swooped up before me, hovering like a huge hummingbird about to feed on my face. He was so close and breathing so hot, my insides turned over and sweat poured off my forehead.

“What?” I asked him. “What?”

In Plato’s huge dark eyes with their burning centers, I could see myself the way he saw me: a small person on the sidewalk in front of Janet’s home, walking away from her, looking around at all the pretty trees and flowers and houses and vistas as if the world were an art museum and I were sauntering past exhibits.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked him.

Plato’s glistening eyes rotated like globes on stands on a teacher’s desk in school. Waves of liquid washed over them, distorting my reflection, lifting me onto the surface and sweeping me away, tumbling me end over end.

It was not a figment of my mind. I had no doubt that I was actually caught on the rapidly moving balls I’d seen myself in, and I knew centrifugal force was about to violently throw me off. I thrashed about for footholds and handholds, but there was no way to gain a solid purchase. The flood propelling me was too strong.

Panic swelled through my muscles, contracting my throat so I couldn’t breathe.

I was thrown off and hurled face down where I lay with my arms and legs splayed out. In weakness and fear, I tried to steady my position because I could sense the solid earth spinning beneath me, like the sense of everything spinning I’d had after drinking too much and the alcohol hitting me. Except that I lacked the nausea experienced then.

Lost in a vortex beyond my control, convinced of my imminent destruction, I groaned and said a silent prayer and cried, “Help. Help! I need help!”

A sweet voice answered, “I’m here, Baby. I’m here. I’ll help you. Turn over. Let me see what’s the matter.”

Strong hands rolled me over, and I gazed up into Janet’s eyes. They glistened too, as Plato’s had done, and a tear fell from one onto my nose.

“I’m sorry, Janet. So sorry,” I said.

She smiled but didn’t speak.

I said, “You said forever to leave you alone.”

She nodded. “Forever wasn’t very long, was it?”

“Didn’t you mean what you said?”

“The key word was ‘you.’ I didn’t want the unchanged you back again. Aren’t you
different now?”

“I hope I’m better than I was.”

“I think you are,” she said. “I’m willing to chance it.”

With those words, a tiny white dragon flew across each of her eyeballs, snorting plumes of smoke and looking out at me.

“I love you,” I said. “I mean it. I think we ought to get married. Will you have me?”

“Are you sure? Is that what you really want?”

“Yes. Yes to both questions.”

She smiled again and lay an index finger on my lips to stop me from talking. “Love is commitment. You have to work at it and want to love and try your best to love and let your resolve overcome any selfish desire you have, or any confusion or resentment or anger or other negative thing.”

I started to say something, but she spread a hand over my mouth.

“Love means you can’t just do any old thing you might want. You can’t give into each impulse. You have another’s welfare to consider as well as your own. You have to put the other’s needs ahead of your own. Love means you’ll gladly do that.”

“We been together a long time,” I muttered through her fingers. “And I never once forced you to do anything. I helped you finish your classes and get your degree. I gave you money to vacation in the Bahamas that time with your women friends. Didn’t I?”

“Yes, those were acts of love. But they involved money, only money, and you have plenty of that. I don’t think you inconvenience yourself for me, at least willingly. Just a few minutes ago when you left, I had the feeling you didn’t care. Like how you hurt me by being late today, not even wishing me happy birthday and not bringing a present, none of that meant a thing to you. Like I was a burden that you were glad to be rid of.”

The white dragons reared up on their hind legs in her pupils and snorted clouds of smoke at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said beneath her palm. “I was selfish and trying to get away. You’re right. I wasn’t thinking about how you’d feel and how I’d caused you to be hurt.”

“Why would you do that? How could you turn off your love like that?” New tears smothered the dragon’s flames in her eyes.

“I’m not sure. I think I was afraid. I didn’t want to be tied down.”

“That’s what I thought. You thought of me as a chain wrapped around you, weighing you down, ruining your life.”

“Maybe.” I held the hand on my mouth, and kissed the palm. “I don’t feel that way now. I don’t mind giving things up for you.”

She shook her head. “See? You still think that love is giving things up instead of gaining things. Don’t you understand that love opens up the world and gives you the strength to accomplish more than you could accomplish without it? I mean it can be risky and confining, but it also frees you and gives you strength because it gives your life direction.”

“Maybe you’re right, but the ideas aren’t as obvious to me as how pretty you are. How your lips and nose and eyes and teeth and cheeks–well, they’re appealing and remind me of the many experiences we’ve had together. Know what I mean?”

“That’s blarney, but I like it.” Janet smiled and helped me onto my feet.

I turned to her and we kissed, then started down her sidewalk hand in hand. I said, “It’s a beautiful day and it’s good we can share it. But I am sorry I forgot your birthday present.”

She laughed. “What could you buy me that would be as good as this? Material things decay and rot. Love is more permanent than the earth. Love is the heart of existence.”

I started whistling, “Love is a many splendored thing,” and Janet joined in, humming the old tune.

Then I was flying again, but the white dragon beneath me was changed because I could feel my lover’s arms around my waist and her breath on my neck. We soared like a kite, and I could feel the warmth of my dragon’s glinting. Those were new rainbow colors on his sides. He climbed toward the sun until its brightness made me look away, and then he took us to the ground.

Around us everything glowed. We walked forward, and each piece of foliage we passed was a precious gem. There was gold beneath our feet. There were diamonds in the sky.