I had one of those coughs that made your toenails rattle and, after a morning of listening to my hacking, a co-worker gave me the evil eye. “That sounds like a smoker’s cough,” he said.
“I’ve never smoked in my life,” I said.
My father was a smoker for many years and, at age 6, I approached him after supper one evening. He was sitting at the dining room table with a cigarette in one hand, white smoke drifting like a lazy river toward the ceiling, and a glass ashtray before him.
He must have noticed my fascination because he gestured to me to come. “Would you like a puff?”
Yes, I would. I scooted up to him, excited to share this special moment. I lifted the white tube to my lips and took a long pull on the cigarette.
I’ll never forget what happened next. Dragon’s breath first roasted my tonsils before descending with white heat down my throat. My lungs were instantly seared and my stomach rolled with burning coals.
The scalding smoke slammed into my eyes and my nose filled with a smell of dead mice and scorched banana peels.
Even my toenails curled with the heat.
I panicked at that point, certain that my life was about to end. I spun and ran as fast as toasted legs could carry me into the kitchen. I stuck my head under the cold water faucet and tried to drown myself.
What else can you do when a dragon has unleashed its flames?
I survived, undoubtedly due to my quick thinking in rushing to the kitchen sink.
And, as the rushing water sluiced into my mouth dousing the fire, I had a single thought, which I’m sure my father had intended: one swallow of the dragon’s breath was more than enough for me.