Drowning a dragon

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 a cigarette in my life,” I said.

Story_squareBut I had to take it back. There was this one time

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.

“Would you like a puff?” He gestured to me.

Yes, I would. I scooted up to him, excited to share this special moment with him. I lifted the white tube to my lips and took a long pull on the cigarette.

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.

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 one single thought: one swallow of the dragon’s breath was more than enough for me.


Changing winds

SeasonsDarlene knew things had changed when she was called into the lab room to see her father sitting on the examining table clad only in his underwear.

Merle was the most modest man she had ever known. She turned away from him to face the doctor, hoping he’d find his clothes while she heard the report.

“Your father has hardening of the arteries in his legs,” the doctor said. “That affects his walking, of course.”

They discussed the treatment plan and then Darlene checked on her dad out of the corner of her eye. He hadn’t moved.

“Uh, Dad, why don’t you get your pants on?”

He stared at the wall.

Darlene scanned the room and located his pile of clothes on a chair. She edged to the chair, still keeping her back on her father.

“Here, Dad.” She held out the jeans and shirt and, when he didn’t take them, laid them on the table behind him. “How about you put on your clothes? I can wait outside.”

“I can’t do it.”

Darlene felt her throat tighten. She had dressed her children just short of 10 million times when they were young. But never her father.

“You’ll have to help me.” He spoke softly, his voice hoarse.

So Darlene threaded his thin arms into the sleeves of his shirt and buttoned it. Then she pulled his jeans to his knees and helped him stand.

He gripped her shoulders while she finished with his pants.

“Thank you,” he said.

There might have been a tear in his eye. She couldn’t tell for sure.

But, for a reason she didn’t understand, she wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, Dad, you’re welcome.”

Merle had never been much of a hugger but he didn’t shrug off her arms. He patted her shoulder.

“Let’s go home,” Darlene said. But winds of change had already come.