The Nursing Home, or Discussing with Dragons

The Nursing Home

A thin drab youth with brown lanky hair slipped into a dark room leaving the door partially open. Someone slept noisily on the full-sized bed. He coughed lightly.

“Boom boom, boom boom,” came a muttering from under the faded quilt. “Boomboom, that’s what it sounds like. Listen, boy, you can hear it if you listen.”

The boy turned his head to one side and listened. There was quiet.

“I don’t hear anything, grandpa.”

“Then you’re not hearing well. I can hear it, like a man with limp or a wooden leg. Boom boom, boom boom,” the voice snarled. “I don’t even need to open my eyes to tell he’s coming for another attempt at my treasure. Listen. Boom boom, boom boom.”

“Grandpa, I think that’s your heart. Remember mom told you not to listen to your heart?”

“Boy, if you start listening to that woman you’ll never be a proper dragon. You’re still a sapling, an odd body, not fully grown and your breath smells like that nurse here. Listen.”

“Grandpa, I come every day, even when it rains and we never see a man here.”

“I showed you my watch, boy child. Gold it is, gold like the tears in my eyes when you deny your heritage. You are descended from dragons, from me and my ancestors. Your mother doesn’t count. She’s a frightening woman, not a proper dragon woman. Shh, someone’s coming. Hide on this side of the bed.”

The boy scurried to the window sill side of the room. He stood quietly watching the door. He wasn’t afraid of his grandfather, but the nurse was another thing all together. With a scratching sound of over starched cotton, the door was thrown over and the light turned on.

“Woman, turn that light off. You know it bothers my eyes. Have you no respect for age?”

“Now, now, dear, how are we after your nap? Oh look, our little friend is here to see us again. I do hope he’s being good. Do you want the red gelatin today or the green?”

“I don’t want any gelatin. It’s nothing but sugar. Grandson, did you know that they used to make gelatin from old horse’s hoofs?”

“Now dear, that was during World War II, during the bombardment. We learned about that in school back when we were a mere slip of a lass.” She drew a needle and vial from her apron and proceeded to the edge of the bed. “Just put our arm on this side of the blanket, dear, and let us take your blood sample for the doctor.”
“You were never a mere slip of anything, Nurse. I’m not putting any of “OUR” anything near you. The doctor has his own blood, let him sample it. See, I told you boy, he’ll come. Listen for it. Boom boom, boom boom. He’ll take the treasure with him and I’ll have nothing to give you.”

“Oh, don’t be a silly old silly, we’ll scare our grandson. I know he’s not supposed to visit us without his mommy but we don’t have the heart to throw him out of the building. It wouldn’t be good for our health. We need our young ones.”

Grandpa pulled the blanket down below his eyes. He kept his nose under the covers.

“We had the sniffles last week, young man. We’ve been keeping a kindly eye on us so we recover in a timely fashion.” Nurse Peal blinked at Grandpa.

“Darn it, Nurse Peal. Don’t scare the boy, he hasn’t molted to his true character yet.”

“And what are we turning into this week? Are we still a dragon?”

“Boy, don’t get old. I forbid it. You’ll end up in a place like this with your teeth falling out and your bald head shining and scaleless. Run along, Nurse, we need our quality time. Just run along.”

The nurse took grandpa’s wrist and listened to his pulse. Jabbing his arm, she took a large sample and put it in her pocket.”The tea trolly will be along shortly. We always like to have tea with us. You could join us if you like. Wouldn’t you like that, young man? Now, dear, we’ve pulled the blanket out from the bottom of the bed. Let us make you all nice and snuggly. We’ll just let you know when the tea is ready.”

The boy nodded quietly and followed the nurse to the door. She shut it behind her with a sweet smile.

The boy turned to the bed and whispered, “Grandpa, you are going to get us in trouble. I thought you said that the fact we were dragons was a secret. She’ll tell on you and that doctor will want more blood samples. She’ll hide the tea trolly from you. Mom said I should make you behave and if you don’t she’ll make you leave this place and SHE’LL take charge of you.”

“Are you still afraid of your mother, boy?”

“Well, no, but sometimes she’s not very nice to others. I don’t want her to be mean to you.”

“Is she still making you eat oatmeal every single day? Making you go to school? I had an old friend who was a teacher in a middle school. He had a great job, teaching literature and scaring the head lice off of student’s heads. Just placed the tip of his claw on their head and they ran off screaming. Screaming lice, what a hobby. I forgot his name, but this bookstore owner called him The Black Dragon. She was all about trolleys with tea in the afternoon. It seems to be a woman thing.”

“Did you know any other dragons, Grandpa?”

“There was The Reluctant Dragon. You could never get him to commit to doing anything. He wouldn’t fight, He read books and filled his head with philosophy. Nice chap, but he was a vegetarian. Not a proper diet for a dragon. He and St. George wandered off into the forest after staging a badly acted drama. The critics were harsh. Then there was the Blue Dragon. Oh, she was a looker that one. Your head was never safe with her after…well, you don’t need to know that at your age. Most dragons were called by their colors or their location. They kept their magic names to themselves so people couldn’t have power over them. They had names like Strong Heart, Pestilence, Snort, Long Tooth, most of them boring names. My name, however, was a magnificent name. Did I ever tell you what it was?” There was a pause. “Speak up, boy, speak up.”

“No, grandpa, you didn’t.”

“Ah, I must remedy that. I was known as the Red Dragon of Dreadful Temper Tantrums.
My mother hid away from me when I learned to fly because I would fly into a fit demanding gold, diamonds, dwarves, swords and jewels. I loved the depth of color in my jewels. Once I was given and item I put it in the corner. Then I would sing to it.”

He cleared his voice. “Ahem, ahem. Do, Re, Do, Sol, Mi, Sol, Ti, Sol. Gimme, gimme, jewels for my soul.” His voice rang out as large bells ringing and clanging together. “See, boy, singing to jewels made my soul happy.”

“What about your eggs?”

“I’m a male dragon. I don’t have much to do with eggs and you will find out about that much later.”

The door squeaked open. Nurse Peal’s face peered into the room. “Are we alright in here then?”

“Of course, woman, now go and leave us alone.”

She pulled her head out of the room with a heavy sigh. “Don’t let the old fool give you a hard time, boy. Tea trolly should be here soon.

“Now, boy, let’s make you a dragon name. What do you fancy? Your egg was yellow, you know. It looked like the sun rising in the East. Your mother kept it well polished and warm. Warm eggs mostly grow up to be large dragons. What should we call you?”

“Grandpa, I’ve been thinking about that. How about the Rising Son of the Eastern Dawn?”

Grandpa looked startled. “Why I like that name. My grandson, the Rising Son of the Eastern Dawn. It suits you, boy, it suits you.”

“How will I know when I start to grow my wings?”

“You’ll start to growl, grow and argue with your teachers about how to swing a shield to protect yourself from a sword.”

“One of the girls in my class has a sword made of plastic. She runs around smacking us boys when we try to play cricket or soccer. I don’t like her very much.”

“A girl dragon or a girl knight? Girl dragons are dangerous, but girl knights are worse. They try to make you do what they say when all you want to do is stand around the corner looking after your wealth. They’ll take your coins if you look away. Sneaky creatures, girls.”

“Did you have a girl dragon as a friend?”

“Well, not exactly. I had a wife dragon, a suitable dragon, a pink and lovely dragon.”

“Didn’t you have a maiden to tie up like in my book?”

Grandpa chuckled. “I had two tied up. Both wore princess outfits and screamed such a lovely screams. But I never ate them. Those knights would sneak up on me.They’d steal the princesses away.  Boom boom, boom boom. Did you hear that?”

“Grandpa, you are being silly. That’s your heart carrying on. Don’t tell anyone your heart is carrying on or they won’t let me come visit anymore.”

“If they don’t let you come visit me, I shall eat them alive. No, raw meat isn’t good for us. We like our meat nicely cooked on an open fire. What do knights call that, a B something.”

“A barbecue is what Daddy calls it. He says that he isn’t a dragon though. He says dragons only eat raw meat and if I argue he’ll send me to bed without a cooked supper.”

“I’ll have a growl with him and show him better. You tell him when you get home tonight. I’m sure I can bring him round. He’s the reason your mother won’t show her dragon wings, you know. I think he’s a tall dwarf, or a politician. Sometimes they are both. So, what did you learn about today in that school your mother forces upon you? Did you learn about war or spears or something fierce?”

“Nope, today we learned about the teddy bear. He looks like Winnie the Pooh, but a president got him in a crate from some firefighters that were putting a fire out in the United States. He was all singed and burned and they put lotion on his fur to make the burns better. Children saw him in the zoo and their moms bought them soft bears to keep them company in the dark. I have a bear, but his name is Arnold.”
 “Well, that is a very good name for a bear, I think. You must guard his well. I think he must be one of your treasures.”

Their heads were close together, by this time, and secret words passed between the two.

 

Nurse Peal and mother stood outside the door, watching and listening.

“I don’t know what we will do without my father in our future. How’s he really doing, Nurse? I know you keep track of what the doctor says.”

“Don’t worry, dear. I drive him crazy using we all the time and he’s really a lovely old goat when you go home. He does love his grandson so. They like to change what he’s going to be when he becomes old. He told the boy, last time, that when he could escape from here he was going to live in the sky and be a star.”

The two women looked at each other and tears formed in their eyes.

“GRRRRR,” called the boy in a loud voice.
“GRRRRR,” the old dragon answered.

Blizzard of 2016

I never thought to see a blizzard warning in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I never thought to see it as a 100% Blizzard warning. But here it comes, Josiah. In Virginia we get ice, lots of ice. You see the government shut down with only an inch or two of snow, but the truth is the ice underneath causes such havoc that cars become objects of physical laws. They bash each other, smash each other, and sometimes they put you on TV showing your ineptitude. Yes, snow is coming.

The stores are sold out of everything. We had done our shopping earlier in the week, made sure I had the drugs I need to survive, and picked up the bag of salt or chemical melting agent a week before the weather channel could make up its mind. My niece, Jessie, sent us pictures of the Walmart with nothing on shelves three days prior to the snow warning. Silly Virginians. We’ll have tropical  storm powered gusts of wind. We’ll have cars abandoned along the highway. You won’t find me out there though. I have a book to read, embroidery to finish (the tapestry), hot chocolate (and peppermint schnapps), and a lot of writing to do.

I love the snow. I am looking forward to breaking our little plastic shovel on mounds of wet snow. Perhaps I’ll even make a snowman. I used to do snow angels. I was a fairly bad shot with a snowball. I tried to break a broom over my brother’s head when I was sweeping snow and he tried to take the broom away. I was in snow love mental exclusion mode. I just wanted to sweep. Dad was angry about the broom, not so much worried about my brother’s head and my ego. I think he collapsed in laughter when he went back inside. He laughed a lot when we were out of view. I think we should have had cameras, but no one would believe the simplicity of our life back then.

For Mother’s Day, several years ago, my darling husband bought me a pair of Welles. They even have the seal of the Queen and the Scottish National Arms. Keeping Up Appearances is one of my favorite shows. I know several women like Hyacinth. My husband dodges neighbors in fear for his immortal soul. I have the boots standing by, and I have Hyacinth recorded to watch this evening. We even have enough popcorn for a month. Yum.

Snow brings such quiet to the world. The intense silence is broken only by the idiots who are out shooting ducks in our protected wetlands. They can have a stand and shoot into the preserve, killing with a dozen shots aimed at a small bird that just wants to eat duckweed. I hate that. There is a stand just 6 feet off the shore of Leesylvania State Park that allows them to park at the lot, take the path to the stand, wait for low tide to walk out to the stand, and BLAM, there goes the neighborhood. The ducks are so beautiful. I hunt with a camera. I have no need for a weapon although I am fully trained by the USArmy. I found a wounded duck last winter when I was walking  the dogs. The cold of the Potomac River was all that was keeping the poor thing alive. It had been hit in the gut and still had escaped. Death was following  it. I tried my best to make it more comfortable, moving it out of sight into the long grass. I tried to put pressure on the wound but it was too much damage. The duck was gone by evening. I’m pretty sure the foxes found it. I found footprints that seemed to confirm it. I tried. Sometimes you fail in what you think is an imperative order from a higher place. I don’t mind hunters who are responsible and actually eat what they kill. They have to be one shot hunters, making it count, keeping numbers down of species like deer or the Canadian goose who, just like Minnesotans, moved south and decided they could stay all year. They’ve few natural enemies, just the foxes.

I’m off topic. Yesterday night, I found a friend that I have been looking for, for at least thirty years. I found her on Facebook. Life didn’t turn out according to our high and mighty plans when we were in college. It’s been an adventure. I wrote her about the oncoming blizzard. She lives in Northern Minnesota and is much more acclimated to snow.

The quiet is soothing. No one is going in and out of the house for now, so my husband can sleep all day. UPS will probably not be open tonight. The governor has already declared a State of Emergency. Sand trucks line the roads, their drivers asleep waiting for the 24 hours of panic that will ensue.

Three nights ago, my husband was on I95 when FedEx passed him. The driver had not secured the tandem trailer and it suddenly detached itself. FedEx zoomed  past, but the trailer fell in behind my husband’s set of trailers. He accelerated, but then a small car zoomed in front of him and hit the brakes. Fortunately that was the moment the trailer started to slow down, sending a firestorm of sparks across five lanes of traffic. But that isn’t the exciting night for him, two nights ago, in the muck of the ice, it took him from 5PM EST until 1:15AM to go from Dulles, Virginia, to Burtonsville, Maryland. That’s right outside of Baltimore, he got stuck on the ramp leading to the UPS building. He wasn’t alone. Drivers were passing trucks on the shoulder moving in and out, breaking and leaving no space for accidence. Eric said his truck jackknifed on the turn due to one of these cars. His truck was sent into the shop in December because his ABS wasn’t working. Nothing was done. Then the traction control went, and so did Eric, right off the metaphorical cliff. So he’s been driving a tractor that he red tagged. So here he was, knifed on the exit ramp, and we both learned some really cool things. A fire extinguisher will give you the same results as using salt and sand. The drivers were taking turns helping each other up the hill. It took Eric three hours without the Traction control. Finally, a salt and sand truck came up the ramp close enough to Eric that he benefitted greatly. He called at 1:15 to let me know he was still alive. I now call his tractor the Widow Maker. He’s not going to drive tonight, there is no sense when you can’t really get anywhere anyway.

You can feel the anticipation. The dogs keep running to the door and wanting out.” Sniff, Sniff, Yarf,”they call. They chase the shadows of squirrels around, focusing on laughing more than killing. They love the snow. Tigerlily will catch snowballs and Foxywiggles will bury herself in the snow and then explode back into the world. She tastes the snow flakes.

I grew up with Charlie Brown and tasting snowflakes is very important. I’ve done the magnifying glass bit. I learned that the reason snow is a noise suppressant is the spaces between the flakes, the hollow middle that when compressed loses its ability to shun noise. Snow, an open airy pile of beauty, will suppress noise because of the space between the “stars” or flakes to be more correct.

I used to have small children to play with in the snow. They are grown now and have little patience for an old woman who still dreams of being 8 years old. We lived next to the world’s meanest neighbor when I was a child. He was so scary that no one would go into his yard to retrieve a baseball. Our parents had warned us about being respectful at all times or else. So when it snowed, I would shovel his walk, but never would enter his backyard to do his back yard path. I would shovel the front and the back where the garages were. I never let them know I was doing it, I just did it, like a jack frost character’s nemesis. He finally caught me and laughed. He had just bought a snowblower and was looking forward to moving snow with great zeal. We worked out a deal. I could help on the steps and such, and he would use the snowblower on all the flat places. He was a lovely old man. We became friends and didn’t need to lose any more balls. The brothers of mine had become more interested in basketball. They moved down the alley to a garage with a hoop.

Minnehaha Falls freezes in the winter. The water sneaks small amounts of water underneath the ice and snow layers and the look of watching the water cascading underneath the gigantic icicles and churning its way back under the ice at the bottom and heading to the Minnesota River. The Mississippi boats that go up and down the river freeze into place waiting for the coast guard to come to their rescue. Traffic backs up on the Franklin Avenue Bridge and the Lake Street Bridge. Horns get honked politely. Dogs and children try sliding from any mound no matter how small or tall it is. We would walk on the snow ruins created by snowplows and human endeavors. We dreamed that we were polar explorers. And we had the view of all of the snow forts on the way to school, we could escape a rout by readjusting the path with boulders of snow from the street. We had ice balls, not just snowballs. It was our secret weapon.

My oldest brother was in charge of us. Four little ducklings all in a row, and we obeyed him. He has an air of authority about him, slightly Eeyore like. He had a wicked arm with a snowball and because he was so tall, he was the early warning system.

Our school had iron rails around the grassy spots, and in winter, the iron rail became the subject of bets. There was a pail of water just inside the door of the school kept there for the idiots who licked the rails and let their tongues get stuck. I must confess to licking the rail, but I never froze to it. I guess I was moving too quickly?

Snow. I left the curtain open in my bedroom this morning.  It’s open now. As I sit here doing all of the writing on my schedule I feel like a little girl waiting to use her boots in something besides puddles. Snowy days give me inspiration to write. They give me a force of calm and serenity which I lack daily. Snow lets me slow down and just be happy.

I’ve missed the snow that I grew up with, being from Minnesota and all. I miss watching the kids skate on park rinks and frozen rivers. Last winter I was in Minnesota for a party in honor of a woman who was dying of cancer. I got snowed in like I always do. I watched the skaters on the Mississippi up in St. Cloud. I had no camera with me to catch the moment, but the lights on the rink, clearly marked as a safe zone, have stayed with me. So much energy being consumed. Hats, mittens, scarves, hockey gear, and more, all a vital part of the vision of happiness to me. The fields harvested and the bales of hay covered with white as the fog sneaks in. The barns with their yellow glow of warm calling to milk cows, it’s a wonder I ever left the state. I was smitten by the idea of a world calling to me out there. I think that wanderlust might be a virus.

It still hasn’t started snowing. I catch my breath each time I look out of the window, hoping, waiting. I’m like a little kid wanting that miracle of snow, needing it. Sitting on an uncomfortable cold chair in a classroom that is gradually warmed by the breath of all the students hoping for snow and early dismissal. I’d always list the homework for the day on the blackboard. “No excuses, if you don’t do your homework, it won’t snow tonight.” And then the first snow flake arrives. There is a flurry of pencils noting the homework, kept simple because playing in the snow is more important. Assignment books are initialed and the world fidgets. Squirming and turning their heads made me just aim the desks at the window and have done with it. Creative writing time. “You are a snowflake, please, tell me of your life.”

It was cold, windy and cloudy when the word came down. Here, today, snow. But last night the skies were clear and I could watch the moon travel from east to west through my house. Almost a full moon, but brightly lighting the rooms as I wandered with insomnia. Stars as big as a marble, blinking 5 billion years ago. Morse code? Aliens might love snow. Heaven knows, our climate needs all the water it can get in dry places. I wonder if aliens would understand that a snowball fight is just as ingrained as finding a stick and pretending it is a sword or rifle. Rocks on the ground beg to be picked up and thrown by small boys. They can’t help it. Ingrained instinct and environmental influences make sure the aggressive side of our nature reinforce itself in each generation.

I am wordy today, and off topic or on a new topic, I find it hard to focus. Snow.

I’m just waiting.

Ann