by Maura Yzmore
Dragon texts me on my birthday, sends me a picture of myself as a baby in the arms of a dragon relative who, years later, the first and only time they babysat me, would beat me up with some bones that just lay around their cave and were meant to stir dragon stew.
Dragon texts in all caps, always, because Dragon’s world is on fire even when it isn’t. Especially when it isn’t. People don’t realize that the flames make Dragon feel alive, and Dragon doesn’t care how many are charred as they try to get close, hoping to help. Dragon is mighty and seldom needs help, but always needs to feel important.
Dragon says they’re proud of me, but reminds me that all I am is theirs. Dragon is a damned thief, carving their own signature into my memories with their claws, coating my recollections with spit and sticking their own scales on top, then grinning widely, thin lines of smoke slithering through their fangs, as they show off my mangled, repackaged history as their own.
Dragon ends every text message with lots of love and kisses. Those words make me sick, ruin my day. Nobody knows if dragons love; they deem such nonsense undragonlike. Dragon sends love and kisses to manipulate, thinks that dragonshit softens me up. Dragon is sorely mistaken.
Dragon texts because I won’t talk to them on the phone. Well-meaning people always ask why, always say, Dragon’s not bad; can’t help themselves; doesn’t know better; hopes to make amends. Well-meaning people wonder how I can be so cold to Dragon’s pleas. To that, my insides ignite and I cackle like a cartoon witch. Dragon used to wonder, too, how I could be so cold. I never was; Dragon just hated not getting their way.
If I talk to Dragon, it’s never long before they ask about gold, how much I have and why it’s not more. Dragon likes to count other people’s coins, likes to imagine sitting atop wealth, rubbing scaly hands and drooling acid drool, as they polish metal and precious stones to a blinding sheen. Dragon believes that, just like my memories, all of my gold really belongs to them.
To withstand fire, to live and breathe it, all that you are must be stripped away, scorched by betrayal, agony given as gift by your kin. Your human skin, muscle, and sinew, crimson then blackened then flaking away, layer by layer, till your insides lie bare within the cage of your bones. Once the next lick of flame — or rage, your rage will do — engulfs you whole, once it ignites your heart, gut, and mind, you too will breathe fire, inflict searing pain.
I’ve mostly regrown my human flesh. The embers in my heart keep my children warm; the ones in my gut clear what stands in my way. Those in my mind are harder to quell. They keep me awake, crave something to burn, give me scarlet nightmares in all caps.
Maura Yzmore is a writer and science professor based in the American Midwest. Her recent work can be found in Jellyfish Review, Ellipsis Zine, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. Website: maurayzmore.com/stories/. Twitter: @MauraYzmore.