Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
All good things must
come to an end.
Fuego lay in the
entrance to the cave all morning long. Soaking up the wan,
late-summer sunshine, should have brought contentment and a sense of
well-being. His belly was full, having sated his hunger on a fat buck
three days before. Fuego had nibbled on a few choice greens to aid in
digestion, as was his habit these many years. The aches and pains
were mostly gone.
Sooner or later they
would flare up, and he should have been enjoying the sloth, the
ease--the sheer luxury of not having to work for his living. But it
was no good.
At first, he thought
she wasn’t coming, and his heart ached. But it would ache, and it
was going to ache, and there was nothing to be done about it. As the
sun rose higher in the sky, his ears caught the click of a stone,
dislodged from its habitual resting-place with a small cry of
indignation. He knew it was her foot that had kicked it. A flicker of
white dress caught his eye through the trees lining the trail. He sat
up then, with anticipation, and a sense of dread. He watched the gap
in the cedars with the intensity of the hunt, with his big old heart
beating coldly but insistently in his deep, hard, barrel of a chest.
Flaring, pebble-skinned nostrils sought her precious scent on the
wavering breezes. Her complex tangle of emotions were sensed rather
than seen, although there were signs; as she clambered up the bluff
to the base of the cliff, where the caves began and the forest was
dark, wet and thickly-festooned with creeping vines. Something about
the tension in the neck and shoulders, a clue in the tightness of the
chest, the unhurried pace somehow languid and hopeless-looking;
unconsciously putting off the telling of some unpleasant truth. He
could feel the heat of her now. Even closing his eyes, he could
follow her path as she managed the last few twists and turns.
So it was true,
Diana was going off
to school. There was nothing he or she could do about it. Higher
powers had decreed it. And once having gone, there was no coming
back. He knew he would inevitably lose her. Little girls grow up and
turn into tall, healthy, intelligent young women. They go on to other
things. The slender, raven-haired girl, with the bottomless, sea-blue
eyes, with her berry-like lips pursed up in tender pain, looked at
him, and he just knew.
said with pleasure, and regret.
He cringed and
cowered at her feet, tongue hanging out, and then, as if he couldn’t
help himself, he rolled over on his back, exposing the wide, flat,
cloud-grey scales, fading into the sky when he hunted, just where
they were the smoothest and the finest.
What had to be had
to be, but not just yet. One last precious moment with her…
She stood just ahead
of his thigh, and reached over and scratched him so, just the way he
loved it. As she stroked and scratched at his abdomen, just where the
ribs stop to make way for the soft, white underbelly, he rolled from
side to side and his tail whipped gently and yet with blinding speed
around to sweep itself about her feet and then crawl up to wrap her
hips in a loving caress. He held her there, with a tender gentleness
that belied his sheer size, speed and strength. The very symbol of
courage, wrapped around her little fingers, if only; if only; as he
tasted the base of her throat with his lighting-forked tongue, with
the red centre, and its long stripes of jet-black on each side…the
two lobes as sharp as a pin at the extremity. But he could never have
hurt her. Never.
“Oh, poor Fuego,”
she said with half a laugh and a sudden catch, like the very breath
had seized up in her throat.
She stared into the
hollow orbs of his golden eyes and he felt a kind of panic at losing
“Oh, Fuego,” she
uncomfortable with this moment, and yet it had to be done. He felt
her pain as she shifted a little, back and forth, and forwards and
backwards. He danced with her in sweet regret and joyful longing, a
kind of grieving for a past that they could never forget; still
laying flat on his back and swooning in physical contact with her.
She put her hands into his wickedly sharpened talons, and they danced
there for a moment, both feeling the same unspoken song of sadness,
and love, and parting. He lay on his back and danced with her.
forget you,” she told him, as he carefully jetted out small bursts
of smoke and ringlets of fire from his nostrils.
It was his way of
saying that it was okay. Since they had known each other for quite
some time, she understood. He had watched her grow up. She had gotten
to know him as a gentle and lonely creature, with no other creatures
like himself to be with. The girl walked over to the ledge and he
followed. She stood beside the dragon for a moment, looking out over
the valley, with its horses, pastures, fields of softly-bending ripe
grain. They could see her manor, the red roof
“I want to see you
fly, for one last time, Fuego,” she said.
The dragon felt her
using both hands to rub and stroke him under the chin, which always
made him feel so sleepy…but this time he felt tears, big salt drops
of tears, each enough to fill a bucket, forming in the corners of his
golden-orbed eyes, with their inscrutable, black vertical
To spare her as much
pain as possible, he leapt up ever so carefully, yet startling in its
sheer quickness, spinning right-side-up, and flapping his wings in a
joy that he hoped was well-feigned, hoping to fool her. He fluttered
up and down in lazy figure eights, backing and diving, and hovering
there in an exhibition of pure, unrivalled vitality. She looked down
at her feet for a moment, and he knew that he had failed, but it was
all right, that she understood, and he settled to the ground
momentarily. The strong beat of his leathern wings slowly subsided.
The dragon rested his heart, aware that she had a long journey ahead,
and that so did he; although he was trying not to dwell upon it.
Standing there, she
looked so alone. The girl allowed him to approach; and yet what
courage she had shown the first time they had met! What kindness…what
She wrapped her arms
around his neck and held him close.
she whispered, and they clung together for a long time.
He knew that he had
to let her go, to set her free. He could not keep her here forever.
To attempt to do so would be wrong.
Fuego sighed deeply.
Sucking in one huge, vast, barren sob of air, he tried to speak. It
turned to a low, forlorn howl, starting deep and low and building to
a siren-like crescendo of love, and longing, fearfulness, and
loneliness, grief, and despair. She stepped back, her eyes staring at
his face, all lumpy, and green, and with the bones, great huge bones
so alive and hard under the skin, as his muscles worked in response
to emotions he could not articulate. Tears ran down her face.
Fuego turned his
back on her; forcing himself to take two, then three steps; and
dropped over the ledge, and then catching the rocks and boulders one
by one with his talons, he thrust himself into flight over the
hillside, with the gloomy darkness of the trees coming up from below.
He gave a series of strong beats, with the heart and lungs responding
magnificently, with his wings reassuringly flexing without unexpected
cricks and aches. Turning into the stronger winds coming up from the
far valley to the west, cautiously hooding his eyes internally to
avoid burning them in the blazing globe of the sun, he stroked his
way up to safety. With careful timing, matching his breath to the
beating of his wings, purging his vast lungs each time with a
forceful grunt, he clawed his way up, and out over the river, foaming
in the rocky valley below.
And then he had no
choice but to turn again…
There was time for
one last look back; to see her standing there in fragile dignity. Her
outstretched arm, the pale glimmer of her outspread fingers, her
last, gentle, farewell wave, was almost more than he could bear.
She was all grown up
now, and it was time for them both to move on.
Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Canada. He studied Radio, Television, and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sarnia, Ontario. He enjoys cycling and swimming, and is a lover of good books. He writes full-time.