‘You… excuse me?’
‘Yeah, no, I…’
Drink. It’s an expensive red, it needs to be finished.
‘What do you mean?’
She half-splutters, even though her glass is down.
‘What do you mean, what do I mean?’
‘… I mean… what do you mean by dragon?’
She stares. Her eyes are really… lovely? You don’t like the word lovely.
‘I mean a dragon.’
‘Like…’ A slice of cake. Chew it for a little while. Fake that you’re a connoisseur; are there cake connoisseurs? Probably. ‘A kimono dragon?’
‘Komodo dragon,’ she quips, ‘And no. I mean a scaly fire-breathing lizard. With wings.’
You search for a hidden smile. All you find is a trembling arm. You laugh and she looks a little upset and you turn the volume down and sit up, and pretend you’re like a smart-looking movie guy; a Brad Pitt or a Hugh Grant or whatever that faceless guy replaying his coolness in your head is called.
‘That’s not what I…’
So the wine is gone.
Third date. Not sure how to move this on; the plan collapses everywhere you look. The food isn’t even that good. Must be an off night or an irate chef. Maybe both.
Got to focus.
‘So…’ Mouth isn’t working, and you panic. On the inside. She can’t tell… right?
She wishes there was more wine. You do too, just so that you can fill your mouth with something decent. The cake is awful.
Inscrutable response. Maybe a glimmer of anticipation. Wait, her place?
‘He won’t hurt you.’
‘And I promise I won’t hurt him.’
Sorry, I’m a little confused. More wine?
And you drink, a silent toast to escape. To hope. To… damn, to just drinking.
Want me round? Or should I go? I should go.
‘Do you… want to… get out of here? We can walk and talk.’ Smiiiiile. Hold it.
Her place. Eventually. After the walk. Not so much the talk. But the sense. You’ve never walked a girl by the canal in silence before. You’ve argued by the canal before. But you’ve never had your mouth shut. Not like this. Not like awkwardness.
This weird respect.
Fear? Fear of what? The dragon?
It’s cold. It’s pretty, but it’s cold. It smells strongly of toast.
‘I love toast,’ she says when you ask. ‘I eat it when I watch TV.’
All the time?
She’s putting on a film. A rom-com? You’ve seen them all, because you actually like them. No, you love them. You like them because they lie to you that the coil retracting inside is the pangs of heartache. Not mendacity.
She walks you to the toaster, and you eat some toast with her and pretend that tonight has been really fun, and that eating toast is one of those cute things that you’ll remember because there’s something oddly touching about it. But the more you talk, the more you feel her cutting through the cockalorum like the crap that it is. You’ve even practised your accent. She can smell the stink of it.
Got to focus.
Is this still the third date?
On the couch. Watching a film with Zack somethingsomething in it. You laugh even though there aren’t any jokes. And she switches off the lights. You prove to yourself that you are a hyphenate by somehow kissing her and watching the movie. She doesn’t catch you. She’s tired.
You don’t know why you’re still here.
2 am. The TV has turned itself off and you’re awake in darkness. She snores in tiny breaths against your shirt. Probably drooling. Clear your throat and… she won’t budge.
You don’t fall asleep on the third date.
… You did.
And you hear it. At first you expect it to be a half-heard feminine chant of sub-conscious turmoil. Could have been. You have a short talk with Logic, and he sits down with you and reassures you.
Isn’t self-reassurance weird?
And something is definitely… here. With you. And it’s not her. She’s here but… you sense something and it’s powerful. A tangible something. The room is hot.
You’re engulfed in the blind prospects, and fear grabs hold of you and tightens, and your heart tries to punch its way through your chest. And you forget how to breathe.
Was that a growl? A rattle in a reptilian throat. An alien word.
It speaks to you in silence. Just you and it. Saying nothing, but telling you everything you need to know. And the fear that pumps around your body slowly blends into an odd respect. That being in the darkness, a tiny, nearly-inaudible smoky pur - and you put out your hands to feel it.
Recoil. Stretch again, slower.
You thought that it would bite you but you felt compelled. And now your hand hovers above the unknown.