Closet for a Dragon first story

A Closet For A Dragon

Once there was a dragon who lived by a birdbath in a forgotten corner of Michael’s back yard. This was a long, narrow place between the old barn, covered with trumpet vine and honeysuckle, and the fence, where rambling roses grew so thickly you could not see into the yard next door. To get there, Michael had to crawl between some thick bushes, then go through what was left of a tumble-down lean-to shed. At the very back of this place, between the corner of the barn and the end of the fence, was the last fragment of a stone wall. The birdbath stood right next to the wall, and whenever he wanted to think, or feel sad, or daydream, or just be alone, he would go there and sit with his back against the birdbath, his feet propped up against the rough stones of the wall.

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It used to be that the creatures we call dragons were large and dangerous and could go wherever they wanted, but now dragons are rather small and not very frightening, and can live only in secret and forgotten places. Dragon places can not be utterly forgotten, however, because they wouldn’t be secret if no one at all knew about them.

Dragons are not like other animals. You can’t see them very well with your eyes, and they don’t leave much in the way of footprints. But if a dragon is near, you can see him in your mind and feel him in your heart. Michael knew, when he sat under the birdbath, that his fantasies and dreams all seemed very real and clear, but he did not know that it was a dragon that made this so.

The dragon was fairly content in most ways. He had a place to live and someone to share his secret. But there was one thing he wanted and didn’t have. He wanted a girlfriend.

It’s not easy for a dragon to go looking for a friend. Dragons can’t go where people are, or where they spend much time. Dragons can’t go where things are new, or where machinery works. Though the dragon could climb the fence and didn’t mind the thorns of the roses, he couldn’t go down into the yard on the other side, because the people next door kept their lawn very neat and their garden well tended. He couldn’t go past the barn to the garage on the other side of the yard, where Michael’s father kept the car, or up the yard toward the house, or past the house up the driveway to the street, because those places were familiar and everyday and not at all forgotten or secret.

He could go into the tumble-down lean-to. Strange plants grew where the floor had once been, and its roof sagged and slanted nearly to the ground where it met the fence. The boards that once had made its walls had rotted away, so that you almost couldn’t see that there had ever been a shed. It was not a very interesting place.

Sometimes the dragon could go through a crack in the wall at the very back corner of the barn into a dark place behind the big oak workbench. It was heavy and stained with oil and dirt, and Michael’s father didn’t work there very often. Behind the workbench were some things, not always tools, which had been lost at one time or another. Some had just fallen off the back of the workbench. Others had been lost far from there, and how they had come to be behind the workbench not even the dragon knew.

One time the dragon climbed up to the top of the stone wall. On the other side was a common green, like a forest, which had been left natural when the houses up and down Michael’s street had been built. It went the whole length of the long block, but the back yards of the houses on the next street over were not far away. It was not a secret place. Children played there, making paths, digging holes, building forts. Even Michael played there sometimes. It was no place for a dragon.

So the dragon lived by the birdbath. For as long as Michael kept the secret, and remembered the place, and came there to dream, and remembered how to play, then the dragon was well and happy. Well, almost happy, because when Michael was away the dragon would remember that he was lonely for a girl dragon with whom he could fall in love.

One day Michael’s parents took him to visit his grandmother, who lived in a big old house on the other side of town. He had been there many times before, especially on holidays, but this time his grandmother thought he might like to go up into her attic and see what was there. Michael was older now, she said, and she trusted him not to break anything, and to put things away properly when he was done with them.

He thought this was a great idea. His grandmother showed him where the attic stair was, and where the light switches were. He went up into the attic alone.

At first he was a little bit afraid to be up there all by himself. It was very quiet and not very bright, and it smelled musty and moth-bally the way attics sometimes do. There was old furniture up there, couches and chairs and end tables and beds, all pushed together on one side. There were chests and dressers and trunks on the other side, filled with all the things his grandmother had saved from when she had been just a mother, shelves and boxes and cabinets with more things from when she had been a little girl, and things that her mother had had, and her grandmother, too.

He opened a chest and looked through the fragile clothes and crumbling envelopes inside. He took down a stack of magazines and looked at the pictures of people in old-fashioned clothes doing old-fashioned things. But there were so many things up there — clothes on racks and picture albums on shelves and toys in cardboard boxes and all kinds of antique stuff — that he knew he would not be able to look at everything that afternoon, or even after dinner if they let him come up again. So instead of taking some odd-looking stuffed animals from a cabinet, or trying on the tail coat and top hat he found hanging on a rack, he decided to just explore.

The main part of the attic was at the back of the house. There was only one window, at the gable end overlooking the back garden. Most of the light came from the three big, dim bulbs that hung on bare wires from the peak of the roof. But though the attic was just one big room, there were alcoves and corners and makeshift partitions, room-like places behind the furniture or between racks of clothes. There were two great brick chimneys that divided the attic in two, and low, dark places under the eaves stuffed with boxes and brown paper bags.

It was quite a while before he discovered that there was a second attic at the front of the house, through a doorway hidden behind a rack of men’s suits and overcoats. There was even more stuff here, and most of it was a lot older.

There was only one light bulb, hanging from a rafter in the middle of the room. But there were dormer windows set into little alcoves, three on one side and two on the other. After exploring for a while, Michael began to wonder if there shouldn’t be a third dormer alcove on that side. Where it should have been was a cabinet.

It was a very tall cabinet, with a glass front and mirrored insides which reflected the old china and vases and statuettes on the glass shelves. It didn’t fit all the way back against the attic wall, the sloping roof came down too low. It was dark behind the cabinet, but there was enough room between it and the wall — if he moved a wicker hamper and an old rocking chair out of the way — that he could easily go behind it.

There was, indeed, another dormer alcove hidden behind the cabinet. Its window was completely covered with a heavy velvet curtain so that no light came in. It was the first place in the attic that felt really spooky. When he opened the curtain to let in the light, he knew he was in a secret place. The alcove was just big enough for a very small table, a wooden chair, and a few shelves.

Michael’s grandfather had died long ago, when Michael’s mother had been not much older than he was now. Still, he knew that this had been his grandfather’s special place. There was a picture on the table of his mother and her parents. Beside the picture was an ashtray and a rack of pipes. On the shelf above was a leather-covered humidor, and beside it were several books, all very old, each one very worn, as if they had been read many times. There was a crystal geode, a cat skull, a candlestick with a burned-down candle in it, and a box of matches. And some other things.

He sat in the dusty chair. He didn’t touch anything. It didn’t seem right to intrude on his grandfather’s secret place until he got to know it better. He could see that nobody had been there in a very long time. There was thick dust everywhere, and the only footprints on the floor were his own. This was truly a secret and forgotten place.

He liked that, and decided that he would keep the secret to himself. And with that thought, the dragon which had been sleeping there for so many years woke up.

Whenever Michael went back to his grandmother’s house after that, he would always ask if he could go up to explore the attic. He almost always found a nook or cranny or tiny place he had not seen before, or discovered new boxes under couches, or bags behind trunks, or wooden benches that opened up revealing new treasures inside. Even the boxes and trunks and cabinets that he had already looked into often held interesting things that he hadn’t seen the last time. And he would always find the time to go into the secret dormer.

There he would sometimes look at old magazines — which he always carefully put back when he was through — or play with some of the old toys. But he would also just sit, and think, and dream about adventures. And that made the dragon who lived there stronger.

As it turned out, the dragon who lived in the dormer was a girl dragon. She was glad to be awake again, and glad to have somebody with whom she could share her secret place. But she wanted a boyfriend of her own kind.

She had been Grandfather’s dragon, and had helped him dream when he had come up here to be alone for a little while. Grandmother had known about this secret place, but she had never been there herself, and had never asked about what Grandfather did up there, just as she never asked Michael about what he did. She knew that sometimes people need a little privacy.

After Grandfather had died, Grandmother had forgotten about the dormer. She had known about it once, so the secret of the dormer had not been lost completely. But since Grandmother no longer thought about the dormer, or even remembered that it was there, there was no one to share the secret, and the dragon had gone to sleep.

Her sleep had not been easy. Michael’s grandmother was the only person who knew about the dormer, and if she had died before Michael discovered it, the dormer wouldn’t have been secret any more, just utterly forgotten. The dragon would have faded away into less than the memory of a dream, for no dragon could live in a truly forgotten place.

Now that Michael knew of the place, and kept it a secret, she was awake again, and whenever he came to visit she would help him dream.

It’s a strange thing about dragons. While they cannot go into the places where people go, or which people know about, they can go from one secret place to another, as long as they, or the person who knows the secret, know where the other place is. They don’t have to cross the places between. So it was that the dragon who lived by the birdbath was now able to go and visit the dragon who lived in the dormer, and she could go and visit him. They could do this whether Michael was with them or not.

The two dragons had been lonely for a very long time. One was a boy, and the other was a girl, and so, after a time, in the nature of things, according to the ways of dragons, they fell in love.

Dragons who fall in love become mates, and if they are lucky the girl dragon will become a mother and lay an egg. And so it was with these two. But dragon eggs need to be taken care of in a special way, and need very special circumstances in order to hatch.

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Time is one thing for a dragon, but it is another thing for a boy who, in time, grows up. The years passed, and as he grew older he came less and less often to the birdbath. When he visited his grandmother, he spent less and less time in the secret dormer. When these two dragons felt that Michael was forgetting them and beginning to think of other things, like girls and cars and summer jobs and going off to college, they knew that they had to take a chance.

On one of his last visits to the dormer, the mother dragon laid her egg. She laid it, as dragons do, in the secret heart of the person who held her secret. Michael didn’t know about it, since the mother dragon didn’t have to touch him to do this except in a very back corner of his mind where dreams are stored. But she did it, and he took the egg off with him, all unaware.

The years went by, since not even dragons have found a way to make time stand still. Michael grew up, and went away to college, and forgot about the secret places of his childhood. Grandmother died at last, and her house was sold, and her relatives cleaned out the attic, including the dormer, which was no longer secret, and they didn’t notice that no dragon lived there any more.

That same year Michael’s parents finally decided to tear down the old barn, which was beginning to fall apart anyway. That meant there was no secret place between the barn and the fence any more. The old foundation was dug up, the weeds cleared away. Michael’s mother planted a garden there and moved the birdbath into the middle. There was no dragon there any more either, for dragons cannot live in places that do not exist.

Michael did not miss his secret places. He graduated from college, and met a girl, and fell in love and married her, and in time they had a daughter, whose name was Jennifer.

When Jennifer was about four years old, the apartment in which they had been living began to feel rather cramped. Michael and his wife decided that they could afford to buy a real house, so they began to look for one.

It took them a little while, but at last they found a house that seemed just right for them. It was an old house, and in need of some repair, but it was a big house with lots of rooms, and it had a good yard with a fence, and it was in a pleasant neighborhood of other older houses and younger families, and it wasn’t very far from where Michael worked.

More importantly, it reminded Michael of things he had forgotten about since he was very young. He didn’t know what things, exactly, but they were good things, and it made the house feel right. So after talking it over for a while, they bought it.

There was work to be done before they could move in — cleaning and painting and repairing. Jennifer’s parents spent their weekends there, and sometimes their evenings too, doing all the things that had to be done, while Jennifer stayed with some friends her age from her preschool.

One time, just before they were ready to move in, Michael had to go to the house to consult with the man who was there to repair the furnace. While the repairman was checking it out, Michael noticed a little door under the cellar stairs, back in the shadows between the stair and the wall. He had not seen the door before and he was curious, so he opened it.

Inside was a little room, as narrow as the stairway. Its ceiling was just the underside of the stairs themselves. Inside the door, where it was so low that he had to kneel, was an old cushion, and in the highest part were some hand-made shelves nailed to the joists. There were some old books on the shelves, dry and dusty, mildewed and with wormholes. On the floor between the cushion and the shelves was an oil lamp.

Michael looked at this and thought, as long as he was down here, he might as well clean this little closet out. But even as he knelt on the cushion in order to reach for the old books, he remembered the secret places he had known as a child.

The secret of this place had long been lost, and it was dead and empty. Michael sat back on the dusty cushion and thought about it. How exciting it would be for his little girl to come down here some day and discover this little closet, just as it was. He felt shivers all over as he thought about it.

He would not clean it out. He would leave it alone, and tell no one what he had found, not even Jennifer’s mother. He would even try to forget about it himself. That way Jennifer could have a secret place of her own, where she could come to sit and dream, the way he had once done.

And that was the kind of thought that the two dragons Michael had known as a child had been hoping for. For dragons can only live, these days, in secret and forgotten places, and this closet, once utterly forgotten, had now become a special secret, and was just right, and the egg that Michael had carried in his secret heart for so long hatched at last, and the new baby dragon moved in.

End