Noah is a boy of eight years with almond brown eyes and soft black hair, and he loves dragons and elephants. Right now, he and his dad Frank are sitting around their living room coffee table, a snowstorm whipping through the darkness outside the windows...
“I'm here too,” a dragon says, lurking in a corner of the room in attacking position. “I am the Bewilderbeast and I'm from the children's show ‘Dragons’ – my body is as big as ten stacked oxen, and my wings are covered with sharp black spikes. My tail is gigantic and deadly. And by the way, I have blood-red eyes.”
Now an elephant speaks up and trumpets: "Törööö! I am Benjamin. You may think I’m big and scary, but I am gentle. I love sugar cubes more than anything: eating them is my passion. How yummy! Otherwise, I'm the quiet type: I avoid quarrels and wouldn’t even hurt a fly.
Noah and Frank want to play Uno (a card game). Frank shuffles the cards, putting the neat stack on the table while reaching for a freshly opened beer bottle. He takes it and empties it in one go.
Noah follows his father's drinking movement, quietly observing.
When Frank has finished, Benjamin asks: "You know what, Noah?"
"What?" Noah wants to know.
"Oh," Benjamin growls.
"Did you just say something?" Frank asks.
"No, I was just thinking out loud," his son answers, as the Bewilderbeast grumbles to him:
"I hate it when Frank drinks."
Then the great dragon snorts until embers like fireflies come out of his throat. They swarm around the living room and settle everywhere like glowing neon-yellow dust.
"Don't like dirt on the table," Noah complains.
"You're right, Noah. The cards are well-shuffled and I'm quite able to do so", Frank says after opening his second bottle. He drinks it half empty and hums, "Playing cards is great fun, you know. When I was little younger than you are now, I used to thrill and entertain everyone with my card tricks at my grandmother's wonderful birthday party."
While Frank talks, Noah secretly mimics him.
"Ha! That was something," Frank adds, running his fingers through his hair and licking his lips. "If only they hadn't always drunk so much. That bothered me as a child. I often lost myself in my thoughts, thinking about how to build the biggest house of cards in the world, while grandma and grandpa danced and bumped into each other causing hearty roars of laughter."
Reflexively, Frank grabs the half-full beer bottle and drinks it up.
"After the party, they lay drunk on the carpet," Noah says quietly.
Frank doesn't seem to hear that and adds: "In the end they were laying on the carpet, drunk. Oh yes, good people, but they couldn't help their drinking."
Noah repeats in a whisper: "But they couldn't help their drinking."
Frank doesn't take notice; he gazes at the empty beer bottle. His thighs bob up and down and again. Frank licks his lips. "You know what, Noah?" he says. "You deal the cards. You know, eight for each player, and no cheating."
After Frank has jumped up and left the living room, the Bewilderbeast hisses: "Frank is no good, because he only talks about himself, about his childhood. But what about you, Noah? That ****** me off," he roars ravingly. He spits fire again, this time without regard for Noah, forcing him to take cover under Benjamin's belly, beside his knobby legs.
The ruby-red eyes of the Bewilderbeast cut the living room's twilight with their brilliance and he spits out one fire salvo after the other, just as a flamethrower does...
"Please stop!" Noah is shouting, but the dragon only responds "Forget it. Everything here must burn. We have to erase your father's memory, only then he will learn to love you. You also hate the living room, don't you? – because Frank drinks here all the time."
"Don't let him fool you,” Benjamin is humming. "The wild beast spits fire, that's all very well, but breaking things... That," Benjamin yawningly mumbles "he can't do."
Then the fire subsides, while Noah crouches between Benjamin's legs, eyes wide open. Frank comes back, another beer bottle in his right hand, drinking. When he sees Noah curled up, he snorts with laughter and spits the beer in his mouth on his son. Noah does not seem to register this. Frightened, he stares at the Bewilderbeast who, in a resting position with one red eye open, is waiting for the next attack.
"Oh boy, beer's e'rywhere!" Frank slurs as he slams the beer bottle on the table and bends down to Noah to take him into his arms.
Frank runs into the bathroom to grab a towel, and comes back, carefully rubbing Noah's hair dry.
"Ew," grumbles Noah. "I hate that."
Frank looks at Noah uncomprehendingly: "The hair have to be rubbed off. Don't they?"
"Don't believe him", the Bewilderbeast hisses. "He's lying to you, Noah."
At the same time, Benjamin is saying to Noah: "You see, Frank loves you. He's rubbing your hair off. And he feels bad about the spilled beer."
Noah's face is white as a sheet. "Stop it, stop it, stop it," he whispers and covers his ears.
Frank looks at his son with concern. He lets the towel down and slowly takes Noah's hands off his ears, brushes a wet hair, which sticks to Noah's forehead, from his face.
"Can't look at you when you're in this state", Frank says gently. Without hesitation, he pokes Noah in the stomach with his fingers and tickles him so that Noah breaks out, first tentatively, into laughter.
He tries with all his strength to shake off his father's hand, but it doesn't work, although Frank has to make funny movements to tickle him any further. The two become entangled with one another and cannot stop the laughter.
But then Noah stops laughing and asks: "Daddy, why do you drink beer?"
Frank doesn't seem to have expected such a direct question. He pauses for a moment and answers: "Because it tastes good. Why do men drink?"
Noah shrugs his shoulders. "I'm not a man yet. But if it's good, why do you drink so fast? I always think you don't like the beer."
"Well," Frank grumbles, "I don't drink that fast. What makes you think that? It’s a matter I would have to deal with more closely, it needs to be weighed up and thought through thoroughly before jumping to conclusions."
The Bewilderbeast whispers furtively: "He's lying, Noah. Do not believe a word he says."
Benjamin says: "Frank is addicted to beer. But he doesn't want to hurt you."
This time Noah keeps calm. And he goes on to ask the next question: "Do you like it or not?"
Frank's eyes roam the room like he's looking for something. The Bewilderbeast snorts quietly; Benjamin, being in a good mood, is eating a handful of sugar cubes.
"Well, you know Noah – I like beer. But I used to drink it much slower."
Noah looks at Frank seriously and sadly. You mean when Mom was still alive.
Frank answers with his eyes. And nods, hardly noticeable.
Father and son remain silent. "You see," Benjamin says: "You and dad are connected by something: By the death of your mother Ruth."
The Bewilderbeast says: "Frank drinks the beer because he can't stand your grief, Noah. And he loves Ruth much more than he loves you. He wishes you had died instead of her."
"Can we turn on the music, daddy?"
"Tears In Heaven," Noah answers. "You know, by Eric..."
"Clapton." Frank replies. Then he gets up and goes into the next room to play the song on YouTube.
"Is the sound bar turned on, Noah?"
Noah checks and notices countless glittering lights buzzing around the speaker block, sparkling like stars in the Milky Way. Noah is magically attracted by this sight, stares at the lights with his mouth wide open and reaches out his index finger...
"Noah!" Frank shouts. "Is the system on or off?"
"No," Noah answers. "The stars are no longer there".
"What? Don't be stupid," Frank grouses as he returns to the living room. He pushes Noah aside. "Let me check it out." Frank bends down to the sound bar, fiddling with the wiring. "No wonder, Noah. The optical cable broke. Did you do that?"
Noah looks at Frank, meaningful and meaningless. "You know what, dad... Why don't we play cards instead?"
Frank seems unhappy and is stepping fidgety from one leg to the other, takes the beer bottle off the table and realizes in frustration that it's empty. "**** it," Frank scolds, but then he looks at Noah and blushes.
"I've got an idea!" Noah suddenly exclaims. "Let's make a deal, dad. You get yourself a beer."
"And then?" Frank asks skeptically.
"Tonight, you drink it slowly. Are you scared?"
"Scared?" Frank asks while he hurries off.
Shortly afterwards he returns, holding an open beer bottle in his hand from which nothing has been drunk yet. He puts the bottle on his lips, drinks the first two sips quickly, pauses, puts the bottle on the table, and rubs his stomach.
"But now I have to go to the toilet, oh my."
By this time, Benjamin is already asleep, a sugar cube is stuck between the tip of his trunk and the floor.
Noah smiles. When his father has left the living room, Noah says, without looking, to the Bewilderbeast: "You see – Daddy loves me. Otherwise he wouldn't drink more slowly. It's that simple, isn't it?"
Noah turns around to look. Where the Bewilderbeast huddled, there is now a small dragon figure. Carefully, Noah sneaks up to it, and when he feels that there is no danger coming from the figure, he holds it to his ear and whispers: "Daddy loves me, doesn't he?"
Today is a good day.
I do thank the gifted and smart poet Wren for his gracious support in editing this short story. Check out his work on hellopoetry, he is amazing.