And the dragon says, “This bar is a dump, Morrie. And this beer is swill.” The dragon is wrong. Watering it down would have actually improved it. It’s true that the house beer wasn’t up to it’s normal low standard, however. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“No,” Morris says back. “I gotta keep an eye on Doris.”
The dragon coils around the stool impatiently. “She’ll be fine. We’ll come back before her shift ends.”
“I wanna be here through her shift,” Morris says, gazing hard at the college kid ordering a scotch on the rocks.
“I don’t know how you put up with her, Morrie,” the dragon says as Doris giggles and pats the kid’s hand before turning around and pulling down the definitely below average stuff on the top shelf.
Morris sits up, sets down his all too bitter beer, and gives the dragon a fixed eye. “What’s that supposed to mean, Lotus Breath?”
Breath of the Lotus sparks nervously, immediately recognizing that some unspoken human taboo was just breached. “Aw, come on. Morrie, you know I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Morris turns pointedly in the stool, but other than that just keeps staring.
“Just her willingness to serve drinks. She’s got soft skin, plenty of fat, and that huge amount of hair. I don’t know why you married her instead of asking her to master the mysteries of the universe by your side,” Breath of the Lotus explains. He doesn’t explain this so cleanly, but in fact stammers and sparks while trying to get the words out. At one point, he nearly chokes on his own tongue. When he’s done, his scales shiver with embarrassment.
Morris looks confused now, rather than offended. “What do ya think marriage is, Lotus?!”
Up until that moment, Breath of the Lotus thought it was something else. He’s smart, even for a dragon, and knows now that he was wrong. Still, he doesn’t have anything else to go with, so he says what he thought, just very meekly. “Watching your lady work, so you don’t get into trouble?”
Morris tries holding in a chuckle, and shakes his head. “That’s not it at all. It is promising to stand by someone and understand the mysteries of the universe together. I just watch her work to make sure some jerk doesn’t keep her from doing that.”
Breath of the Lotus says, “Oh!” Then he rises up and begins to gather energies. “I can help with that!”
Morris tries to get Breath of the Lotus to settle back down around the stool. “No, no! Stop it! Put that away,” he urges. “This is just between me and my wife.”
Breath of the Lotus is confused again. “But I could make it so that she would love no other. I could make any man who hits on her turn into a snail.”
“I know ya can, buddy. I know. She likes it. I like it. A little bit of distrust keeps our spark alive.” Morris looks back to make sure no one is making advances. Doris catches his eye while washing out a glass and gives him a smile and a sigh. He raises his beer glass and gives her a wink. “Human marriages aren’t like dragon marriages. Every one is different. This is what mine and Doris’s looks like.”
Breath of the Lotus blows smoke out of his glass and takes a sip. “Everything about humans is so complicated. You know there is power in ritual, in predicability. Every dragon marriage is the same. It makes us safer.”
Morris pats his friend’s hand, seeing sadness in Breath of the Lotus’s eyes.
“Not that it’s helped much,” Breath of the Lotus says quietly. He closes his eyes and breathes for a moment.
When he opens his eyes, he orders another terrible drink and starts teasing Morris about the poor showing of his team on the TV. When Morris gets into defending them, listing Coach Taylor’s virtues, while Doris gives her husband an exasperated look that only Breath of the Lotus notices.
It’s then Breath of the Lotus finally sees the love that connects them. It’s a mean, barbed rope, with thorns and tiny hooks, their hands, desperately holding onto it. They are daring the other to let go, and they are proving with blood that they will never give up. It’s a promise that’s made out of them, out of their depths, it’s painful and quick to bite its tenders, but despite all that it’s still more powerful than the love between any dragons.
Breath of the Lotus orders another drink. Morris just isn’t keeping up like he used to.