Present-day dialogue between Neal and his sister, Ami, leading into a flashback. They are on their way to their parents' house for Christmas dinner, with Neal driving Lorin's vintage 1958 MGA. (I like cars. What can I say?)
“You don’t look well. I’m worried.”
He glanced at her briefly, annoyed. “In what way do I not look well?”
“You’ve lost weight. Have you been eating properly?”
“I don’t know about ‘properly,’ but I have been eating. I just don’t have much of an appetite. This past week has been an awful time. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. It’s like that old Police song says: I can’t sleep with your memory, dreaming dreams of what used to be. I didn’t think twice about the words of that one when Lorin would clown around and try to dance to it, but now?” He sighed sharply. “I listened to it more than a few times last night, and to some of his other favorites. I half expected him to come in from practicing, and start singing along with that Dire Straits album. I will never hear Down to the Waterline without thinking of him, or that Billy Joel song, Vienna.” His voice broke, and he blinked hard a few times. “Sorry,” he murmured, as a stray tear escaped.
Ami reached over and took his hand, and squeezed it firmly.
Neal squeezed back, but didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. He could never tell anyone about the significance of Vienna, except maybe St. John, under the seal of confessional. It was a sacred memory, that night two years before, when he and Lorin decided to hold their own private commitment ceremony. Just the two of them, alone in the living room, dressed in full formal attire, speaking vows to one another by candlelight, and slow dancing for a long time afterwards, beginning with Vienna. Neal had not thought much about the song one way or another at the time, beyond it being pretty, and being amused at Lorin singing along, slightly off-key, with a long stemmed rose in his teeth as they danced.
He fingered his “wedding ring”?a carved silver dragon with ruby eyes. Lorin had it specially made for him. The design replicated a small tattoo Lorin had gotten not long after his arm and hand had healed: a serpentine dragon bent into a circle, with its tail in its mouth. The tattoo was on Lorin’s left wrist, just below his damaged hand, and Neal had been angry when he came home with it.
“It’s fine for now, when you’re twenty-one years old,” Neal said, “but how will you feel about it when you’re sixty-five? Honestly, Lorin! Couldn’t you have gotten it someplace less conspicuous? Whatever possessed you?”
“If you’ll stop ranting at me, I’ll be happy to explain.”
“Well, then.” Neal set the teapot on the table with a thump, and sat down. “I’m all ears. Start explaining.”
“Look at it, Babe. What do you see?”
The tattoo was fresh, and the skin slightly swollen, with a fleck of blood here and there, but the design was clear. “It’s a dragon.”
“Yeah, and what is he doing?”
“Chasing his tail.”
Lorin shook his head. “No, he’s not chasing his tail. It’s in his mouth, see? He’s devouring himself.”
“Ugh!” Neal shuddered.
“No, you don’t understand. There’s really nothing ‘ugh’ about it. A dragon devouring himself is an old symbol for regeneration, and I need this one to be exactly where he is. My hand is never going to be the same. We both know that. But if I always have an image of regeneration and transformation to meditate on, I’ll remember that things can never go back to the way they were, and I have to work with it in a different way from now on. Without this image, you know what I focus on?”
Lorin rolled his sleeve up to his elbow and traced the line of the scar from where it began, and turned his arm over to show where it ended, in the palm of his hand. “I have to stop looking at this and wishing it wasn’t there. I know that, but I still end up doing it all the time, and wishing I could turn the clock back to that night, and do things differently, so I wouldn’t end up like this. I can’t move forward if I keep looking back on things I can’t change, and imagining the ways it could all have been different.” He turned his hand over again, displaying the dragon. “He’s a good distraction.”
Neal studied it more carefully. It was a nice tattoo, and it wasn’t that large, and regeneration and transformation were certainly good things for Lorin to consider as he continued to heal.
The image jumped as Lorin’s arm twitched involuntarily, as it had been doing since the injury. He put his right hand under his wrist and lifted his arm, and pressed it tightly against his chest. “I wish it would stop doing that.”
“The doctor said it would, in time.”
“I know, but for now, it’s a fucking nuisance, and you heard what happened to the recessional hymn yesterday when it did that. How am I ever going to play repertoire again, if I keep having these damn spasms when I least expect it?”
“Just remember that it will pass eventually, and keep on working slowly to build up your strength and control again.”
“Yeah. But you see now, why I need the dragon?”
“I think so. I also think you should give it a rest, and not practice for a couple of days. Wear your wrist brace and a sling to remind yourself not to use your arm at all, and I’m sure you’ll find that things are much improved by Wednesday.”
Lorin sighed. “I hate to admit you’re right on that score, but?you are. I’ll go take care of it. You’re not still mad about the tattoo, are you?”
“No, and I wasn’t so much angry as I was shocked. Of all the things I could never imagine you doing!”
Lorin chuckled. “Aren’t you used to me being full of surprises by now, after being together for two years?”
“No. Now, go take care of your arm, and then come out and have some tea.”