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The Dragon Slayer
By Leigh Kilton-Smith

Boomer the Chihuahua and I are having a stare down. It's 3:15 a.m. and though my mother lies dying a few feet away, right now it's just me and Boomer. He growls at me and I growl right back except I go a step further by showing off my ability to form words.
"Fuck off. You're a dog, go drink out of the dog bowl."

He retreats, under my withering gaze, and ignores the bowl. Instead he click-clacks his way back into the bedroom where my dad is sleeping

Oh, he'll be back…

I lay down on the sofa cushions that make up my bed on the floor. Try to get comfortable, cushions sliding, the blanket too heavy, I keep half an eye out for that Paris Hilton handbag wannabe Chihuahua. I don't trust him, the little fucker.

Earlier in the day, Daddy warns me that "Boomer won't drink nothin' unless it's outta his mama's cup." Then he demonstrates how Boomer will wait… Daddy pries off the top of the Circle K Day Breaker Travel Cup, and then Boomer laps thirstily, his little rat head disappearing entirely into the cup. Afterwards Boomer is smug, licking his little whiskers, sticking his hairless ass up in the air and click-clacking away. Hate that dog.

Daddy puts the cup back onto the made-up bedside table where Mama could reach it if she needed it. He senses my horror and says, "Yup they been doing this, the two of 'em fer a long time…" He takes a drag off his filter-less Pall Mall and looks me over. "You sure you can do this?" I see how exhausted he is, how he is feeling this loss, sitting beside the only wife he's ever had, day in and day out, three weeks since she's been moved here into the living room so she can die. I briefly wonder if a person dies in the living room, does it become the dying room? Hey, let's have our coffee in the dying room.

I refocus and reassure my Dad, "Yes, go, go to bed, you've been doing this for the last three weeks, I think I can handle it for one night… go to bed. I'll wake you if there's a problem, I promise."

He gives me a peck on the cheek and says, "You're the only one I'd trust to take care of her all night. I sure am glad you're here, I know she is too."

I lie, "Yeah, me too, Daddy, me too. Get some sleep."

I attempt a hug, but he's already moving away.

This hugging, this show of affection towards each other is something I have brought back with me from my travels. Like a cheap mask that gets passed around, some try it on but push it off quickly, uncomfortable with the closeness, they hand it off to someone else, who doesn't want to try it on, looks weird. We are not good at it, not yet, but after she is gone…

After she is gone, after she is gone, this is the mantra for this moment, after she is gone.

I watch Daddy disappear into the bedroom and I catch one final glimpse of Boomer glaring at me from a pillow on the bed as he shuts the door.

I am alone with her.

The dragon slayer and the dragon. I step closer and study her, not so huge and fire-breathing now, not so mighty and self-righteous now, her claws retracted into a death clutch, her breath is rattling and hesitant, but still dangerous.

Seemingly she can hurt no one now but the dragon slayer knows better, so I sleep with one eye open and both ears alert.

The night stretches on and on, and the sofa cushions become even more uncomfortable, shifting underneath me, separating like dominoes. At one point she moves and cries out a little and I am on my feet, faster than I'd like. I ask, "Are you okay? Do you need something?" She doesn't seem to hear me but she relaxes back into the morphine-induced sleep.

She dozes. And I watch her.

She is a monster, I will not be fooled by this cheap show of surrender, I can't forget this, ever, I can't. I will not buy into the, "Oh death erases all the wrongs a person committed in their lifetime, after all they're dying, blah fucking blah…" I will not. And a voice inside assures me I don't have to.

I count up her wrongs. Thirty-sixty -- the number of times I lied to explain the bruises; fourteen, my age when I ran away from home after a beating so severe, part of my scalp was missing. I stopped crying some point along the way and that pissed her off even more. Ten, the number of kids she had; four, the number of kids she gave away and six, the number of kids she kept; and five, my sister Lisa's age when Mama took to calling her a whore and accused her of seducing my father. Three, the number of times she knocked me out during a beating, and two, the number of times I passed out from hunger during school.

But, wait, hold on, put the pity party on pause. See, I was a kid. It would be years before the adult me would look back and proclaim my childhood a tragedy. I didn't know anything else, and of course she knew it all, that's what sucked. And that was why she would never be forgiven, not on my watch -- never. I just didn't like getting hit and spit on… no tragedy, just a never-ending game of, like, close-contact dodge ball… especially when you're still in the game. And man were we locked in the game, she and I, lifetimes old. But I am here to make sure it doesn't happen ever again. I might not understand the meaning of the word forgive, but I know how to say it and if that's what the gods, goddesses, the universe, or Marianne Williamson need to hear, I am here to say it.

Yesterday I whispered to her, when no one else was around, "I forgive you, I forgive you all of it." I thought she was asleep and so I also whispered, "So, we don't have to do this again, ever, I end it here and now…okay?"

She surprised me by saying in a voice deeper than my own baritone, clear as a bell, "I forgive you too."

What? I mean, what??

Forgive me? Forgive me?? For what?!?

I just shook my head and let it go.

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