Jackie sits in his black office chair. The respected father watches his son run out. His dad repair job stalled for the day. Lost in how did I get here. His hand finds his balding head. A nervous shudder and chill strike. Jackie Paper trapped inside. By fifty years age and lost belief, the his last thought rings echoes. “I don’t think I was ever inside except to eat.”
His gazed fixed on an Oak tree. There are times when memories swim like a school of fish. There are times the memories hide in shadows. There was one memory. Standing like the shadowy figure in a horror movie. His face hopelessly out of view. The torso rigid and ready to strike. The moment of truth is far worse than the weapon of choice. It was at this junction, time left him exposed.
“Jackie, Jr! Let’s go look at that tree ….and that dragon of yours.” His words are the mystical language of fatherly advice. His eyes never leave the tree. His ears listen for those scuffling feet of a six year old. They come slowly. Jackie, Sr loosens the hand from the bald head.
“You know Jackie, Jr…. I had a lot of time alone when I was your age. My parents were older, like Mom and me…. Puff, the dragon, well we dreamed of travels across seas. Oh, they had pirates and beasts swimming. Giant squids, sharks, flying fish…scary things. I dreamed we crossed the Earth and the Seven Seas. Grandma, yelled at my wet clothes. I told her it was the waves of the seas. Puff would take me there.” He looks at his son. His own face from a previous time. Understanding creeps between them.
“Dad, he’s out there! Right now! He wants you to go out there. Dad, what if he’s evil. Dragons can eat people. They breath fire.” Jackie, Jr speaks from a bleached face and two large watery eyes.
“Puff was never evil. He was a mighty protector'” Jackie, Sr jumps out of the chair raising his right arm as a fist. “He was everything I had growing up….”
The confusion of an aging man finding lost thoughts. His focus was a child for once in a long while.
“Let’s go champ. We got a dragon to meet!” Jackie, Sr lowers his face to his son. In a flash he grabs his sons hand.
The front door opens to a Midwest summer day. Flowers dress up a yard. The trees sing in breezes. The solitary Oak awaits. The sparkle hides but a presence remains.
“Dad, that’s the tree.” A little boy points toward a distant location called next door.
“I can feel magic… Son, do you sense it?” A man’s voice youthens.
“Jackie Paper” the tree roars with shaking leaves.
They both stop ten feet from the tree. Faces wiped blank. Eyes not sure they see. Nothing is there but an Oak tree.
“I have come a long way! You forgot. We promised each other.” Green leaves shimmer and reveal a tail. Scales of light ripple and a face becomes clear.
A fifteen foot long dragon in finest emerald green dazzles the scene. His big eyes and thin neck move snake like as he reguards what time has done to Jackie, Sr. Puff’s gaze turns to Jackie, Jr. His eyes hold him still.
“I’m at a loss. One of you have the right eyes, but the other have the right face. I came to find out why I was left behind.” Puff looks back and forth at the two.
“I was a boy… My dragon was stuffed. I dreamed… adventure. A boy’s mind run wild. I believed in it. I held the nights and days as real. I know the face you wear…Puff. Could it really be? Where were you all this time?” Jackie, Sr looks at the secret of his childhood. Alive and moving like clouds in a high summer sky. “It was make believe…. it was make believe…”
Jackie, Jr stands frozen.
“Dragons live forever. Jackie Paper. I waited every night. Years pass slow. I heard voices on the wind… It was a dragons dream I found who you were…. Alive but not changed like other humans. I will always be near.” Puff raises his head to the sky. He raises his left foot talon to stomp the ground. His fearsome roar bellows in suburbia. A shimmering emerald beast vibrates into an illusion.
“Jackie, Jr. Dragons live forever… but not so little boys. Never stop believing. Never stop believing. Never stop..” Jackie, Sr drops to his knees. His years flashing back. Age grabbing hold of his place in time. Regret wrestles with silly childhood things.
The past is never far