Tell A Tale in 500 Words

By the Lake By Imogen Rhia Herrad

We decide to go to the cafĂ© in the park. You commandeer the last free table right by the water’s edge for us, beating off a rival couple with an icy stare. I think they’d have enjoyed it more. It is in a romantic place, close to the swans and ducks and geese, the waterlilies and the fish. They look as though they still appreciate romance. Unlike us. There still is an us, this afternoon, but it is weak and listless, pale. It’s dying.

We sit. You praise the trees, the sun, the excellent location of our table. You work so hard to pretend that all is well.

My throat is clogged with words I’ve left too long unsaid. I’m mute. I feel the end of us, each shallow, rasping breath.

You jump up, needled by my silence, and go inside to get our teas.

A heron comes to rest on a flat stone. It stands, beak outstretched, and stares in hopeful concentration down into the depths.

When I look up I see you coming back, the tray a slope, tea slopping out of mugs, tip of your tongue between your lips. And I am stabbed with love for you: all of the yous, right back to that first moment that we met. The days and nights of you, three summers and two winters of you; promise, excitement, fascination, trust, tenderness, delight, restfulness, irritation, anger, unhappiness.

Love flares up again, and I want to share my heron with you. I point it out with cautious movements. I don’t want to walk familiar paths, trigger familiar irritations, don’t want to scare away the heron.

You look, nod, arrange tray, mugs, sugar, napkins. I swallow a sigh, wash it down with tea.

There is a ripple on the surface of the water. A scaly snout breaks though, two flaring nostrils, a curl of smoke; two eyes as bright as diamonds. A tiny jagged mountain ridge of scales runs down its back. A long sleek tail shakes off bright droplets, curls around its claws. The dragon yawns, displaying teeth and breathing out small flames, more smoke. It shakes its wings out, greenish-yellow, lighter than its scales, and suns itself just like a cormorant.

I try. I try. ‘Look,’ I say. ‘A dragon.’

You look, you nod, drink tea. You cannot see my dragon.

I clear my throat. A curl of smoke escapes from my left nostril. I cough, my hand covers my mouth. A tongue of flame shoots out between my fingers.

You look away.

Unspoken words stab at my throat. I should have said this long ago.

‘I’m leaving.’

I stand up, take off my clothes. People turn and stare.

‘Not now,’ you whisper, agonised.

My skin transforms as soon as I slide into the water. I blow out a sigh, a sheet of flame, shake out my wings, take off.

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