He left the sink full of dirty dishes. Again. And he forgot to put the dog out so it's doing that goofy rub against the door thing and she's going to have to walk the beast before she can go to work. He also promised he would take back the videos on his way to school. They are sitting in a neat stack next to the leftopen box of Golden Grahams. Men. What are ya gonna do?

She was in the process of making a mental list of all of the others things he had forgotten to do. That's when she noticed it. Taped to the refrigerator door was a small unaddressed envelope. Inside were two tickets to the symphony for Saturday night and a scribbled note.

-see you tonight, love you

It shouldn't be enough. But it is.

She puts on a coat and runs to the door to save hyperpup. The dishes can wait. They always do.

This is why she stays. Mist in the garden, mist on the gravestones, evening light asking the rose to make its bow. As the chill descends she can see the pink of the sunset and the crimson of the roses vanish together. It is too dark to read, but it is comforting to hold a book on her knee as her thoughts drift to spider-webs, dew, night air, and far away the call of opera.

Her mother, perhaps, upstairs before returning to the kitchen. She liked to leave it on so the rooms were full of life and drama. Susan her sister, perhaps, working out mathematical exercises in her clear hand, and leaving the radio on for her, expecting she would be in again soon.

There were softly curtained lights in several of the upper windows, if she turned back to look at where she lived; would live, would if she chose to stay. Invisible from here but lucent from the street was the focal gold she had known every winter of her life: home, homecoming, warmth and multitudes. Since she had been eighteen she had sat openly amongst them, glowing in drink, flirting, coming to learn and love. If she went she could visit it: if she stayed, if she stayed, she had it about her and below her every night.

Jenny dusted her bottom off, glanced fondly into the silvered darkness of the pond soft with algae, and brushed between delphiniums, under the wisteria arch: looked back, wondered what otherworldly air kept them so fresh this near to winter: and went through the back door, oaken and ancient.

Where the stairs to her room began was by a corner of the bar, and here she saw the three most regular, who had been in the pub all day and greeted them on arrival. There was Marina still on duty, awaiting the evening shift. They already knew each other from visits, for the Green Dragon was until today the domain of their Grandmother Grey. She was retiring, and the Tylers were coming into their inheritance, after apprenticeships running ordinary pubs, with no graves in their back gardens, no crystalline caverns accessible from the cellars, no tunnels to any neighbouring ruined castle. This was why she stayed.

And the prints on the walls, and the encyclopaedia in the bookshelves by the fire, the picture that Dr Johnson had signed when he drank here, and the dragon's head. The fountain in the garden, the parlour where their grandmother kept their ancestral portraits and made a fire of roses. The snow, the tumulus, the armour, the corridors where none should be and the cats amid the lichen, marmalade and silver.

Tales of the Green Dragon | Later >

Squeezed up against the edge of a warm futon, trying to get out of the sun shining through the haze of cigarette smoke. She never did like the smell, but it always catches her by surprise how quickly the cigarette pressed between his lips can become a torture.

Not really lost, but not really here, she knows what he’s saying and she knows what’s coming, but only because its infidelities that she’s heard a thousand times before. She can’t help but wonder why things become so vivid in situations like this. She can’t help but stare intently at the cat licking itself

Who is he? Why was he walking you home? What were you talking about? He knows where we live? How did you meet him? What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid? Answer me!

That’s it. That’s when things really slow down. She should never have let him walk her home from class. It’s just that he seemed so nice, and she’s so lonely these days. No one to share art and literature with. But he read Vonnegut, and listened to John Mayer! What was his name again? Robert.

Opens her eyes again, she doesn’t notice the sting from the sun and the smoke; its overwhelmed by the stinging on the side of her face and the ache in her ribs. Despite how slowly it happened she almost doesn’t remember it. Stupid Robert, why couldn’t he walk home by himself? Oh well, it was her own fault for letting him tag along. She should never have betrayed the trust of the cigarette standing above her like that.

At least he loves her enough to care. And she knows he’s sorry. Look, he says he’s going to take her out to dinner. She better go and put her makeup on, her face is getting red.

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