March 10th 2023
The study was cramped. Made entirely of wood paneling, the room appeared dark and even smaller than it was in reality, with only the lone candle on the desk for light. Rita pushed her glasses up her nose and scooted her chair an inch closer to the pile of fabric on her desk. It made a harsh screeching sound as the legs scraped across the wooden floor, but she didn’t startle. She barely blinked as she stitched closed a section of the garment was making.
At least, it had appeared to be a garment for the last few hours, with the fabric stretched across her tailor’s ham so she could craft a tunnel-like shape out of thread and cotton. However, a few stitches later, the “tunnel” was entirely sealed off, and what had seemed to be some kind of arm or leg-hole closed off into a conical shape. She twisted it around and shook out some of the excess fabric. She reached into the wicker basket that she had pushed under her desk, crammed beside her feet and a box of scraps, and pulled out fistful after fistful of fluffy white stuffing. She packed it into the garment until it started to take on a new shape. Something of a body, and then a head. Legs – four of them. She stitched until the stuffing was sealed inside, before sewing on a face, which she finished off with two glinting obsidian buttons that reflected the wavering candlelight.
The final step, the most crucial, was the hardest of all, because she had to set down her tools and simply scoop the mound of fabric up into her arms and hold it close to her head. She whispered something to it, giving it some of her own breath, and then the garment stretched and breathed.
It was a dragon, made of cloth, breathed to life in her little workshop. It was a small thing, the size of a very large cat, or a reasonably small dog. Even still, there was hardly enough room for the two of them in Rita’s study, but it scampered happily across the floor, the claws she had fashioned out of spare bits of cloth seeming sharper and harder now that the dragon was alive and no longer just a garment. They left scratches on the hardwood floor, much like her chair had. She scolded the dragon, but couldn’t put much anger in her voice. Not when she had made the creature herself.
The dragon jumped onto her lap and nuzzled there, and it was then that she noticed that she had forgotten wings. She cursed under her breath, and the dragon looked curiously up at her.
“You need wings,” she told the dragon, shaking her head at her forgetfulness. “Of course you do. Or else you aren’t much of a dragon at all.”
The dragon didn’t seem bothered about its smooth back, but it didn’t fight her when she picked up two more scraps of fabric, carefully cut matching arcs and scalloped edges into them, and stitched the newly shaped wings to the dragon’s back. The dragon keened and winced a bit as Rita worked, but soon the job was done, and the dragon seemed pleased when it flapped its little wings and started to lift off Rita’s lap and into the air.
“There you go,” Rita said, admiring the dragon as it soared up to the workshop’s low ceiling. It didn’t have far to go before its scales brushed the wooden panels, but the dragon seemed pleased to be able to fly anywhere at all.
However, it wasn’t long before Rita realized that the dragon didn’t have any spikes. She called the dragon down and got to stitching. As the spikes she stitched grew larger, she realized that the dragon was too small to match its new additions, and she worked to crack open the dragon’s skin, add panels here and there, and refill it. All the while, the dragon protested and wriggled, having learned that the needle never meant anything good. But Rita managed to make the dragon bigger. And bigger. And, before long, the dragon had grown to the size of a horse, crowded around her chair so the two of them barely fit in the room. There certainly wasn’t space for the dragon to run around any longer.
And yet, Rita didn’t stop stitching, or cutting, or ironing, and the dragon grew and grew, until it looked nothing like the small, cheerful, button-eyed creature it had once been. This dragon was scaled and had hard ridges and lines across its snout and spine. The only thing of its innocent gaze left in its face was the glow of the firelight in its eyes, but those same eyes had grown narrow and hard, taking in Rita’s shifting form as though it were considering if it had enough room to gobble her up.
“Of course,” Rita said, her voice higher pitched and more panicked than it had been when she had started the process of making her dragon. But she couldn’t still the shaking in her hands, as she reached for glittering red beads in her top desk drawer – which she could only open wide enough to stick her hand inside and grab randomly at the contents. “A true dragon must breathe fire.”
She reached into the dragon’s open mouth up to her elbows as she worked, stitching red and orange and blue beads into its maw until very real fire began to collect in its throat.
She had just reached for a jar of buttons so she could add yet more scales to the underside of the dragon’s belly, when the dragon opened its mouth and burnt the little workshop to a crisp.
Rita watched, dazed, surrounded by nothing but tinder and embers, as the dragon spread its now massive wings. It gazed at the moon that it had only grown to know from the whispered stories Rita had told each time she had ripped it apart and put it back together again. Finally, after blowing one more puff of air from its nostrils, it cast itself into the sky.
Lara Slabber is in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Rosemont College. They are originally from Cape Town, South Africa, but now live in Pennsylvania with their partner and two naughty cats.
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