A short prose about a daughter's discovery of her lost father and the truth behind his disappearance, concerning a mythical creature.

 

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   A sharp, grinding roar rattled Cynthia’s eardrums. Her eyelids lazily parted to the annoying call of breakfast – another one of Mom’s gross oatmeal smoothies spinning in the blender for sure – but her body did not respond as much.
   “Cynthia!! Wake up, honey!!”
   Come on, Mom, it’s Saturday for crying out loud, thought Cynthia as she managed to drag herself into the bathroom. She splashed her face with water and looked up at her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were still horrendously puffy from all the teenage hormonal drama of last night. That jerk Ryan Mullins can go take a dump on that bimbo bitch. Bet she’d like him still. The corners of Cynthia’s lips contorted with the thought of her now ex-boyfriend smooching on Miss Prom Queen. Now that’s something Mom’s healthy goop certainly wouldn't fix. Maybe I have daddy issues, she thought, maybe I’m trying too hard to fill the gap with some dumb jock so I have a man in my life. She walked into the kitchen, trying desperately to escape her mother’s overly sympathetic hug attempt.
   “Oh, my poor baby – look at you, all gloomy! Well, guess what will make this all much better – that’s right, your Mom made a strawberry oatmeal smoothie! Mmmm…”

   Wanting to evade the awkwardness, Cynthia made an excuse to go fetch the mail.
   The crisp November morning air felt refreshing, even with the scent of pollution. There was something to be said about living in the chaotic, urban jungle of Brooklyn, New York. Its apathy was brutal, but there was always just enough distraction to take you away from stuff. Stuff like breakups and emphatic moms. Cynthia tried to take as much time as she could, thumbing through and examining every single junk mail. Just as she thought she’d have to go back in, an envelope caught her eye. It was vanilla with a flowery stamp, addressed to none other than Cynthia herself. Ooh, did I win the Justin Bieber contest?! Her eyes excitedly dashed to the sender, only to be puzzled by the unfamiliar address: Kahuku, Hawaii. Who could have possibly sent her a letter from Hawaii? And who uses snail mail anymore? Half curious and half glad that she had yet another excuse to stay out, she sat on her doorstep and tore open the envelope. A smoky smell tickled her nose as she pulled out several pages of a handwritten letter. Astonished, she began to read.

 

Dear Cynthia,

I know this comes as a surprise for you. I have never been a part of your life, and I am deeply regretful of that. By writing this letter to you, I am not asking you to forgive me, but only to have the generosity for a very special friend that I wish to introduce to you.
Eighteen years ago, your mother and I met as employee and employer at the zoo that I owned. Times were difficult for a private zoo back then, and most of the employees had quit, leaving the zoo in the hands of a few loyal workers including your mother. Your mother was very attached and devoted to the tiny, dying zoo. Not just because she was in love with me at that time, but because she was a passionate woman like that. And then you were born (inside a lion’s den – did your mother ever tell you?). You were the joyous epitome of our love, but we were also very worried that we would not be able to provide for you. We prayed that the zoo would thrive with visitors once again.

Then one day, a mysterious, finely dressed man came to the zoo asking me to take away his ‘problem’ that could prove to be more use to me than him. Perhaps drawn by his charming demeanor, I followed him to a wooden cage. I couldn't believe what was inside, because what I saw was a lizard, no, an alligator, no – a dragon. It was a baby, still the size of a rabbit, but I could see its unmistakable wings and smell its smoky breath. I turned around to ask how the man had obtained an animal from legends, but he had already gone. I should have been cautious of this man and his miraculous ‘gift,’ but I was ecstatic. This could save the zoo and make millions! We wouldn't need to live in a shack anymore! Your mother felt precarious about the dragon, but she believed my enthusiasm would revive the business, if not the dragon. And we both agreed that we needed the money to feed you well. Ads were sent out to newspapers, and your mother and I sensed the tingling sensation of success. By the time of the grand re-opening of the zoo, in less than four months, the dragon had grown magnificently to the size of an elephant. It was quite a sight.

But let this be a lesson for you, Cynthia. If nothing else, let this consequence of your father’s foolishness serve as a reminder of how you should never expect success to simply be handed to you. On the morning of the re-opening, I was engulfed in horror as I saw that the dragon had broken loose during the night and had destroyed the zoo entirely. All of the other animals had been viciously killed, and the buildings were burned down by fire. It was before opening time and people were not injured, but some of the brave workers that had managed to calm the dragon down and capture it suggested I flee with the dragon before people start accusing me of potentially endangering the visitors. They said I should be grateful that the cost was only at my own expense and not others’. I could do nothing but agree, but your mother did not recover from this ordeal. We ended up parting ways and I still remember the pain I felt in my heart as I rubbed the tears off from the photo of you and your mother, on the ship to Hawaii. I prayed to God that you were too young to remember me, that your mother never mentions me, lest it hurts you that I left.

I arrived in the small town of Kahuku, where people were still walking around half dressed and happily fishing with primitive nets. Instantly, giggling children swarmed around to poke curiously
at the enormous crate with holes. They all screamed and ran away when the ‘crate’ grunted nervously. The shipmates helped me shoo away the staring townsfolk, while the crane carried the crate far into the thick forest. I paid what I had and thanked the crew, and was soon left alone in the tropics of this forlorn island. I should have felt afraid and doomed in the middle of nowhere, but in truth the lukewarm air, the uninhibited darkness, and non-judging chirps of unknown creatures felt soothing. For the first time in a while, I felt relieved.

My convoluted thoughts chased away sleep all throughout that first night. Remorse turned to hatred, and then to guilt towards you and your mother. I had been blinded, and in the process I was careless about everyone, including the dragon. In my arrogance, I expected it to serve me unquestioningly in my blundering plans. But the force of nature is unbreakable, and whatever nature that had harvested this beast had proven to be ironclad. Humbled but not knowing what to do, I figured I would live out here from now on, shunning civilization. The dragon (which by that time I had named George, out of loneliness just so I could talk to him as if he were human) stayed lying inside his crate, like he shared the guilt. I felt sorry for George, to be the only one of his kind, his very nature causing trouble and to have been cast out. And then I realized that my state was no better than his.

The next evening, I came back to my shelter after a successful day of net fishing (who would have thought these primitive tools were so effective?). As I started gutting the fish, I heard a huffing sound from the crate. George smelled the fish and was hungry for it. Staring into George’s eyes with all the courage I could muster, walked into the crate to share my food. I felt if he were to betray my trust, I would have nothing to lose but my sorry life. George was amazingly calm. He took only the fish I gave him and watched me silently as I struggled to light a fire to cook my share. Then he softly grunted, turned to a pile of dried leaves I had collected and blew out a small flame on them! I was astonished, but as the witness of it all, how could I deny what I’d just seen? Back at the zoo, we were master and beast; now I felt that we were just two beings struggling to put the past away. After dinner, we both peered at the sunset staining the magnificent, placid ocean. Once again the thought of you and your mother tightened my throat. I knew your mother would have loved this beautiful place.

In the following days, I realized what I had done wrong by George. He, as a dragon, had a necessity to blow flames regularly. Otherwise, he would develop a violent tantrum, which was what the tragedy at the zoo had been. So, the two of us had it worked out. Every day, George would happily light the fire and I could easily cook food for the both of us. But as you would have predicted, I could never gather enough food for George by myself. And even when I let him out of the crate in hopes of him hunting on his own, George was acting timid and unwilling as if he worried that he would destroy something again. That is why I had to return to civilization with him again. I knew George would always be a liability, but I trusted our newly formed connection.

He is not just any beast. He knows and understands us, Cynthia.

By this point I know you will have most definitely started to wonder if this is all made up. But I believe that my sincerity will get through. I have also included plane tickets, in hopes that you will come to Hawaii and find the little restaurant called Kuna’s BBQ in the heart of Kahuku. The people here have come to understand my friendship with George. And with George’s ‘fiery’ help, and a few of my Hawaiian friends’ help as well, I've been an owner of this barbecue for twenty years already! It is funny how life steers you in unexpected ways. Everyone here will welcome you with all their heart, including George, whom you will see for yourself.

I wish I could welcome you myself, but I’m afraid I cannot. I wish I could see you once again, my little girl, my princess, and tell you how I thought of you every day, how sorry I was to have left you. I wish I could see how you’ve grown to be a beautiful woman, to see you flourish in life, in happiness… But life, like I said, has its unexpected plans. By the time you receive this, I’m afraid I will have become a memory in those that I have loved. I will leave happily in the company of my dear friends here, but I cannot express how much I miss you and your mother. I am sorry that it took such a long time to forgive myself, and to find you. The restaurant is all I have to give to you. It is not much, but I hope the joy that it has given me will capture you as well. I also hope you will become great friends with George. Although you've never met each other, I am certain that George will recognize me in you. Please take good care of him. Kono, the manager of the restaurant will tell you all there is to know about him and the restaurant.

If you decide to decline my gift, I understand entirely, that you may have your own plans. Still, I wish you will at least visit Kuna, even if you don’t introduce yourself to anyone, just sit in the sunlight, and enjoy a dish or two. Besides, where else on Earth will you find a restaurant with a chef as special as George?

Don’t ever forget that I love you with all my heart, Cynthia.
I always have.

Your Father.


   Cynthia’s heart raced as she skimmed through the letter once again. Your Father. Hawaii. Dragon. It was too much to process. Shaking, she pulled herself up from the steps and went inside. She couldn't believe that her mother never mentioned this to her. She had told Cynthia that she had split with her father because of ‘complicated matters.’ Dragons were definitely complicated matters.
   “Mom!!!”
She gripped the letter tightly.