Two are in a prison cell, One and Another. The walls have lines
of dust running along the mortared spaces between black stones. The floor and
ceiling are aged cement with cracks and algae. The door is rusted steel with a
small yellowed, distorted glass window up top and a rusted steel plate on the
bottom which slides open with a piercing scraping sound announcing mealtime.
a bare light in a wire cage in the center of the ceiling that goes out at nine at
night and comes on mornings at six. A toilet hole on the floor in one corner
with a pipe in the wall next to it that slowly drips into a ceramic bowl that
shows the stains of long use. There are wooden platforms for sleeping on the
side walls and a bench against the back wall.
Using his height and foot size as yardsticks, One has
measured the length, width and height of the surfaces and objects in the room. Above
that bench there is what One figures is a 28.5 centimeters high, 92 centimeter
wide 58 centimeter thick opening with three iron bars 2.5 centimeters in
diameter. He has estimated the age of the cell by the amount of rust on the
iron, and periodically announces numbers for the humidity and temperature.
Another stands on the bench and looks at the river flowing below and across to the
river’s far bank, freedom in the land beyond. She can stick her head between
bars and barely see a straight drop into the river.
A dragon lives in the river. Noting its bicuspids, One says
it is waiting there to devour anyone who tries to swim to freedom if someone
could swim that far if they could swim if they could get out. One estimated the
dragon’s length and width, how much it weighs, its species, family, class, the
size, thickness, and number of its scales, claws and teeth, the amount of water
it displaces. He can’t discern whether it’s male or female. Another looks into
its black eyes and sings to it. She does so first thing in the morning and last
at night. One wakes and goes to sleep by her song. The dragon listens and looks
toward the window.
Three times a day comes the metal scraping sound and mush is
delivered on steel plates with steel spoons. One eats right away sitting on his
platform. Another stands on the bench and looks out the opening, taking an
occasional bite. When there’s a knock on the metal door, the plates and spoons
must be returned. Another waits until the guard shouts to return it now! After
the guard is gone, Another throws a ball she’s rolled with most of the mush
into the waiting mouth of the dragon. She’s thin. One is plump. The dragon is
Days pass. One counts them and announces how long they’ve
been there, the number of days, weeks, months, seasons, years, hours, minutes,
seconds. One has told Another the number of stones in the wall, their average
sizes and estimated weight and individual size and weight. He knows what type
of stone it is and substances it’s composed of. He can announce the time by
looking at shadows below. Another always expresses appreciation for One’s facts
and figures. Then she gazes at the dragon.
One day after dinner, Another did not throw a mush ball to
the dragon. She just kept gazing into its eyes. When it came time to sing she
did so. With One asleep and the dragon looking up, Another quickly went to One,
kissed his sleeping head, returned to the window, lifted out an iron bar she’d
been digging away at for countless days with the spoons during mealtime. To the
dragon she tossed the last mush ball containing the day’s powdered concrete
which gave the morsel a distinctive taste the dragon had grown to love. Thinly
Another slipped through the opening, clung to the remaining bars with her hands
behind her and with her heels against the walls pushed and leaped into the
water with a splash by the dragon which bowed down so she could slide over the
back of its neck and straddle it. The dragon swiftly swam to the other shore
and gently lowered it’s head so Another could step down to freedom, bow to the
dragon, and walk home.
One awoke the next morning to find himself without Another.
He looked at the bar lying on the bench and the opening too small for him – and
anyway there’s that dragon and all that water. He wondered if she was in the
water or the dragon or, looking across, no – that’s impossible. He decided after
eating to calculate the number of gallons that passed by each day. He started
sharing his observations with the guard and in time there would be unexpected practical
applications and improvements to the prison.