• Toni and Scotte Burns

Dragons Get Dusty


This is especially so if they slumber upon their hoards for too long behind the glass of my corner curio cabinet. Thanks to students over the years, friends from various renaissance festivals, family offering birthday and Christmas gifts, and my lovely wife - who knows my love for dragons better than anyone - my collection (or flock - do dragons flock?) currently numbers 83. They range from a tiny origami figure crafted by a young writer who should instead have been paying attention to that day’s grammar lesson, to a two-foot-tall five-pound stuffed wyvern playfully devouring an apple rather than the damsel in distress said to be their favorite meal. It’s amusing to think that my scaly gathering now constitutes a kind of hoard in itself. I actually hadn’t known their exact number until I found myself standing aimlessly in one corner of our crooked little house back in Deadwood, banished from purpose and clinging to sanity in the quarantine fog we all came to know so well in the surreal first months of the plague.


Many others have likely woken recently to the same gauzy morning questions that preceded this moment. What day is it? What time? Did I wear matching shoes yesterday? How were steel cut oats discovered? What language do they speak in Madagascar? If I lose my mind, will my wife find it wrapped within a doghair dust bunny, wriggling and trapped alongside one of the little roly-polies that climb up from the crawlspace every spring? (Down south they call them pillbugs, you know.)


And then, somehow, through this haze of undirected thoughts, I found myself abiding somewhere on a scale of endeavor between painting the entire interior of the house to standing, motionless, staring blankly into one corner of it, simply trying to splash out a brain wave. Or even just a ripple. And in that moment of inertia, I realized that my dragons had been in seclusion far longer than I had been. They had gotten dusty, and that at least was one situation over which I had some control. Out came the glass cleaner, wood polish, lint-free rags, and a curious, spongy little telescoping duster that Toni had picked up somewhere along the way. It was purple, after all. The glass doors of the curio opened a little unevenly, sitting in the crooked corner as it did, atop a floor that was off-kilter from the floor members having been half-eaten by beetles and the entire house sliding slowly down the Burnham Hill for the last hundred and thirty years. Picking up the first of the figurines, a chubby pewter Pete’s Dragon-style effigy holding a glass ball with the word “Hope” encased within, a tinkle of glass came from the next shelf down. Somehow, one of “Hope’s” more delicate cousins below had suffered more than most from its isolation. One wing lay next to its body, tiny scratches in the dust around it tracing its fall.


Picking the little green amputee and its orphaned wing from among the flock, (Herd? Gaggle? A gaggle of dragons... I like it. Sounds like an Irish drinking song) I dusted, cleaned, and replaced each one, recalling their individual origins and stories. One in particular brought forth a chuckle, remembering the innocent joy of the giver - a sixth-grade student who’d picked it up for me from a street corner vendor in Tijuana while on a family vacation in Mexico. I gratefully added it to my collection, and never mentioned that in addition to being super cute, it was also a crack pipe. That’s just stayed a little secret between the two of us all these years. I dug the crusty superglue tube out of the junk drawer and applied its last drop to the busted dragon’s body and wing, being careful to not glue my finger to either its wing or to another finger, and balanced it against a couple of its friends to dry and heal.


As I finished up and waited for the glue to dry before checking the repair, it occurred to me that there had been a few other things I’d let get dusty in my pre-isolation world. Most had to do with people I’d let sit, alone, far too long in the curio cabinet of my life. So I took out my phone, opened up the contacts list and gave it a big swipe. Names and numbers spun, eventually settling on an old bandmate from years ago. I hit the call button and discovered that our friendship hadn’t diminished with the passing of time. We’d both thought of calling one another over the years, but as they passed we’d each become a little shy about it, embarrassed that we’d each let so much dust settle between us. It felt good to clear it away and to see each other’s shiny sides again.


Now that Toni and I have moved from the crooked little house to a new, modern home in the nearby college town of Spearfish, I’ve unpacked the once again freshly dusted dragons and let them find new places in their curio world. Putting the now properly bi-winged one back on the shelf, my dragons are reminding me how many of us are going to emerge from these socially-distanced plague times with a broken wing or missing a few scales. There will be many chances and a deep need to both glue one another back together and to become a little more diligent about the dusting in our lives. I remain grateful for the clarity that visited between the less lucid moments of quarantine isolation that inspired my pondering recent shoe pairings, Googling Madagascar, and reading oatmeal labels.


With gleaming scales and toothy grins, my dragons continue to speak of how times spent dusting off friendships, talents, and aspirations matter because weaving those moments together is what eventually becomes the fabric of meaning in our lives. Few of those moments are epiphanies revealed in the rush of our days, though. Most, in fact, are just little revelations that happen when we notice a thing because we’re finally standing still long enough to see it.


Like, dragons get dusty.