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Dragon by Christine Overall

Brendan’s baby sister Bonnie was making airplanes on the floor of the playroom. She lay on her stomach and lifted her arms out sideways from her body. Those were the wings. She raised her fat soft little legs. That made the tail.

Brendan was on the floor too, lying on his stomach. When Bonnie airplaned, Brendan did it too. It was harder than it looked.

Bonnie’s airfield was a pink fleece blanket. Brendan’s airfield was the entire floor of smooth cold blue and white tiles. Brendan could move onto Bonnie’s airfield if he wanted to, though there wasn’t much room, but Bonnie was not allowed to leave her airfield. She had to stay on her blanket. That was blanket training.

Brendan’s job was to watch Bonnie. It was sort of boring. But Mama said, “Don’t take your eyes off her,” and mostly he didn’t. His job was important. Mama had lots of work to get done. A good boy does not whine, and never asks when his job will be over.

The playroom floor was wide and empty. All the toys were lined up along on shelves. Mama said, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” There was a kid-sized table against one wall, where Brendan could sometimes color or play quietly with play dough.

How much longer would he have to watch Bonnie? Brendan listened for the roar of the vacuum. It was still going. She was doing the hallway now.

There was a green plastic ball on Bonnie’s blanket. Balls don’t belong on airfields. A truck or a toy airplane would be better, but girls don’t play with those. Now Bonnie was propping herself on her elbows to hold the ball. Sometimes she put her head down to try to eat it. The ball was safe, but Brendan had to make sure she didn’t get hold of anything she could choke on. That’s why no Legos were allowed near Bonnie’s airfield.

The Lego set was tucked over in the corner of the playroom. Brendan had been building a dragon when Mama brought Bonnie and her blanket for him to watch. He was at a tricky part, trying to make the wings stick out without falling off. Brendan looked over at his half-built dragon, then quickly back at Bonnie.

Bonnie had let go of the ball. It rolled off the blanket. She put her hands on the floor near her shoulders and pushed up onto her knees. Her rear end came right off the floor. She smiled at Brendan and rocked back and forth.

Brendan thought again about the dragon and felt himself scooching over the slippery floor toward the Lego set. He would try to join two blue pieces to make a hinge for the wings. He wanted wings that could move up and down like a real dragon’s, not just pretend.

Then something changed. Brendan’s ears hummed in the silence. The vacuum had stopped. Good. Next Mama would polish the furniture. His job was half over. The baby was back on her stomach making airplanes. Brendan looked again at the Legos. As well as fixing the dragon’s wings he was going to make the tail longer. This would be a dangerous dragon.

Brendan shifted close enough to touch the Legos. He began to pick out red ones for the tail and blue ones for the wings. Then he fished through the pile for the White Knight. When the dragon was finished the White Knight could ride him and go anywhere he wanted.

“Brendan!” His mother’s sudden voice made him drop the White Knight. His head zipped to the right. Mama was standing in the doorway. In one hand she had a rag. In the other she was holding a wooden spoon.

“What are you doing?”

Brendan’s feet had fallen asleep and he almost fell as he stood up. “Watching Bonnie, Mama.”

Mama tucked the rag in the pocket of her apron. “No you’re not. Look at her.” For a moment Brendan almost couldn’t breathe. Where was Bonnie? Then he saw her. She was sitting under the table by the wall, holding her ball. She had crawled right off her airfield.

“What did I tell you?”

“Not to let Bonnie off her blanket.”

“Complete sentence, please.”

“I shouldn’t let Bonnie go off her blanket.”

“And where is she now?”

Brendan felt a small sob filling his throat. “She’s not on her blanket.”

Mama’s voice had been loud but now it became quiet. “What happens if she leaves her blanket, Brendan?”

“Sorry, Mama, sorry.” Brendan could feel the needles in his eyes that meant he was going to cry. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. “She couldn’t help it.”

But Mama had already crossed the room in three big steps. Her lips were pressed together in a thin line. She bent down and yanked Bonnie out from under the table. The baby began to wail.

Brendan knew what was coming. “Hit me, Mama, hit me!” Mama raised the wooden spoon up and brought it down. Once, twice, three times. All against Bonnie’s little fat legs.

The baby screamed. The spoon was leaving ugly red marks on Bonnie’s skin.

Brendan’s head was buzzing. In his mind he yelled “No, no!” He tried to move but his foot skidded and hit the dragon.

Both of its new blue wings broke off.

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