art by Eleanor Bennett
by Andrew Kaye
Doctor Longtooth tapped at the x-ray images with a single gold-sheathed talon. A troubled series of clicks rattled at the back of his throat. Smoke dribbled from the corners of his mouth. "I am sorry, Mr. Callahan," his voice rumbled. "It is at stage four. And the tissue is dying."
My father stared at the images. What should have been the black shadows of his lungs were instead a foggy white reminiscent of frosted glass. "That's it then," he said, taking my hand and squeezing. "It's over. It was a good life while it lasted."
Doctor Longtooth nodded sadly. "You have three months to get your things in order," he said. "Then I'd like to see you back here one last time. You and your daughter can make an appointment with Diana for the week of the 27th."
I led my father to the receptionist's desk, shaking my head in disbelief. He had come in with shortness of breath. He was leaving with terminal cancer.
When the dragons reemerged at the turn of the century, they went looking for work. Looking for careers. By some unspoken consensus, they all went into medicine.
And they were brilliant. Long lives and long memories made for excellent physicians. Dragons saved patients human doctors could not. They handled incurable diseases like my father's cancer with similar efficiency.
Doctor Longtooth ate my father on a Wednesday, per the terms he had agreed to in his insurance plan.
I was there with him the day he was eaten. The months leading up to it had helped my father come to terms with what was about to happen. "I'm going to die anyway," he told me on our way to Doctor Longtooth's office, and not for the first time. "I might as well get it over with quickly. The dragons are right. All that radiation, all those chemicals... that's no way to live."
He was his usual, gregarious self at the office. He smiled, joked with the nurses. They led us down hallways as wide as two-lane roads, past doors like those of single-car garages. Then we reached the far end of the health complex. I said my goodbyes outside the long window of what was labeled the "Receiving Room." Then the nurses led him inside. The glass was thick, the walls soundproof. Through the window, I watched my father chat calmly with the nurses as he filled out some final pieces of paperwork.
The nurses took the papers and left. Doctor Longtooth took their place. He and my father talked for a few moments. I watched my father pause, a quizzical look on his face. Doctor Longtooth lowered his head ear-level to my father. Whispered something.