catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 12 :: 2012.06.08 — 2012.06.21


Dragon’s Milk

“The best,” I chuckle as I read the label on the bottle; “Dragon’s Milk,” it says.

“It’s a stout with chocolate and vanilla undertones,” Webs says. “They brew it right here in Holland.” Michigan, that is. Bizarre, complex, a little confused with itself — sounds just like him. In fact, nothing less would even interest him. I take a sip, hold it in my mouth for a while, sloshing it around before letting it go down, and when it does it is surprisingly, exquisitely smooth.

Yep, it tastes exactly like something he’d pick. “That’s pretty fantastic,” I say and snark again, “The last thing I drank with ‘dragon’ on the label was Dragonsmeade.”

“Oh yeah,” he says. “I remember you mentioning that.  How was it?”

I suck my teeth a little at the memory. “Chris said it tasted ‘medieval.’ He was right.”

“Medieval?” he asks in his typical, pulled-back expression that makes him look like someone’s caught him by the back of the hair. “How does that work?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Try it sometime if you want, but that’s the only way to describe it.” He shrugs, laughs through his nose, and sticks the lip of the bottle back in his mouth. This sort of thing amuses him greatly. That’s part of why we’ve been friends for ten years.

The other part surfaces as soon as he opens his mouth again. “Man,” he says, deliberately and with a shake of his head and I know he’s turning on the faucet in his mind and is about drain it completely. “Man, I’m tired of being…this.”

“What?” I ask as I take a small cigar from my pocket and light it. “In college? An engineer? ‘That guy’ who wears Adidas sandals with skinny jeans and a button-down shirt? What?” We both laugh and I offer him a pull. He quietly refuses. He doesn’t smoke, it just doesn’t interest him.

“No,” he says, beginning again. “I just mean me, I guess.”

I reel a little, truth be told. “That’s a little harsh,” I say and bump my shoulder to his.

“Oh come on,” he says and pushes me away. “You know what I mean.” I nod. I do know what he means — we’ve been talking about this for weeks. I’ve been there for a while too.

Should I join the feast? Should I acknowledge the least?

Future in captivity, I’m not who I’m supposed to be.*

I contemplate the beer in my hand as I realize he’s popping open his second. He probably drinks more than I do. That’s saying something.

“Have you thought about what it is?” I ask, taking another drink. It seems to go down stronger this time.

“Same stuff,” he says. “Same old, same old crap,” he emphasizes with his whole body. I purse my lips and look at my toes. We both drink, overcast, and nothing needs to be said; it’s one of those moments when two people try to bear one another’s burdens — and wind up at a loss when they discover they’re carrying the same old, same old crap.

“I just wish, you know, that this part of me could get cut out, I guess,” he breaks the silence, his language indecisive, but I know that he is saying exactly what it feels like — there’s nothing to guess about it. “I wish it could be some kind of surgery, where God just took out the bad parts and replaced them with Jesus, or however-the-hell it’s supposed to work, and that it could be physical pain instead of the mental and emotional stuff. I think I’d be a lot better at that…”

“Me too,” I say as he trails off. “But we don’t know that.”

“Yeah,” he says, a little defeated. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

I sit for a moment, a finger between my lips and my now-empty bottle of Dragon’s Milk tapping against my knee. The majority of me continues to mull over what’s being said while the rest, in an effort to stay sane, latches onto the most mundane thing it can find at the moment and starts analyzing the stout as intensely as if it were an old, dusty copy of the Iliad.

“But I don’t think it has anything to do with cutting or surgery,” I say. “I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think we’re supposed to have any part of us replaced with Jesus.” Webs looks at me as though he’s anticipating heresy and I continue. “Because then it wouldn’t be us anymore,” I explain. “It’s not about carving out the bad and replacing it with Jesus, it’s about changing the bad into something that looks like him — it’s about us learning to resemble him.”

He nods, smiles and shakes his head. “That sounds a lot harder,” he says.

“God, yes,” I say and pop open another beer.

“But,” he makes himself say. “I suppose it would be a lot more worth it that way too, wouldn’t it? Instead of having your liver or something replaced and having to learn to use it all over again, wouldn’t it be that much more awesome to just, you know, heal it from the inside out? It’s still yours, you did the work, and you’re stronger for it.”

“My thoughts exactly,” I say, and add, “Apt, if ironic analogy,” and take a few more swigs of stout as he snorts.

“So where do you suggest we start?” he says.

I double over, my mind still divided against itself. But then something clicks. As revelation spreads through my brain, something else enters into the fray and calmly says, through my buzzing tongue, “I suppose we spend as much time as possible with the thing we want to look like — practice the presence, as it were. Put one thing close enough to another and you get an exchange of qualities. He already came close enough to take all our mess — maybe it’s our move to get close enough to take on everything about him that isn’t messy.”

The left side of his face curls into a sort of resigned satisfaction. “Not bad,” he says with unspoken, brotherly appreciation. “Where did you get an idea like that?”

I smack my lips. “This beer was aged in a whisky barrel, wasn’t it?”

The curling smile turns into a full laugh. “Yes, it was, in fact!” he says. “Impressive palette, my friend!”

And that’s the last reason why this works so well. These sorts of conversations can only happen between friends who know one another down to their taste-buds.

* from “The Mirror’s Truth” by In Flames, from the album, A Sense of Purpose (Nuclear Blast Records, 2008).

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