It came in three boxes, and was delivered when we were out, which was the third surprise.
That we had won it at all was the second. People often say things like ‘I never won a thing in my life before’ and they don’t actually mean it. Perhaps it would have sounded too obvious for me to say that too. But what was I to say? It was actually true in my case. I had never won a thing. Nor had my mother. Not a single crossword competition or raffle or quiz or anything. We had no idea we had won until the letter came through the door and told us.
That dragons even existed was, I suppose, the first surprise and greatest of all.
We thought we were having a laugh. We thought, ‘hey, let’s enter this competition and get a dragon!’
So we got this letter a week later and we had won it, and suddenly we needed to do some thinking. Because you need a lot of things in place if you’re going to have a dragon you weren’t expecting, and some of those things we hadn’t really been thinking about.
We hadn’t actually fire-proofed the flat, for example. We wondered about keeping it in the fish tank, but apparently these things grow and we weren’t sure if it was suited to aquatic life. So I was out getting flame-retardant curtains (which aren’t cheap even if you do your searching), and mum was looking in the library for what to feed it and we weren’t in when the boxes came. And I guess we were a little stunned that they just left it there in three boxes, without so much as a signature (and none of the neighbours had signed for it, even though they came over later complaining that the stairwell smoke alarm was playing up again).
There was a small burnt bit at the top of the small box, and we reckoned we should open that one last. The biggest box had the body in. It was red and scaly and rather fat. We weren’t sure how to get it out exactly, but once we’d undone the tape on the middle-sized box we saw how the legs and wings and neck were supposed to join on. And (which is weird as we’d never seen a magical creature before) it just got on with it by itself. Pop, pop, pop. All the bits: just like that. ‘Excellent,’ I thought, ‘this thing looks after itself.’
The head was not as cute as I’d hoped it would be, but there was no sending it back.
‘Do you talk?’ I asked it.
Turns out dragons don’t talk.
‘Do you smoke?’ I asked it.
I had to take it outside, and we chatted. I talked, the dragon smoked.
‘I’m not sure this is going to work,’ I told it. ‘Our flat is too small. And you can’t smoke inside.’
The dragon raised an eyebrow then – perhaps he was surprised too.