I have always loved Komodo dragons … from afar. Parthenogensis in Komodo dragons is a real phenomenon.
Poor Mabel. It was just unfair that she was so decidedly ugly and unpopular a Komodo dragon. She had tried to make herself prettier by rubbing her cheeks against red clay, but the other girls snorted and advised, “It doesn’t matter how much makeup you wear–you’ll never be pretty.” She had tried to diet, restricting herself only to grubs and mice, but she grew faint and collapsed on top of Elder Mahoney, breaking the old dragon’s hip. For awhile, she had even spelled her name “Maybelle” in hopes of seeming more sophisticated, but the plan deteriorated when she realized that only she and Elder Mahoney could read.
Now, she poked her head out of the family burrow. Her mom and dad were off hunting, so it was safe to stretch out on her favorite rock. She was working on her new folk song, but having difficulty coming up with a good rhyme for “claws.”
“Life as a teenage Komodo dragon
Sucks, my parents are always raggin’
On me and the way I grow my claws
My siblings tease with loud guffaws –“
“Listen, girls! Mabel’s actually singing out loud!” The snide voice cut through her reverie and she raised her head off the rock, flinching under the fierce gaze of Crystal, the meanest Komodo dragon in the jungle. Crystal and her pack of obedient minions surrounded the rock.
Mabel cleared her throat and glared at Crystal. “It was supposed to be private. I thought I was alone.”
“Ooh!” squealed Crystal, flipping her tongue languidly and retracting her claws. “It’s private, girls!” The group chattered and giggled.
“You wouldn’t understand,” muttered Mabel, dropping her head back to the rock.
“We wouldn’t want to–” Crystal paused, her eyes narrowing to slits. She raised her tongue into the air. “What was that noise?”
“Just those stupid zoologists,” said one of the pack. “They’re always hanging around and acting like we can’t see them.”
A zoologist’s voice wafted towards them. “… fine specimen sunbathing on the rock. Am I recording? Watson?”
“Yes, Professor Montgomery,” said the zoologist’s assistant. “Loud and clear.” The Komodo dragons watched the two humans and their film equipment clang around the brush.
“Good,” replied Montgomery. “As I was saying, there’s a fine specimen sunbathing on the rock. The one in the middle, there, surrounded by the others.”
He’s talking about me, Mabel thought.
“Given its large size I propose that it is a male. At least 150 pounds,” Montgomery continued. “Such formidable size! Isn’t he magnificent! Where’s my tranquilizer gun? Damn, I left it in the van. I wanted to measure his thighs. They’re enormous!”
Crystal and her cronies howled. “Large size! Male! Ha ha!” Mabel squeezed her eyes shut as the other dragons roared with laughter.
“Can you get a look at its hindquarters, Watson? How old is it? Can we tell if it’s mating yet?”
Mabel wondered if she could die of embarrassment. At this point, death would be welcome.
Crystal snorted. “Mating? Not likely. She’d have to get a boyfriend first, and we all know that will never happen.” She flicked her tongue at Mabel. “Come on, girls. Let this loser get back to her stupid poetry or whatever.” Turning their backs on Mabel, the dragons dropped gracefully into the water and swam off.
When the last scaly gray tail had disappeared from view, Mabel allowed herself to sob. Those mean girls! They thought they were so special, just because their tongues were long and perfectly forked, and their weight only 80 pounds. She couldn’t help having her father’s genes. And those scientists! Why did they always have to hang around and poke their noses into everything? Like she wanted the whole world to know the size of her thighs!
“I hate my life!” she sobbed. Mabel flopped off the rock and swam to the opposite shore, far away from zoologists and mean, pretty Komodo dragons. She curled up under a tree and cried herself to sleep.
She had the most curious dream. In it, a beautiful tiger approached her. The tiger was tall, strong, and distinctly feminine. Glamorous, really. “Mabel,” said the tiger, “why are you crying?”
Mabel sniffled. “Do you have to ask? I’m fat, I’m ugly, and I’ll never get a boyfriend! My life is over!”
The beautiful tiger looked surprised. “But my dear, you are a talented poet and songwriter. You are strong and intelligent. You aren’t fat; you have a large frame. What could be wrong with that?”
“Boys don’t care about poetry and they like dainty girls. I want to be popular and beautiful!” She paused. “Hey, are you one of those genies or whatever? Will you grant my wish? I’ve heard lots of stories of genies or fairies or magic talking trees granting wishes.”
The tiger stretched luxuriously and purred. “No, dear, I’m afraid not. I’m just a figment of your dream. I cannot magically shrink your bone size, nor can I make vapid girls like Crystal see past your exterior. And, sadly, most of the males of your species aren’t interested in poetry. They care only for the stink of flesh, whether it is between their teeth or under their bellies. However, I promise that you will discover something greater than obtaining popularity, beauty and boys.”
Mabel sniffled. “You … you do? Really?”
The tiger licked her paw and gazed deeply into Mabel’s eyes. “I do.”
Mabel awoke with a start, her mind racing. What could the tiger have meant? It was dark – she’d been asleep for hours! She scurried back home, knowing she’d be punished for her tardiness. As she predicted, her parents shouted at her and sent her to her corner of the burrow, while her siblings snickered in the back. However, she settled down to sleep with a smile on her face. For the first time, she had hope.
The next day, she woke from more strange dreams about tigers and unpleasant diets. Her butt hurt, and when she looked down at her hindquarters, she saw a pile of gleaming white eggs! She was still staring in shock when her father glanced over.
“Mabel!” he roared. “I told you not to hang around boys! What have you done?”
“Mabel, my baby! Oh, you’re ruined! Mabel, what have you done? You’ll never find a husband now,” sobbed her mother.
“Mom, Dad,” Mabel cried, “I haven’t done anything with boys! I … I don’t even know what it is that you don’t want me to do with boys! I just woke up and there they were.” She felt strangely possessive about these eggs. “Don’t take them away from me. They’re mine.”
“Mabel’s having babies! They’re gonna be retards,” sang her youngest brother snidely.
Her father shouted “Call Elder Mahoney!” and stormed out of the burrow.
Despite the chaos, Mabel felt a deep peace and calm pervade her as she watched over her lovely eggs. They were hers, and despite what her ignorant brother had said, they were perfect. She was vaguely aware of Elder Mahoney racing into the burrow. He and her parents whispered fiercely, and she heard the word “parthenogenesis,” but all she could think of was her joy at having these five perfect little bundles under her.
Finally, the adults approached her. “Mabel, dear,” her father began haltingly. “I’m sorry I shouted at you. Ah … Elder Mahoney has something to tell you.”
Elder Mahoney smiled and patted her back. “You see, Mabel, when a lady dragon gets very lonely, sometimes God grants her a miracle and gives her babies, without her having to do a thing. You’re a bit young for this, of course, but we have learned from the zoologists that it is called ‘parthenogenesis.’ It’s a shame that I ate one of those pesky zoologists yesterday … I could have learned a lot about this phenomenon from him, I’m sure. I just didn’t realize … I mean, he smelled quite tasty, and …”
“Of course you didn’t know, Elder,” Mabel’s mother soothed.
“So,” said Mabel, still delighting in her beautiful eggs. “I can have babies whenever I want?”
“It would appear so, Mabel.”
She thought of the tiger’s promise. “So I don’t need boys?”
“Well, biologically speaking, no,” said Elder Mahoney. “Although I still recommend–”
“And I don’t need the other girls to be my friends, because I can make my own family?”
Father Mahoney hemmed and hawed, but Mabel understood immediately. “I don’t need anyone!” she cried with exhilaration. “Crystal can kiss my big-boned ass! I don’t need her approval. I don’t need to conform to her ridiculous view of what it means to be a successful dragon. I am my own dragon! I’m going to raise my children to read, to love fine arts, and to treat each other with kindness and respect!”
And this is how, seven years later, Mabel found herself Queen of the Island and surrounded by hundreds of her own progeny. She no longer had to hunt for her own food, which was now reverently brought to her by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Her genes created huge Komodo dragons, and soon all the males found dainty females to be unattractive. As the line of petite, delicate females died out, the hereditary meanness of small-boned dragons also ceased to pollute the gene pool. Each Sunday her descendants performed a poetry recital and concert for Mabel, their matriarch, featuring their original music and writing. And each Monday morning she visited the bones of Professor Montgomery and Elder Mahoney, which had been laid side by side when the old dragon has passed on.
“Thank you,” she would say quietly. “Thank you for showing me that it’s okay to be myself.”
Then, she rested her large bones on her favorite rock, and began working on her next sonnet. She was, indeed, her own dragon.
When I asked Dave what he thought of this story, he said, “Well, it’s a little more serious than most of your stories.” Yes, he said that a Splarks story was “serious.”