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The north wind rolled over the house and crashed through the gap-toothed trees and they granted soft but uncomfortable moans which wove like smoke past windows and walls and in to my home.

I had just finished covering or bringing in my orchids. The vandas, their bare yearning roots fragile in cold wind, huddled together under plastic sheets. Any that pushed spikes I brought in to the garage. Cymbidiums and dendrobiums and the elkhorn ferns gathered under another sheet, passing the bottle and smoking Luckies. They like the cold, but I had studied the evening sky and I knew they didn't like it that much. The phaelanopsis on the east side of the house I brought in, creating small islands of green loving tongues.

I felt like a mate on a clipper nearing the Horn while weighting down the sheeting between gusts, and my hands burned raw when I warmed them in front of the steady but ebbing heat of the fireplace. A moan spun down the chimney, pushing rising sparks aside. I went outside again to make sure I had not missed anyone. My home was not the only one puffing woodsmoke in to the air, and under my own sheet of sharp stars and darkness I could have been anywhere the lips of winter kissed. Anywhere but here.

Inside I kept my coat on while readying the coffee for the morning. I stared at the bills piled up on the dinner table, our wheezing checkbook splayed open like roadkill. Spine broken. The fridge looked like it had been cleaned out after a hurricane, but the season ended months ago. We wondered how long the charade of Family Fun Night with chicken nuggets and cheese quesadillas would hold.

I quickly changed in to flannel bottoms and kept my sweatshirt on. She likes the smell of smoke and wind and cold and wood on me, and I spooned to her back with the comforter pulled up to our ears. In sleep we were as close as we ever got, the fanged friction of numbing jobs, shrinking time and vanishing funds dissolved but not healed by exhaustion.

She shifted in her sleep, bouncing me from the drift toward mine. I rolled over and tried to continue. Now, however, my mind jumped like a stoned monkey down a crooked alley, crashing trashcans spilling anxiety: dried up job opportunities, bills increasing, health failing, children throwing our carefully cured reins and bucking at the fenceposts. Emails and cellphones wrapping us in a numbing gauze. The better life my parents gave me becoming a mere fable to be passed on to my children. Nothing is going to get better.

I moved away from her and balled up the pillow under my head and knew sleep would pass me by.

you have to keep loving

I propped myself up on an elbow and looked around. The words came from inside the room, I was sure, spoken by a voice somewhere between a child's and a woman's. Vix snored softly and both clock radios merely glowed red. Probably the wind, I thought. Or Vix talking in her sleep. It probably wasn't even what I thought I heard. Within a few minutes, my body had returned to a mass of tangled yarn and my mind filled with chainsaws.

you have to keep loving

Closer now, near my head. The same voice. I sat up. No one. Nothing anywhere. I stepped to the foot of my bed, half expecting to see RunningHammer hiding and giggling there, but there was nothing but carpet and scattered running shoes.

I walked in to the hallway. Perhaps my grogginess had accordioned time and sound, and RH had said something to me and then padded quickly to his room. There I would find him sitting on his bed, stuffed animals in his arms, asking if it was time for breakfast.

His door stood open the width of my hand, the way I had left it hours ago after I read two stories to him and tucked him in. The space sifted the light and sounds of the evening in to lullabyes.

I opened it and saw him lying on his back in his blue footy pajamas with the embroidered horse on the front. Comforter thrown aside, he held one stuffed tiger. Another peeked from underneath his back, and a lion leaned against his leg. The wind delivered two quick body blows to the house. Careful not to disturb him, I took the blankets and covered him. The animals snuggled closer, and his steady breath never wavered.

you have to keep loving

This time the voice, floating in the plane of the open door, ushered me to the hallway. I stepped backward from RH, careful for joyriding Hot Wheels, turned and left the room.

The door to SweetFaceBoy's room was closed but not latched. Both he and MaShone are in middle school and despite this, the day has not properly ended until I've come in and turned out the light and said goodnights. MaShone has his own room, a spotless museum of models and books, but a few nights out of the week, they sleep in SFB's room, a cramped but cozy nook jammed with a drum set, snake terrarium and experimental Lego creations.

In a language of their own they speak in low tones punctuated by giggles, and the room detaches and spins in to a private planet until the walls evolve in to vines which wrap themm in the benign constrictors of sleep.

With exterior walls facing north and west, this is the coldest room of the house, and both boys curled like squirrels under a swirl of blankets, only the tops of their heads exposed.

you have to keep loving

The voice spoke close and softly behind me and I felt a vaccuum of retreating wind and I walked through my home. I bought it six years ago because I could see us in it. The darkness lightened and the nighttime silence released its sounds. A full dinner table with everyone in a seat. Thirty small fingers making up melodies on the keybooard. Kitchen clattering with bread pans. Squeals and laughter in another room. A woman reclining on the couch, the book in her hands bobbing against the tide of sleep. Sheets pushed to the floor and sweat drying.

I stepped outside barefooted in to grass like feathers of melting ice. Above me the stars had whirled in their dance and held. Snapping in an irregular but consistent rhythm, the sheets pressed against the green leaves and momentarily their translucent shapes appeared to be coiled for escape. Then the sheet would slacken, and they would disappear. To the north through the wire of trees I heard a rising howl of wind, and I turned to face it.

you

It knocked me back on my heels. I steadied myself, leaned in to it and spread my arms.

have to

Driven by something other than atmospheric forces, the wind strengthed, splintering weakened branches and pushing them through the tortured canopy, its force sanding me clean with the coarse intent of absolution.

keep loving

The wind died slowly within the last syllable. Silence rang as the trees meekly returned their branches to a barely required order. In a few hours bars of light would break behind them, and despite generations of invasions among them, the land would briefly in that half light return to its own time.

The chainsaws rusted and crumbled, and the alleyway emptied and was swept clean. I shuffled through the house, touching counters and chairs and doors, listening to soft breathing, testing their reality. All confirmed.

I slid under the covers and spooned again next to Vix, careful not to get my feet too close, and I wrapped my arm around her waist. Not too tight and not too loose. The trees combed the wind into another cry. Woven in this singular note the voice echoed in a soothing beat that ushered me to a vacant sleep.

My last thoughts clung to the fading sound, hoping I would still hear it when I woke.

you have to keep loving

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