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Johnny Valentine,

Are you really gonna go and break the heart of tomorrow for beating on your door?

knock knock
who's there
i love you
i love you who
i love you too

Your mother with the temperament of the living dead and your father who gave everyone a beating for Christmas. In your heart it is always Christmas and your father is always drunk and you are forever hearing the sound it makes when he breaks your mother's wrist. You hear it everyday. Somewhere inside. Where all these things never stopped happening to you.

An endless murder / suicide of Belief. You've got a limp that keeps you from running. And the Grief sings you under with its charred lullaby. But it's me you roll away from in your sleep.

I always know when the dream lands on you with both feet. I know and place my lips to your brow. And sing,

"Rock-a-bye, baby in the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come baby, cradle and all."

And then I throw my heart wide, to catch you.

Sometimes I miss. Sometimes I'm not as strong as I thought and am pulled down with you. Nobody is perfect, I guess. But I try. Night by night, pouring into you what I remember of the light. One day I'll catch you every time. You'll wake up in my arms and you won't feel like the son of a man who hit you anymore. The son of a mother with a white-washed face of stone. A playground statue of the Virgin Mary, shedding tears, in a miracle of unbelief.

One day.

But until then, Johnny Valentine: They say you will be the Death of me.

* * * * *

When Mary comes, she rises up beneath him, like a bird flying South for the winter. Johnny breaks her flight open against his chest, and is grieved that this is what it means to love him. Outside, the moon throws knives of light through the blinds. The wind throws fistfuls of snow back at the sky. And he wonders why he never learned to cry. The wonder comes at the same time he does, and he sways. Landing softly upon her. Softly as a falling house of cards.

Once, he was six.

He found sea glass on the beach. Because he did not understand the way sea glass grows, he thought that the ocean had made it just for him. That sea glass was what happened when the ocean cried. That the ocean had been crying for him. It was the first Beautiful thing. He kept it, took it out to look at every day. For a while. One day, didn't. Next day it was gone. And he wished, that he had thrown it back into the water, so the world couldn't take it from him. So that he would always know where it was. The ocean cried tears of blue glass; that was the first Beautiful thing. Mary is the second. She is the only thing he's never broken. But he fears it may only be a matter of, 'yet.'

Sometimes, when she wears stockings just to please him, he thinks he's died and gone to Heaven. Sometimes he watches her sleep because he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sometimes he watches her sleep because he fears she will fly away in the night. Sometimes he watches her sleep because a woman like her, in the bed of a man like him, is as wrong as tears on the face of an angel. But she's still there anyway. Sleeping inside the ruins of the man he meant to be. Where there is no shelter, the storms ride you bareback, and there are no clocks.

Johnny curls up behind her.


Her lids roll up like window shades.

"Mary, I only know one prayer. And I'm giving it to you."

In his mind, the words are, "I love you." And when he whispers them into her ear, he hears each word land inside her. In his mind, the words wear away the grief he's caused her. The way a river wears a bed for itself into stone. But he says the only words he knows instead,

"Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray The Lord, my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray The Lord, my soul to take."

He makes a sound like a man choking on stones. Like sunlight banking off the dark heart of Winter.

And weeps.

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