“Hell, it ain’t right to bring you here.” I tuck Strongland under my coat, rain soaked, lit neon blue from an overhead train hurtling passed. Wet bags cling to my feet, disintegrating into nothing but brown dirt, waiting for the slugs to inhabit their remaining usefulness. This world, this city, wastes away to nothing much more than gray slush, once pure white snow, splashed along the side of the concrete swaths, broken chunks of cinder and rebar; we used to hold you up they seem to say, now we lay in ruins.
Strongland don’t seem to mind, tucked into me like a bird clutched to a branch, slick and pale, and rough, but still, a refuge. I thought about the men I used to see as a boy, walkin’ down Route 4, headphones on, god damn, I know they ain’t even got the money for batteries to make them things play. Let alone money for food, or even a drop of booze.
I don’t have a choice now, but to walk. “You hold on to me, real close, okay?”
That’s his answer; he will. He can walk now, still unsteady, but I ain’t settin’ him down. Not here. Not tonight. The leather of my boots squishes like seal skin, just skinned, slick with blood. Busted street lights overhead, loom, dead seal eyes, blunt faded, orbs, no more light. The city don’t care. To hell with this street. To hell with you. Go on now, scurry in the darkness. Oh, it’s alright, you are out of sight.
Cold drops of rain come as hard as ball bearings whipped across a close distance from a boy’s slingshot. Welts swelled up like wasp stings on the back of my hands and the nape of my neck. It don’t matter. Cover me with them, it don’t matter. Just as long as Strongland don’t get a single one.
Strongland’s broad hands pull him tighter. I know he’s cold. I bawl. He don’t know, all he sees is the inside of my coat. Another train breaks the world apart above us. Pebbles and poisoned water arc off the platform and join the fray of desperation below. Down with us. Down with us. Down with us.
“It ain’t right to bring you here. To the city. Ever. You hear me? There ain’t no life here. Don’t you ever confuse being alive with life.”
He understands. I don’t know how he does, I only know that he does, like the few words that he says that cover all of what he knows. I feel like bawling. I gotta do something to stop it. I sing, halted and ashamed. “You don’t really care for music do ya?” I forget the opening lines of the song. And most of the ones after. I pick up where I can. “Your faith is strong but you needed proof…” I bawl. “Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya.”
Strongland tugs at my jacket collar, tries to push his head out. “Moon.” He looks for it.
“Not tonight baby. No moonlight.” I bawl. “Just you… Hallelujah—Hallelujah—Hallelujah.” I’ll walk forever holding Strongland this close. You can have the moonlight. “Hallelujah.”
I keep walking. Cars go by, fewer now. Faces hidden behind streaking wiper blades and selfishness. I know he fell asleep. He knows I’ve got him. It will take some time to clear this place, to where I can set Strongland down to walk beside me. But for now, it’s on me. Hallelelujah. I got you. Hallelujah.