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Jess was working later than all the others

down the dockside bar on the Upper Tweed,

serving drunks and wiping up beer and vomit,

dreaming of Christmas.


Mike saw Jess and knew that he had to have her;

struck by love, he told her one balmy eve.

Nothing could convince him they shouldn’t marry --

destiny waited.


Mike and Jess forever, the perfect couple:

brains and beauty admired by all the rest.

Everyone who thought that he couldn’t keep her

said that she’d leave him.


Jess caught joy in sponges and wrung it into

buckets filled with remnants of laugh-filled hours,

grey now, mixed with sordid regret and silence:

memory’s cocktail.


Mike was waiting patiently just like always,

soon to walk her home through the darkened streets --

pretty girls like Jess need a strong protector,

safe from temptation.


Jess hummed bits of songs that she half remembered,

scores from operas played by the drinking crowd;

fractured carols echoed beneath the orders --

four pints of cheer, love.


Grandma had the girls when she worked the late shift --

double time meant Santa would come this year.

Aching feet were nothing when gifts were opened --

smiles make you pretty.


Every night she fended off stale suggestions --

men and alcohol make a potent team.

She would star in hundreds of drunken stupors:

hangover goddess.


Light to dark adjustment is never easy --

stars, though dazzling, shine from too far away.

Jess stepped out and Mike put his arm around her:

noble protector.


When the knock came, somehow she knew the reason.

Two small girls in nightdresses slumbered on;

all their mother wore was her bloody wedding

ring and her silence.

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