The Valentine Man



By: Nikola Champlin
 
 
Peace is a whisper.
 
When I was very young, I accepted. I accepted the summer casino, the white folks’ cars, and the rainbow beach umbrellas littering the sand. I accepted the liquor store as the center of town, and its dwarfish room in back where Peid made fetish sculptures. I accepted the house across the street, which had no door, but only a red blanket drape. And I accepted this veil never parted by hand going in or coming out. I saw him only once a year when the Rites of April Processional made their walk into the hills and through the high forests to the eagle rock where our fathers used to spend a month alone to sleep their true sleep and dream of their life’s work. My grandmamma told me he was a silent one. He had taken a vow when he came from the war and laid down his gun that he would lay down his words as well. He writes things though, my brother, Kuwad, said. Little sets of words he sells to the white man. Big money they pay. Dollars and dollars, for just three, four words. A little sentence. A perfect sentence. He was with tongue of God. I knew that God spoke few words, perhaps none in my single lifetime. The words of God destroy cities or raise mountains. They are perfect, but they are not to be trifled with.
Fall in love, like a shooting star.
 
He was many things, too many for one seen but once a year. He was friend of the Earth People. His lip was distorted, clumsily healed, after a gun butt smashed into his face. I had never been close enough to see his eyes. He was thin like a pine tree. He wore black. He had white hair. He never smiled. He was nineteen. He went to war when he was fourteen, in his brother’s stead. His brother was drafted, but he was engaged to a girl who was dying. He was in Vietnam for two years. He came here the day Old Samuel died. He walked into Old Samuel’s house and did not come out again. Peid went in one day with bread and still warm coals and he chased her to the veiled the doorway with a broom in hand. One day each month was a family’s assigned day to bring food to his house and leave it on the step. It vanished sometime in the night when we were all asleep.
Beauty, small as a tear drop, wide as a smile.