There was a girl.
This is how many of his stories start. Usually because they expect it but mostly out of a responsibility to truth.
In the brashness of youth, he'd slaved for the concept even as he worked around it.
It's a wonder the listeners believe any part of his retelling. Had she not been the axis of his universe, he'd doubt too.
They think he's made her up. An impossibility. They're only half right.
A slender frame, raven's eyes and curls so richly earthen that his fingers used to soak up the life of it. A ninja, he'd tease and her smile was his breath.
No exaggerations needed. If anything, their adventures are tamed for the audience and the pain behind the bits are left in the sand of younger years.
Joined, they spun the earth. Separated, they stopped its rotation.
A crackled voice explains how denial gave way to vice which slid into commitment. Partners in work, in life and in this dusk. Even the ravages are a blessing.
She'd sworn to never leave him, a promise only partially kept.
The rocking chairs weren't in the plan. But they glide so sweetly into a future where he loses the fight for his hair and she loses the battle for her memory.
The stories are for the second generation to follow them. But also for her. Her name is spoken often because she still recognizes its sound, if not his reverence for it.
There was a girl, he'll remind her as her hand rests snug inside his arthritic grip.
They see her frailty; speech and recognition locked away by the brutality of age.
Grandmother never fired a shot, never frightened men, never suffered tortures. But they humor the old man when he brags about his wife's former radiance, still visible whenever his traitorous eyes water.
She's still here but some part of him is already mourning.
So he clings to even the harshest of memory's offerings. Guns and wounds and lies and despair. Because they are what made the later happiness possible.
She was no damsel and he was no prince but his stories contain the element of such romantic majesty.
Fairytale is the requisite of this love.