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Thunder Pie | Cranberries Like A Human Heart On Glass

I’m not better than you. I’m just different. And I’m growing increasingly impatient.

At the school meeting, in the conference room, I begin to drift. In and out of the things being said, I cling to my duties as a modern dad with one hand/ squeezing/ trying to hold tight to the odd comfort that is supposed to come with being involved. But my other hand is grasping in space, feeling around for other things. I brush up against them too. I feel the side of my fingers graze along Arle’s ribs in the dark bedroom. I feel the side of my arm hit a door on my way into Goodwill. In my mind, I am on the battlefield traipsing through my dead ancestor’s footsteps. And then I’m heading into town for tacos and some quesadillas.

And the whole time people are talking to people, saying all kinds of things I’m not even hearing. I wonder to myself why I can’t seem to focus.

I’ve always been this way. I don’t regret it either. I can’t really fake being someone I’m not. I love the kids, I am here for the long haul/ however long I’ve got left, but I’ve only got so much attention in me. I daydream when I’m supposed to be listening. There are entire conversations I have been half of that never even happened as far as I’m concerned, not because I wasn’t listening but more because I was listening to a voice in my head instead of the ones coming out of the mouth of the person I’m supposed to be clocking.

I chew on a toothpick instead of smoking a cigarette. I chew it so hard that if I was smoking right now all of these people would be breathing it in/ some choking/ some wishing they could smell it all the time. The toothpick manages to calm my nerves and center me when I am riding the last of the morning coffee down into the valley of another weary afternoon. Come 2, the whole day turns. My eyes grow heavy and I want to pull over into the supermarket parking lot and just lay down under some trapped tree and rest. I never do, obviously. I have too many responsibilities. Too many meetings I’m due at. All these things to fill up my days in the name of love and money and expectations.

It’s almost as if I’m here but I’m not here. It’s like: I see what you’re all doing, but I can’t seem to do it too. I’m not better than you/ I’m just different. And I’m growing increasingly impatient with the way things are.

At the gas station, I open my door to tap my debit card so I can buy some gas for my car. The moment I roll out of my seat I hear the music at the pumps. It’s Pump Up the Jam and so I am transported. Back in time: like all the transported I get from songs. In my brother’s old kitchen, different times, after Thanksgiving dinner. The song is played on the jukebox in his kitchen and the kids all start dancing. The grown-ups smile, watch them moving their little bodies all herky jerky, with good moves they copy from the TV. There’s Michael Jackson swagger kicks and there’s free from spirited head rolls. The older people smile and laugh and cheer but I don’t.

I shoot a video on my phone. And while I’m recording it I am overcome with a sweeping tidal current that unnerves me and pauses my blood. I see the kids smiling and serious, their limbs aching to find the beat, to undulate to the passing train of a song like this. Inside of my skin, I am overcome with a menacing grief. Nothing lasts forever and this I know by watching the moments fall away from the music. Even while it is smashing into the room with intense joy and wild street beauty, this impromptu musical is also running a kind of side theme in which a dark shadow lingers in the corners of this old country house.

The jukebox as smokescreen. The selection as flash grenade. In come the special agents, kicking down the doors, screaming to debilitate. Fear paralyzes me at the table smoking. Before the toothpicks, I just lit up the real thing and hammered away at it. After all that turkey, all those specialty stuffings, I would wrap my creamed onion lips around a Marlboro Light and just spark it up right there/ as the kids were possessed by a fleeing happiness/ everyone wrapped up in the booming melody. The unstoppable raid.

A piece of pecan pie with Kool Whip. A vibrating bowl, thrift store crystal, shimmering homemade cranberries like a human heart on glass. I turn my head just in time: away from my flesh and blood-making robot moves across the wood floor: just in time to see the law come crashing down on me.

On the floor, I keep smiling. Even this gun muzzle at my temple cannot stop the simultaneous magic. I am in some kind of a nightmare vs dream scenario.

I still have the Marlboro in my lips.

Pump up the jam/ Pump it up/ While your feet are stomping/ And the jam is pumping!

With a mouthful of smoke and a song in my heart, once again I get kicked in the head.

North out of here, there is a land where you can park your car and slip into a forest and get lost if you want. Across morning streams backlit from under the world, you can lay your reflection on a brook trout’s back and he might not even spook. Some people go there to move, to breathe, and to regulate some kind of jolted meter inside them when they are feeling unmoored from what matters most. Other people probably go there to run from the same things that throttle us all with the incessant shaking and hollering that comes from one day after another, stacked to the sky, of just fulfilling your obligations and paying your dues and lining up to die behind all your neighbors and your loved ones who know how to toe the line.

In the parking lot of this one Game Lands there’s a small pile of rabbit fur. It’s unexplained, only telling you what it tells anyone who comes along and sees it. Telling you that it seems to shimmer with the traces of a breeze. Telling you that there was a body but the body is not here. Telling you, against all odds, that me and you and the next motherfucker to pull up here seeking solace and forest bathing or whatever you want to call it, that me and you and them: we are all in for a rude awakening here before long. Some Saturday morning in spring, I will meet you on the cliffs above the long view. The rolling Appalachians falling out from us, spoiling out across the ground at our feet and unleashing an avalanche of wild turkeys and grey squirrels and hemlocks and salamanders and tiny trout and sugar maples and old buck deer that have lived in caves for hundreds of years/ their fur reduced to dirty dishwater tones/ their antlers heaving towards the sky/ they are blind/ they levitate/ they are never kissed by sunlight/ only known by moonlight/ these deer that man has never seen and will never see/ all of them/ all of this crashing down into the distance/ rocking up against stone cliffs/ channeling ever forward as we both watch from our perch above it all.

You are chewing a toothpick and I am smoking a cig.

We are overwhelmed by the raw violent nature hemorrhaging for us. We are the witnesses to a breathtaking shift. I reach out for your stranger danger hand, completely unafraid now. And you do the same, touch my aging skin, fingers like rattlesnake babies wrapping around you.

Well, you sigh. This is it.

You pull the string on your thin paper wings, this year’s tax returns.

This is absolutely fucking it, I say.

I pull my string and my tax returns flap gently, oddly.

Like some lost mountain angel, I hear myself rustle in the ridge line breeze.

They find us both, a few hundred yards apart, splayed out with scared looks hung upon our frozen faces. I think we could have been so much more than we were. It could be we were too afraid to walk away from the grind. Sometimes I feel like I threw it all away. Sometimes I can’t even see this forest anymore even though we’re now part of it forever.

Don’t mistake my musings for sadness. For god’s sake, please don’t heave me into the same chute with all the broken-hearted cheap dream boys. That’s not me, man. Come on.

Luck on my side, I rode the wildest winds out of intergalactic nothingness and landed here/ in this maze. I somehow landed an unexpected bit part in this play, just like you. I read the other day about how astronomically impossible the odds are that you or I would ever be conceived or born to live as the people we live as now. It is beyond our limited comprehension, the very nature of our own existence. Apart from all of the God stuff, apart from all of humanity’s attempts to rationalize what only lives beyond rationale, each of us: me and you, we are protagonists steaming with main character energy. One two three: all of us at the center of our own epic drama that was acted out on a planet-sized stage with a cast of billions and a lovely bittersweet script written by the legends of poetry. Roles written once upon a time, in winter morning frost, on the rumbling panels of old school semis, and on the banged-up sides of lonesome hills and dying dogs.

The limits of my inability to understand my greatest fortune are vital to everything that defines me. Faced with the one-in-a-zillion gift of being alive, I boarded a train bound for unfathomable. Now in my lame attempts to peek at the constellations, I get slammed to the floor by a raid of rabid men.

Do not look at the fucking night sky, motherfucker!!, they blare into my ear. Do not move your fucking eyes toward the fucking dark illuminations or we will blow you goddamn brains out all over this yard, you cocksucker!

I feel their knees on my back. I try to move but it’s no use. I’m older now, my muscles atrophy on demand. What once was lean and hungry is now crushed under the presence of The Man.

Stop moving, you little fat bitch!, he howls, squishing his gun butt into my spine.

What did I do!? I murmur, weeping.

He shrieks back at me.

You’re under arrest for trying to fly out over private land using your 2023 tax return wings in the name of something wild and free and wonderful, motherfucker!!

It is at that point that I realize what is happening.

Dear lord. I am floating above myself during the school meeting. I am looking down at myself sitting next to my own flesh and blood kid. The other people are talking about things that only fall away from me. They are saying too many words. I am tapping up against the ceiling, a carnival balloon at the gates of fresh air.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.