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Thunder Pie | Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Everything morphs into something else.

“There’s a room where the light won’t find you
Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down
When they do I’ll be right behind you
So glad we’ve almost made it
So sad they had to fade it
Everybody wants to rule the world.”
— Tears for Fears

With gratitude, I send the fat bee off into the sky. I hit her with a hiss of blow from my lips and she does what she has to do, flies away before she gets killed. The order of things is damn impressive if you allow it, but most of the time we are too caught up in our own heads to ride that kind of lightning. Objective reasoning is just a phrase. Reality, it turns out, is more than one TV channel playing in the shop window at night.

My shirt is soaked and it’s filthy too. I have been taking firewood from where he cut it with a log splitter he rented across the long yard and to the back door. I use a wheelbarrow and my legs and my back but hardly my brain at all. This is straight hard labor. This requires no specialized skill, and if I’m being honest, a baboon could do it if you fed him right, made him weird strong like me. I’m not sexy strong or social media strong or any of the other kinds of strong we toast here in America. I’m not linebacker strong. I’m goddamn sure not lifeguard strong or young cop strong either. Farm boy strong is maybe as close as I can figure. But not a farm boy so much as a farm guy. In his 50’s. Pot belly. Slew of kids and a lovely wife. Old car with a lot of miles. Nothing special. Nothing new. Eaten alive by the mouth of the beast, I dangle from a bloody fang tooth, like some autumn leaf in a stained white V-neck T-shirt clinging to the tree he was born on as the late autumn winds huff at his ass. They say it’s time to go, son. Gently impatient, they whisper, let go now, fella.

I let go. Hell, I let go every 20 minutes or so most days. Factoring in the math I’m always doing: trying to tally up my pay versus my debts: I guess I figure I let go a couple different times every hour or so. Even here right now, on this sweltering miserable day before the 4th of July, I am letting go of parts of me that dream of living different, of staying true to the voices in my head.

Be the man you want to be, dipshit, I hear one of of them tell me.

Practice what you preach, lardass, another one says.

Heading down the steps, I know that the backdoor into the upstairs of the house where the wood will ultimately burn, it’s closed tight to keep that comfortable chill central AC atmosphere from being fucked in the eye by my hot work going on. I think about the bee who was on that last log I was about to throw into the tote for this load. I wonder where it will end up. Traumatized on a stem, uncertain how a giant had come to be staring down into its dark multiplying eyes? Or was it unphased by whatever just went down?

The muscles in my legs are ready to snap/ the tote’s plastic edge keeps digging into my stomach fat with every step I manage down the stairs. I painted these stairs once not that long ago. I painted them the color that he wanted me to. Like a bluish gray thing. I took my time to get it really nice and right. I listened to podcasts as I painted. I remember feeling pride deep inside me. I was doing things, adult things. I was painting a rich man’s basement stairs for money. That was a job/ a real job, you know? No one could take that away from me. Well, not that day anyway. These days I hardly do much around here. I show up and maybe mow some overgrown lawn with the push mower and then it’s over. My hours are up for the week. Less hours, he said. Less hours because I have a lot more going on these days, he told me.

Not so long before that he’d told me there would always be unlimited work here for me. As they aged, he said, we will need a hand. That felt good too. It felt warm down in me, like I was responsible and making things happen. I sensed I was trusted and in turn I trusted right back. I don’t know what happened. The days pass and things change. People experience seismic shifts. They go from one thing one day to something very different the next and then what? Everything morphs into something else. The money likely remains where it has always been and the ones chasing it, like me, we are asked, politely of course, to please understand that this isn’t personal. I’m appreciated, they say.

But still. I fuck a carpenter bee off of it’s log and it ends up on its own. Alone, watching me from the woodline, perhaps. Or maybe she’s thinking of me on her unending journey across the valley/ out towards Mount Nittany/ over towards the old high hill rising above the town.

In my defense, I have to make money here. My story is imminent and its unfolding fast underneath my very legs.

Don’t you see that?, I should have said to this bee.

Don’t you understand (even a little??!!) how I love that you are pollinating the Earth and all that jazz but: if I let you hanging on your log there there’s this slight chance that you sting the pale white fish belly of the underside of my hand. And fuck that noise, I don’t need that. I don’t need the vibrating pulse of YOUR NEEDS plucking around at the tender strings of my own.

The bee stares at me, disgusted, or condescendingly; I can’t quite tell which.

This isn’t a contest but if needs clash, I have to survive, you know? I try to explain.

Down in the back of the cellar of the main house- where a webby dungeon room serves as the wood shed- I stand alone with my logs and twigs, twisted shreds of bark, and I am covered in my own juices. My boots are wet on the inside from sweating so much.

There is never enough money, I say in my head. There is never enough to breathe easy, never enough to sigh it all out and leave it all out. I stack the wood I hauled down here. I do it neatly, Blue Mountain in my earbuds, so that looks really nice. I stack it so that it looks like a wine bar accent wall.

I touch it with my hand and I can hear them calling from back in the kitchen, or maybe from the front of the house.

Sir, please don’t touch the wood! We use that for smoking our Mongolian lamb shanks!




Did someone say that to me for real?

I see a knife then, plunged into my chest. There is no blood but it’s a knife alright. Long handle, an antler of some kind. The blade is absolutely buried just under one of my man tits. I mean, this thing is in there stout, dog.

I close my eyes. I drop my fingertips from the wood just as I was asked to do. Inside the music, I speak aloud.

Is it OK if I take a tiny strip of the wood so I can try and replicate your rich, deep, unique smoky flavors at home?

I wrestle my iPhone 13 from the mucky front left pocket of my work shorts. I turn the music off. I hold my breath, the same as every working stiff who has ever come before me has held his or her breath while they waited for the universe to throw them a fucking bone. There is no sound; only some footsteps upstairs, a little singing out loud. Then I hear it.

NO, the voice replies.

It upsets me. I feel sadness and anger and the twisting dagger of fate in my ribs. But it is me stabbing myself, is it not? The money is not mine because I don’t know how to make it mine. I missed my chances, maybe. I was a fool, some might say. There is a place for some on the higher levels of comfort and cool and no one deserves to ever take that away from them. And there is a place for others down in the hot dank.

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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.