Friday Morning, While You Were Doing Your Thing, We Were Washing the Blood from the Street

by Serge Bielanko


 

This morning. I'm watching YouTube. Early. I'm drinking coffee and eating my oatmeal with peanut butter and chocolate syrup and watching, on a whim,  a School of Life video about polyamory when someone is bashing at my front door. What the fuck. It's 5:45am. I stand up, make a fist. That'll run 'em off if it's Isis or home invaders, I figure. It's dark out and rainy and I squint to see that it's neither. It's Monica from down the block. My kids' mom, my ex wife. She's crying hard. 

Your world drops out from under you a few times in a life. I think about the kids. I think about the house fire from years back. I head towards the door and I don't want to hear it because I'm shaking now. She's a mess, bare feet, pajamas, sobbing, pointing down off my porch at the middle of the road. 

There's a body there and right away I think it must be Willie, the new rescue dog she got two days ago. He's sweet and kind and he cannot die like this on a Friday morning at the beginning of a better life. I will give him CPR, I tell myself. I won't let that beautiful son of a bitch go. The kids love him too much. I will use the sides of my hand to ease the rainy blood out of the street and back up into his body and he will come around, I say before she even starts making sense with words I can understand. 

But it all comes to pass in a moment or two and it isn't Willie. It's the ducks. Both of them. The mama and the daddy. Goddamnit. Goddamn this goddamn road to hell. 

She'd been out in the wet grass of her dark yard waiting on Willie the Dog Who Never Pisses to piss when she'd heard it all go down. A car coming down the street, the swoosh of the damp brakes, the pause and the revving back up, disappearing down towards the bend at the church and gone. Daddy was in the middle under the streetlight, ripped apart on the yellow line. Mama was over on the curb, right where the kids would be walking to the bus in while. She was still alive when Monica found her. Gasping but going. Monica wants me to put her out of her misery and I know I have to. I want to but I'm sick about it.

I know these two.

Me and the kids have been watching them dig their hole for laying eggs over in the patch of shit lawn outside the vacant joint across the street. Monica chased them out of the road just yesterday morning, me telling her to forget it. 

"They're just gonna be right back out there in ten minutes," I said. "They don't give a shit." 

Last year they made the nest right there too. We watched them then like we've been watching them now. There's tons of better places around here to choose but they liked this spot. Right on the road. Right in the shadow of the old church and the old theater. Right out in the open. Privacy be damned. They wanted a roadside birth. I guess they had their reasons. We all have our things. 

I go quick to grab my dirt shovel out of the garage and then we're out in the street. Out in the dark and the wet and what I'm looking at is like some scene out of some wild-eyed photographer's coffee table book. Mama is passed by the time I reach her. I touch her side with my fingers and half hope she'll fly up into my face and bite me. No though. What we have here is two ducks freshly killed lying in the streetlight glow. Fucking feathers everywhere. People come up the road heading to work/I can't see them/just tires hissing on rain/headlights/a brake tap to wonder what the fuck these two are doing out in the road in their night clothes. We look like meth heads trying to find something. Monica is walking on the cinders with a spaghetti pot, throwing water on the pools of blood. We are sleepy heads trying to get rid of something. 

Back and forth, that's what I am. I'm up and down too. I'm overjoyed it isn't one of us and I'm gonna throw up because it's these two. 

I use my shovel to scoop up Daddy into a Hefty bag. I remember watching him yesterday just standing there on the sidewalk as Mama's ass was pointed up out of the dirt, up at the sky. He was standing around while she did all the work, I thought. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt. That must be their arrangement, I figured. She digs the hole the way she wants it/ he stands guard against this messed up world. 

I walk the six steps over to Mama and scoop her up as Monica stares down and cries. 

"They just kept going," she says. "Who does that?!"

I don't know what to say. 

I never do. 

I look down in the bag and their bodies lying on one another against the clean white. Then I tie a knot in the thing and bury it in my trash cans. 

It's trash day today. Trash trucks will be here by 9. 

--

The kids show up later and they don't know because I can tell right away that she hasn't told them. I glance at the road as Monica walks away with Charlie and Willie and there's basically no sign of what we saw earlier. There's a few feathers but they're matted down and look like old gum now. The kids are in good spirits and i ask them about Willie and Henry wants Lucky Charms because he says he's still hungry even though he had something over at his Mom's. 

I pour him a fat ass bowl of Lucky Charms.

I stare at their heads, my kids. 

The ducks are in the trash cans a few feet away. One wall. Out there on the side where there ain't no Lucky Charms. 

What is this? 

How is any of this happening? 

How do we all keep dodging so many fucking bullets, you know? 

--

I shit you not: as I'm writing this sentence the trash truck is out front. It's a shit burial but I'm shook up and I had to get the kids on the bus and what can I do? They're gone now. Back to the Earth, I guess. 

--

I walk away from writing this with an idea up in my head. I walk over to look at her hole: if there's eggs in there then I'll try and find another duck's nest and sneak them in there. This town has a lot of ducks, a lot of nests; make it happen, dude. Then these ducklings will get born and that will be something at least. I want to salvage that family somehow. They deserved better than that. I know they did. I saw it it their eyes just yesterday. They were scrappy. They made cars stop and go around. 

There's a Twix wrapper in the hole. 

Nothing else. 

I stare down at it for twenty, thirty seconds.

Fuck. 

I pick it up and put it in my pocket. I turn around and walk back across the road towards my place. The rain is light but steady. This grey day is an hour broke. 

I toss the Twix wrapper in the empty trash can, head back in the house, lock the door behind me. 

 


Fish & Chips

by Serge Bielanko


For Henry David Bielanko on his 6th Birthday. I wrote this for you on the morning of Feb, 23rd, 2017, man, after your Mom took you over to Grammy's because you are home sick from school for the third day in a row. Someday I hope you read this and smile. 

Sick on your birthday.

Whatever.

I love you so much. 

PS: I also got you a Hot Wheels track. 

--

I pick the fish sticks up with my fingertips and that moment happens between when you pick a thing up that you know is hot and when you actually feel the heat. I try and pop them down on the plate before I cross over but it doesn't work. I do the thing/slam them down/raise my hand back high above my head and whip it through the air like that'll cool things down. It's stupid. There's a spatula two seconds away. But I do it this way. Like I always do. 

The kids are watching cartoons as I dole out the food. Three plates, two cups with straws, a sippy cup, three blobs of ketchup, three mounds of nuked frozen corn, three stacks of fries, and fish sticks rationed out according to age/size/consumption history. Six for Violet. Five for Henry. Four for Charlie. 

Two for me. I already ate them. 

It's not my best dinner but whatever. It's a deep album cut from life, this meal. You can't shake your judgy stick at it. This stuff has been keeping kids alive for a long time now. Does it make them crazy in the head? I don't know. Does it make their bodies go into some kind of hyper state of carb kinesis, hurling them around the room against the angels of their better mercy? I don't know. Probably. Who cares? Tonight I don't give a shit. There are nights when you make fish sticks and fries for your kids because you know it will get the job done when you aren't feeling up to the job at all.

Simple.

375F.

20 minutes or so.

Use your fingertips.

Squirt the chocolate in the milk.

Paper towels, boom boom boom.

I did it.

Survival. 

Come eat, you little bastards.

--

I use the SEARCH thing on YouTube on the Apple TV. I fumble around with the remote until I've managed to type out SCOTTISH MUSIC. Then I scroll down maybe two or three videos until I come to one with a bagpiper playing by a castle along the sea. I can't argue with that. No one can.

Themes are my jam at dinner time but tonight is a stretch, I'll admit. When I buy these new Street Kitchen kits from Walmart they kind of come with a theme. I buy Thai Green Curry/I YouTube Thailand music. I buy Malaysian Satay Chicken/I YouTube Malaysian stuff. Then I cut off Curious George mid-sentence, I don't give a fuck, and I serve the food in a haze of chanting desert sounds or ancient pan flute jams that sound like snakes rising from baskets. Theme Night, you see? 

Tonight I scrambled for a minute with that. Fish sticks, What do I play them? The Guess Who? Synyrd? Rumors? Something that reeks of the '70s when I was growing up and my blood was 80% fish stick? They won't get it/too obscure. Plus I don't feel like listening to classic rock right now. I'd rather suck a live grenade than jam that shit into my YouTube history so I have to see it tomorrow morning when I sit down at quarter to six, before the kids, sit down for ten or fifteen minutes with my oatmeal and my coffee to watch another home video of a dude fly fishing in New Mexico or Montana, a strange way to start the day, maybe, but it's my way and I'm broken in weird ways you would never understand. I don't want any part of that. I don't ever want to see the words 'Steely Dan Rare Backstage Footage 1979' on my YouTube screen. It's just a little promise I have made to myself. A little pact, a little pledge. 

In the final moments before I shut the oven down and have to make a choice, I say the words out loud. 'Fish and chips'. It rolls out across the kitchen then, the evening tide. Me and my brother standing there on a dock near boats. Near a ferry? The wind incessant. The boats have faded but the wind hasn't. The grey clouds pushing swift out along the cobalt blue; the sound of the gulls; Americans unaccounted for; the freedom of knowing no one knows where you are at that second. The sun in Britain is a magical beast, appearing unexpectedly, throwing girders of light/hard slashes of beam, beautifying a dark sea or a sheepy hill in ways that will send you straight to the pub for a pint because the only way to describe the moment of natural glory you have witnessed is to describe it to fail yourself with words. No mortal human can get it right. You can can only approach speaking of the British sun with the first glowing sip of ale in a pub. First sip. No words. There you are. There it goes. Forget it. I nearly had it. But there she goes again.

We found a fish and chips place looking out over the water, me and Dave did. We were waiting for a ferry, I think. I don't know. We were on a tour. Were we headed to Ireland? To Denmark? I don't know. It doesn't matter. The fish and chips were scalding, oily, coned in newspaper. I remember I was so hungry that afternoon. I remember that I could not believe that we had stumbled into this opportunity for food in such a remote part of the world. It seemed a dream. The skies, the sea, us out there so far from home. The gulls squawking. The wind pounding away at everything like it surely had been for the last fifty trillion years. A wind older than time. A wind that hadn't stopped blowing since there was no day, just one long cloudy night of never ending darkness. 

The fucking wind of winds. 

And there we were. Eating fish and chips snagged from God's personal stash. I burnt the roof of my mouth on the very first bite. Vinegar pain. It was among the best feelings I have ever had. Out the chippy door, across the sunny street, the gale up my nose, the dock under foot, the warmth in my hands, the swift sky unable to stop, the creak of the boards under my brother's feet behind me, the land in the gleam, the sea in the shine. 

Why do I remember that day when I forget so much else?

Why do I connect it with now, with me thumping down fish sticks and fries on my plastic Target dishes? 

Why does the connect come so naturally, without even trying, you know? 

I was on YouTube. 

Then I was somewhere else. 

It might not have even been Scotland. It might have been Wales or England. I wish I could remember. But I can't.

Come eat, you little bastards.

--

It sounds like a state trooper's funeral in here now. Pipes blaring. They sit in their seats and I watch Violet and Charlie dig in. Henry pokes around, drags his fork across the ketchup, Pollocks the wide white corner of his oversize plate. The food is nothing like that day on the docks. Different galaxies. But they'll have their chance, I figure. Someday. I hope. 

"Eat, dude," I holler at Henry through the bagpipe jungle. "You're not hungry?"

He looks at me. 

"Maybe I don't like this dinner because you make it every night."

Which is bullshit. I don't. Maybe twice a month. Maybe four times a month. But not every night. That would fuck with my themes. There are only so many fried fish themes. I tell him about the British day long ago. Me and Uncle Dave on tour. We were so hungry. The sky was magic. Yes, I was young then. Or younger. Yes, we were happy. Yeah, the food was good. So good, man. I wish I could give it to you now. I wish I could throw it back up perfectly onto a plate and let you have it, bud. I would. I would share it with all of you. 

He smiles at that, eats a fish stick. Eats a fry, a chip, if you will. Ignores the corn. 

After a minute or so I come back to him. 

"Henry, eat some corn, dude. This is corn country we live in. Remember that. You're part corn. You have to eat it to keep the valley going."

He thinks about this for a second as his brother and sister gobble their food, ignore their corn. Then he lays it out for me.

"Corn Country, Butthole Country!" he exclaims. 

I just look at him and smile. I understand him perfectly. As the bagpipes cascade down off the TV and over our tired heads, I understand what my boy is saying even when I don't really have a clue. 

-

I hold Henry's little hand out on a dock in my mind. Clean blue sky, warrior wind. One cone of fish and chips to share. I let him hold it, one arm pulling it tight/warm to his chest. The sun is forever, even in Britain. Especially in Britain. Especially on days like this when sunshine sparks off the tips of weak waves and the seagulls ride the sky for centuries on end without ever flapping their wings, or ever dying. 

Poets take that first sip of ale in the pub, chasing the words just up ahead. 

The woman behind the counter in the fish and chips place looks out the window as she towels off the crumbs. There they are. Two lads in the sun. 

She turns away, drops the fish into the hot oil. It hisses. 

She looks back up.

The lads are gone. 


On Christmas Eve, Please Bring Me My Wine, And Please Bring Me the Stars in the Sky

by Serge Bielanko


Wait a while eternity
Old Mother Nature's got nothin' on me
Come to me, run to me, come to me now
I'm rollin' my sweetheart
I'm flowin' by God

-John Prine, 'Christmas in Prison'

--

When I was a boy, 7/8/9, I'd sit in the slippery wood pew on Christmas Eve holding my candle like everyone else. My mom to my left, my little brother to my right, the choir singing their hearts out, Joy to the World, Silent Night, I'd feel my soul shifting around down in my bone cage. God was too much of an idea for me to wrap my head around back then. But still, in that church in Conshy behind the gas station where my Pop-Pop gassed up his Matador and where my brother would one day change tires and work the pumps, I'd feel a thing moving me. 

I still don't know what it was. 

Neither do you, trust me.

--

You hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world- kids who ride your bus/moms who bake Betty Crocker cupcakes you eat at roller rink birthday parties/old ladies who only exist clunking down the stairwells of the church rectory, clutching their 8am service programs tight to their chest, my fresh eyes zooming in on a wad of blue vein lotion knuckle pinkness/Little League coaches wearing their Sears suit/one or two people from far off lands (me watching them sing, wondering if they were happy or sad to be a long long way from home, me not knowing that they were home)/housewives who spent their lives in a different galaxy two blocks from where I spent mine/old men with upside down forests of nose hair pouring out of their heads like dragon fire, glistening scalps housing the thoughts that once trudged across damp French fields behind tanks/kids from down my street/kids from my gym class/kids I had never said a word to and never would in this lifetime/everyone from everywhere/oh holy night/never my dad, home by himself, wine, beer, Gruyere from the special cooler at the Acme that no one ever hit 'til Christmas/my Mom-Mom, standing, singing, smiling at me, sticking her tongue out at me and making her crazy eyes face at me over the flame of her candle/the collection plates all gold and red velvet/plumbers kneeling/housewives looking at the high arched wood of the church ceiling like it was the floor of Heaven above us all/the Pastor talking wise men and Mary and manger and birth and love and Christ and spirit and this and that and me getting itchy/this battle between the known and the unknown raging inside of my body/blowing me up gas fire/- you hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world, and for a fleeting moment/single spark dancing down the solar winds/tiny spark skipping cross the eternal dark prairie/you know damn right well that you are feeling a thing in your chest/a Constellation Fist wrapping round your bloody meat heart/squeezing/lifting you up by your aorta/hurling you across all space and time/through shimmering walls of dinosaurs and Plague and heresy and war and screams spilling down some hillside and out over the Roman Walls and Japanese children melting in the street and volcanos erupting and sunsets like you would not believe slipping down behind herds of buffalo that went on for miles, great warriors weeping on high rocks, and temples going up in the deep jungle and round-the-clock trains to Buchenwald and fingers drawing fire and love on cave walls and a trillion first kisses and more coming and wolves unseen running so hard and fast after deer unseen in a wild unseen and quiet snow falling on so many nights never to be lived again/it all comes heaving up out of your small soul or whatever you wanna call it and it shoots out of your face like happy puke, like when you were born, your mama so sweaty and crying and overjoyed with the pain that you brung to the moment that changed everything forfuckingever,  you hold a candle and hear those songs, the warbly collision of people in your world, and you, and when I say you I really mean me, because at the end of the day/let's face it/what's the difference.

--

There I am.

My skull crashing into the church rafters. 

The candle dripping wax down on the paper catcher.

Christmas Eve.

Santa somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Santa and his reindeer. A twinkling twitch somewhere high above heaving clouds of cod. Thrusting cold dark. IceRain slamming into his face, all caught up in his whipping beard. 

Coming.

Coming for us. For my brother Dave. For my Mom. For my Dad asleep in the chair by the tree when got home. 

Coming for you. 

Coming/I must admit/terrified as I am/for me.

--

I don't know what I believe in.

It's okay to admit that. I love a thing I cannot see. I always have. I can't see shit. Fascination Street. Vascillation Street. I sneak around God in my mouse paw shoes, circling the cheese. I want to believe that I will not die if I eat this. And I want to believe that I will not die if I don't.

That too much to ask?

Haha. 

I guess maybe it might be, huh?

But you know what?  

I know one thing for certain. I know I believe in the memory of my life, in the complicated Sunday Gravy street drift garlicky ghost essence of it all. Of it meaning more than I give myself credit for. You have to survive, dude. Your life depends on it. My heart demands it.

And long long ago, out front a church in Conshy, on a cold clear Christmas Eve, I stood on the sidewalk with all the other people wishing each other peace and happiness and meaning it.

And I ignored them all.

I looked over at Dave and he looked over at me and we were two kids in a movie as we both looked up at the stars at once, up into in the Fifth Layer of Deep Back Space that you can only manage to glimpse if you believe in a thing for real for real, and I shit you not: something was red-light-blipping across the dark sky. Everything fell away from our world.

All truth will be revealed. 

"We gotta get home," I hissed. "We gotta get in bed. Holy crap. HOLY SHIT!!! That's him!"

Dave looked at me; I could feel his eyes; brothers have that; our hearts exploding in our chests. What luck we were having. What terror. What a life we would live the rest of our days from that moment on.

"That's them." 

People next to us talking so much happy holiday horseshit.

"Oh my God,...that's Him."

--

Everything keeps making me feel like I will never ever die.

I wonder if that's true.

Who are you to say? Think about it. It could happen.

I just keep on keepin' on.

I just keep on eating pizza and staring at birds and watching Netflix by myself on the couch and laughing in the mirror and kissing beery lips out back the bars and mircowaving my oatmeal a minute ten in the morning and decorating all crazy for Halloween, for Christmas, and stopping on the bridge on summer evenings to see if a trout rises right at that exact second, and cleaning the cobwebs off the grill at the start of every May-like clockwork. Me, y'all, rolling my fingers through my kid's hair for the next 55 gillion years until the stars pop off, until the red blip stops.

--

I know, I know.

Whatever.

I'm here now though, right? Right. Christmas Eve. Tonight. Again. One more time. Heart racing. I'm so confused. I'm so predictable. I'll be looking at the sky wondering if you are too. 

Everything keeps messing with my mind. 

It's kind of fucking lovely. 

Merry Christmas.