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With Angels & Dark Angels
By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.
- Cormac McCarthy
Saturday morning I woke up early to get ready for the King. Big coronation ceremonies don’t happen every weekend so Arle and I figured we’d better tune in. I’m no royalist either; to me: they don’t make sense. But I’m guessing that, to them: I don’t make much sense either. And so it goes.
Down in the kitchen the dogs seemed a bit alarmed to see me. Early is fine with me, but lately I have run out of steam. The early mornings and the long drives to the older kids’ school has shattered my soul. I’m over it. Getting out of bed on the gerbil wheel makes me think about eating a bullet. Maybe that’s why I’m up now/ a touch groggy from my two glasses of wine last night/ so that I can fill the classic rumpledadskin hole in me with the ultimate in vicariousness.
Get up early on your day off, peasant.
Stand and watch the king in his hour.
At the coffee pot there are the usual curses at the dogs. Their relentless whining and shifting and clacking all over the floor makes me mental in the wee small hours. I know they are excited to be at the cliffs of breakfast, but something about their simplistic energized one-track mindedness turns me off. Sometimes I fake them their food but there’s only one nugget of kibble in the bowl. Then I let them process that for a while. It’s cruel, having power. Being the man in charge can push you towards a vigorous reprehensibility. And I understand the game as well as anyone. Give the man without power a fat line or two of the real thing and he will come up from the mirror sniffing and snarling at the universe through a hell-baked smile. Blow that rich boy second-hand bedazzled smoke into a poor fool’s eyes (like me) and horrible, horrible things can happen.
Gangsters get born.
Thugs step right out of tiny frail boys.
Men become men with blood on their daggers, in the dark of the shadows.
Or not, I don’t know much about it either way. I just know I was up at the ass crack of dawn, as they say in the Royal Family.
And that I was maybe still a little drunk from before.
Prince Charles: Good morning, Mummy, I see you are up at the ass-crack of dawn.
Princess Camilla: Why yes, yes, dear Charles, Mumzy mustn’t slumber when ‘tis such a momentous day ahead for her lovey dovey squishy bubbly!
Price Charles: Heavens, it IS a rather important morning then, now, isn’t it?!
Princess Camilla: I wish times were the old ones this morning. Such that I could stand before the Royal Court and insist upon the heads of mine enemies rolling by dusk this evening!
Prince Charles: Oh, Mumzy, bad, bad Queenie! Oh, how I do absolutely delight in your deliciously sinister foundations!
Princess Camilla: Hush now, Bubbly! We must prepare to be crowned! TODAY IS THE DAY OF ALL DAYS I DO SAY!!!
(They exit stage left, as the spotlight fades like the evening sun).
Back in the bedroom, Arle is awake and the TV is on with the talking heads speaking in heavy British accents about things I don’t even try to register yet. I catch drips and drabs/ the cost of all this hoopla and the public’s opinion of it all. I set Arle’s travel mug of coffee down by her bedside. Black, two ice cubes. And a different travel mug with ice water. There’s no food here at this party. I had dreamed of real English things: eggs and soldiers/ rashers and blood pudding/ mushrooms steaming like horse shit on a frosted country heath.
Tea in real cups.
Marmite from a glass pot.
But there’s nothing. I have dropped the football (soccer ball to you, you uncultured swine) and I have failed to get my ass to Wegman’s to drop $150 on ‘cultural delicacies’ from Great Britain. Fuck all that anyway. I would have made it happen if I knew I could get some straight-up Jack The Ripper Jellied eels in a paper cup because that would have made this morning working-class special. But they don’t have that kind of thing around here. And they never will.
So we sip our crappy coffee, me and Arle, and we listen to the background sound more than the voices on the television. Behind their incessant chatter hides the story. Lurking back in the driving rain of a dank May morning, London is breathing and you can make it if you want to. The clomping of horse’s hooves/ the distant tolling of an airhorn. The city of cities/ and here for us now/ as she exhales some sort of humming buzz, barely audible/ hardly perceptible/ and quite possibly fully imagined by me, yours truly, as I stare at the screen and drift off like I do. Into a past I can no longer say was certain, but a past I carry around with me nonetheless. Perhaps it is truth, perhaps it is imagined. Most likely, of course, is that some of it is one and some of it is the other. None of it is guaranteed. All of it is mine to do what I like with.
Which is why I find myself feeling somewhat giddy here in my caffeine spin this morning. I begin to speak to Arle. A lot. About this that and the other thing. She has yet to step foot on British soil but her day will come. Most of her ancestors are from there.
The more coffee I drink, the more clearly I begin to envision things.
Her dark Scottish clouds draw me in. Her inimitable blues and her spurts of laughter that win me the day if it is my words she is chuckling at. Her blood red hair slapping her pale face in the afternoon wind. Her freckled fingers on a glass of ale, the odor of lamb, the crackling of the fire. I stare at Arle in our bed out of the corner of my traveled eye but I cannot recognize the feeling that I feel. She has the chest of her hoodie pulled up over her lips as if to silence herself. Or to cover her/ hide her away from the blowing gusts of all this early action kicking off our day when we ought to be sleeping probably.
I get horny.
Even now, even all this time later, my body slipping down off of my bones and melting into a slathered heap of lame physical genetics, I still detect the tinge of the pull of the horses she rides. Out of nowhere, into nothingness, a crimson flash of absolute woman. I want her so bad then and I suspect I could have her. Peasants in the bushes, in the shadow of the castle, an hour before the start of ceremonies, fucking like badgers. Like river rats or mad, mad hares.
I prepare to make my move, watching her watching the procession begin to roll out, the gilded overwrought carriage carrying Charles and Camilla/ we can hear it now/ the undertaking of the plan/ the people churning/ roiling/ crying out/ from crowds so thick/ under the budding trees along the longest road/ we both hear it all beginning to begin.
I want to jump her country bones in this American predawn bedroom.
I want to grab the Pennsylvania Scot by the hand and bend her lips back with my lips and mash teeth so that we can hear them clinking like champagne toasts in the pub.
So much to master, this trying to be good. So much to tamp down when all I want is to grab her and heave my breath in her left ear. Heavy sighs that rush her heart. Backwoods rumblings that only she can hear, but maybe the whole world too. Or maybe the sounds of us go piped straight into that carriage so far away, you know?
The soon-to-be King and his soon-to-be Queen waving out at all of the commoners as they speak in polite terms.
There, you see them, Charles, the children with the filthy fingers?!
Oh dear, yes, Mumzy, I do indeed! Boogie Finger Mustn’t Linger!
What is that dreadful sound, My King? Oh bloody hell, it is making me quake it’s so nasty!
Yes, yes, what IS that horrid audio?! I hear it but it seems to be coming through these speakers here in the carriage! What could it possibly be?!
YOU know what it is, old reader friend.
Haha. So grimey but so satisfying, ain’t it? The sound of two faraways getting it on in the morning of a distant land. The longing sighs hurling through space chased by deep groans of ecstasy. Forbidden fruit growing with the quickness straight up from between their royal legs!
What is happening to me, my sugared magpie!?
Why do I hear a man’s voice saying, “Arle”!?!?
But I don’t do it. I refrain. I restrain. Mostly because I don’t want to cause Arle to miss this whole parade. That is, after all, the reason we are even awake at this godforsaken hour on our only morning off without kids.
I watch her sip her coffee and pull the hoodie back up over her lip. She seems so young and mature at the same time. Her strange, rare beauty. Her goddamn elegant Scottish blood poise wrestling with my hyper randy French bits, it all just makes me feel aggro inside. But like, gentle aggro. Like gentlemanly violent.
Her forever legs under the covers, Jesus Christ, I feel one of them touch the side of my foot.
I clamp my jaw shut and try to laugh at all of these random worlds I’m always living in at once. Simultaneously boiling in my own juices as I calmly try to steer fifty life-affirming ships at once.
And it’s sublime.
Later, during the long couple of hours that the invitees are sat in the pews of Westminster Cathedral, Arle and me talk about a lot of different things. Arle talks about the royal family, about how it seems, to her at least, that Queen Elizabeth the II was less systemically racist and bigoted than her only son Charles is. I have no real dogs in the fight as someone who’s entire knowledge of royalty comes from one Netflix drama series, but I disagree with my wife anyways. For the hell of it. For shits and giggles, as they say in tightly-knit royal circles.
I think that they are all so far removed from even a single shred of reality that there is no way that they don’t think of themselves as some sort of whitey white keepers of the Holy Scepter of Andrew, Son of Bibbleroot or some kind of amazeballs belief such as that, I say to Arle.
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that black and white at all. I know that many of them are not at all like us, but there have to be some who are good people, she says back.
Quiet overtakes me then as we listen to the sound of the religious people on the screen moving the imminent king around and telling him things like:
This gift presented to you is a shard of holy worm root that once grew out of Jesus’ dead ear hole. It represents the fact that, as the Overlord of the Empire, ye shall never have to worry about wealth nor status nor your ATM card being declined because you are a sad son-of-a-bitch who lives on saturated fats and cheap booze.
Here, for you, the newly crowned King, is a fleck of ancient Edinburgh’s smoky sky that has been baked into a crispy tart to represent all the money you are about to spend in the name of touching the very hand of God. For the one true God shall only ever allow the touch of the rarified Jeweled Royal Pinkie and never the Peasant Boogey Finger.
In this cup, you are presented with a single drip of blood that comes from the Holy Unicorn’s bleeding eye. The creature most magic, cries tears of blood in the name of the King (GOD SAVE THE KING!, yells the children’s choir!) so that he may drink it here and now.
At one point, Arle is talking about how odd it is, the whole situation with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan. I nod as she makes some good points regarding the absurdity of this veil of circumstance all of these people wear so proudly. In their own figments of imagination, they stand exhaled above all others. Even the ones that their own children choose to love.
I listen to my wife talking and I feel a warm spirit overtake me. In the TV, I spy Camilla watching her Charles. They are light years away from me and my world, but I wonder, as I notice them, how it feels to be human at a moment so far-fetched and mystical.
Arle’s leg hits my foot by accident again just as I see the new King’s wife watching him, watching the crown being placed upon his head. Her eyes are heavy. I sense doom swirling around them both. Not for being bad or for being rich or whatever, but simply for being old. Old and in love, their paths are marked distinctly for them now. Nothing will ever be left to chance. There is no more luck to be had, no more wishes to be puff-kissed at the stars. Well, not at first pondering anyway.
But I could be wrong.
I guess Kings still cry, huh?
I guess Queens still wish they’d done things differently.
I guess they maybe both lay awake in bed at night, surrounded by walls and guards, speaking in soft low tones of the bloody fools they’ve been. And how they wish they could have one more chance to get it right.
But they cannot.
No they cannot.
It cannot be helped and so it comes down much like I would have predicted it to come down at some point. Me and my bullshit. Me and my wild-eyed imagination. We hold hands once, husband and wife, and I can feel my heart moving inside of my body. Like a baby deer. Like a small moon no one knows about that I hide from this life.
The camera shots of inside the cathedral are breathtaking no matter who you are or what you think of all of this. The vastness of the physical space extends even into these foreign rooms where me and Arle watch the event. Into small cramped overcrowded Chinese flats and into houseboats bobbing with natural moves on oceans off India. Across the skies and through the seas and up over mountains that scrape the velvety underbelly of all of time itself, the signal carries and bounces, rises and pings off of satellites until it falls back into the pubs and the row homes and the cabins and the diners and the garages and the huts and the mansions and the bedrooms and the cellars/ into the eyes of children with nothing/ into the eyes of elders with so much/ into the eyes of the broken and the sick and the hearty and the ambitious and the mourning and the hopeful/ the signal moves/ the signal flows/ the signal tells a secret as weathered as mankind itself.
And that secret is this.
Nothing is certain and no one is safe.
The opulence and magnificence of all I see unfolding before me charms me in ways I don’t dare call familiar. It is a creepy feeling in a way, to feel human emotion for seemingly unemotional humans, but that’s the rub, I suppose. Not just with these fresh cuts of King and Queen, mind you, but with almost anyone. Anywhere. Toss a dime, man. Hit a kid. Hit a dude. Hit a lady or hit anyone at all and there you are: looking in the eyes of someone who has been struggling not so long ago. Some of them will be dead before tomorrow ends. Many, many more by Christmas. And what does it all mean, this so-called humanity?
Fuck if I know.
I break the silence between us.
If you could see one person come around that giant corner right now into this main hall in the cathedral, like… just silently appear in a jetpack/ straight up and down/ legs stiff/ arms stiff and bent/ thumbs on the ignition switches/ slowly rolling up through the church, looking down on everyone with a cocky straight face with just a twinge of satisfied smile/ if you could see anyone floating just above all these motherfuckers heads right this second as he’s being crowned king and the place falls silent… who would it be? Who would you choose?
Me, I’m thinking something big and stupid. Elton John in a jetpack. Or maybe Harry Styles or someone goofy and fucking stupid like that.
I watch Arle smile a little. I let the question hang in the air like the jet-packer themselves. Her cogs are turning and I am prepared for a good pondering but before I can even slug some more coffee from my travel mug into my body, she speaks.
Princess Diana, she says. Flatly. Cooly. Without hesitation or second-guessing at all.
I am stunned. I am silenced. Then it all hits me at once.
FUCK YES! I erupt. OH FUCK YES YOU DID!!
It is the greatest answer to the greatest question of all time.
I stare at her and I’m grinning and I’m ecstatic and I am overjoyed. Not just because she humored me and played my silly little game. But because she uncorked the sunrise sky outside our bedroom window with her brilliant instant response.
Then we smash.
During the King’s crowning ceremony I heard one of the holy men say a certain phrase as he was giving Charles the oaths. It stood out to me. He talked on and left the phrase in the dust and I guess most people stayed tuned to what he was saying as he went, but not me.
I was back on the shoulder looking for the phrase among the old hubcaps and trash in in the high weeds.
“….Angels and Dark Angels,” the holy man has said.
He had been telling Charles how he must be, how he must serve and be brave, dedicate himself to service to the country. He had been telling him how he must never abuse his power though he certainly could if wanted to.
“…..Angels and Dark Angels.”
I held it in my hands, those words. I worked them in my palms like baby birds. Gently. Warm. Hearts beating fast, I rolled them softly.
“…Angels and Dark Angels.”
What did it mean? What could it mean?
Well, I’m not sure.
It just sounded so true.
I guess it means everything. Good and bad.
And everyone. Good and bad.
Good and bad.
Mother’s Day is now and I can’t understand my own mind anymore. In me there are so many wars I have waged but I am older and I am sensing that more and more with the passing of time. I have known a few mothers and I have loved my own and still do. This Mother’s Day though I turn my eyes to the one that stands by me now.
Jet-packing in over a crowd of very curious and sometimes downright cruel people that I call my own, Arle has somehow stayed up, her Vans dragging across the weird skulls of the crowd, across a series of years that would have killed almost anyone else.
It almost did kill her too, don’t get me wrong, and I think it still does. Kills her to have been so ignored. Kills her to have been so misled. Kills her to have been so enchanted only to be throughly set on fire as a group activity.
I have learned way more than I ever cared to know about people just by watching Arle float above so much even when she wanted to unstrap herself and just fall to the wolves. It’s way easier, you know, to just give up after fighting in the name of love and honor for so long. But she has never given up. She hasn’t ever unstrapped the straps and pitched forward into her certain demise just because she was worn the fuck out.
Oh no, no, no.
When Arle said Princess Diana the other day, it thrilled me because I hadn’t even considered that person as the one who appears above the whole coronation scene. Yet obviously she is the ONLY answer. The image of it all, I can see it so clearly in my mind. In that white dress, you know the one, above their heads. Floating like a ghost because she is a ghost. The Ghost of Ghosts.
Oh, how Charles would fucking weep.
I hear his tears without hearing them.
Just like I hear theirs, too.
I feel so bad for Arle sometimes knowing how much she wanted to be a part of the family I arrived with. But as it goes, things went a different direction. So I feel real bad for Arle but I also feel real bad for a couple members of my family who have missed out on knowing a woman so kind and cool and loving and caring that they would not have been able to fathom how my dumb ass ended up with someone so goddamn good. Her true, true heart has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. None of what we have known so far has been all that easy, but it has been worth it.
My work as a dad, she has lifted me, time and time again when I needed that so much. Her work as a stepmom, she loves unconditionally, day after day after day. What else could anyone ever hope for, you know? I’m serious. I dance around with words a lot, but here and now I can’t make that work.
Mother’s Day is a tough one around here.
Arle, I just want you to know that I love you so fucking much.
You are my person/ my once-in-a-lifetime person.
I know I’m just a crazy fat kid in over his head most of the time. I’m sorry about that. I would die for you in a heartbeat if it ever comes to that, but I hope it doesn’t.
You know, you make me live.
And that’s really saying something.
Hours after the coronation last Saturday, we rode down into Bellefonte and bought a pile of old bricks from an elderly fellow. We are going to use them for a fire pit out in our yard. If you drive by our place this summer, you might see us. Kids on the trampoline, dogs barking loudly at people walking down the alley. Smoke trickling up from the grill. The two of us sitting there on either side of the little wood table.
Fire roaring as the sun goes down.
Bats shoot silent across the sky.
Bluetooth on. Bright Eyes or Bruce. Bluegrass or Kind of Blue.
A couple of drinks, our feet in the grass.
Two tired peasants resting in the twilight.
Thank you for reading this week’s Thunder Pie. Want more? Want a new slice every single week? Then please subscribe. Original Serge Bielankos every Friday/ in your inbox/ around 9am EST. Give me a shot????
Edited by Arle Bielanko
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. I know this day can be complicated just as often as it’s sunshine and rainbows. But you are loved. Though it all, you are loved. Have a beautiful weekend.
“In a child's eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
- N.K. Jemisin