Papa Was A Soldier For Rome.

by Serge Bielanko

There is a scene at the end of Gladiator when Maximus, lying fatally wounded on the Coliseum dirt, begins to walk slowly though a late afternoon field of high grass. His slightly clenched hand gently skims the swaying blades as he moves forward. The camera pans back. And back. And we see him alone in the vast open place heading towards his murdered wife and son in the shimmering ancient distance. Heading home. To his family. Or maybe heading home to God, to Heaven. Or maybe both. Maybe they are inseparable. Who knows.


I like it a lot. The scene of the Roman General/Gladiator in his moment between this cruel world and the promising next one. There is a feeling/chill that comes with it. A vibe. He's heading towards something that feels like forever. The music, the rolling plains. The far off road where his family await him. His young son's eyes. The cinematic lighting. Wind. Wheat. A dying handsome hero. It's good Hollywood.

And we're walking beside a soul. I dig soul art. How can you not, really?


I emerge from a strand of ridiculous willows with my fly rod thrust high above my head so it doesn't snap like the overpriced bread stick that it is. Sweat beads up on my eyebrows and in my ears. Plops of it trickle down behind my sunglasses and slip into my eyes and burn a little. Everything is hazy. I'm in waders and a flannel shirt and a big chest pack and its like 85 degrees and I'm Meatloaf in his second encore.

But there they are.

My wife and daughter off in the distance, sat upon the bowling ball stones beside the river. Monica had called me just as I was starting to nymph a good cold pocket; she told me they were there, to visit me as I fished. And the notion of catching a trout in front of Violet had made me instantly delirious. It was something I'd been wanting/hoping/dreaming for awhile.

That right there says a little about me, I guess. Other men dream of threesomes and financial nirvana and Super Bowl titles. Me? I dream of catching a slender mountain fish for my little girl who could give two shits. Whatever. Our minds are our minds and there is no use arguing with them when they set their sights on things like this.

So, off I went: off to find my wife and child somewhere out there where the tall grass grows.

When I came clopping out of the trees a mile later, I started waving my rod in the air and grinning and stuff. Monica saw me after a second and gave a short brief wave back and said something to Violet. Then, I thought of the scene. From the movie.

I slowed down a little. Almost stopped. I saw Monica raise her hand to her brow to shield out the sun as she watched me approaching from pretty far away. The slender dirt trail I was on cut through, I shit you not...some tall grass.

I let my free hand spread. I let my fingers tickle the tops of the blades. I began to move more deliberately, like human molasses. In my mind I began to morph into something dangerously handsome; here's me walking a glorious reunion walk towards my family squinting to watch my approaching silhouette from the banks of the cold rushing stream. For perhaps a hundred steps or so, I was, for the first time in my life, a fallen hero walking towards glory. I didn't dare wave anymore. Or smile. That's sissy shit when you're a Roman legend moving through the fields of the Lord.


Of course, when I get over there they're not even actually looking at me. Violet is bouncing pebbles off of stones in a puddle of lost river water. My wife is messing with her new phone. But, it doesn't matter because what's done is done and I feel closer to them now somehow. I ruffle my daughter's curls and kiss her head top. Monica offers me cold pizza and soda beside a kingdom of eager trout.

And that's pretty much heaven right there.


I am determined as hell. I wade into the current and lob my size 18 Rainbow Warrior up and across the slashing water. Never before have I felt an actual need to catch a fish, but I feel it now.

I watch my indicator with hawk eyes.


I lob it all upstream again.

Same thing. Nothing.

I turn around nervously. Monica is staring at me blankly. Violet is licking a wet rock.

I cast again.

Take it. Take it. Eat it you slippery bastard.

Boom. My indicator nudges an inch and I set the hook and I've got one. My heart explodes. The fish clears the water by a foot and a half and I announce to the world that I've got him/ HE'S ON!

"Ooooooh, look Violet!," I hear Monica say, "Daddy's got a fish for you!"

The trout is not big in the physical sense, but in my galaxy at that moment: he is my ticket to the next level. He darts upstream and then turns and races back down, jumping and pulling, fighting for his life as it collides with mine, with ours.

Finally, I slip him to the bank. He's maybe ten inches tops. A small fish anywhere. I slide my hand in the water under his belly and carry him over to my little girl. It's all exactly how I hoped it would be/could be. It's all a beautiful fucking blur.

Violet stares at the trout. She giggles. He gasps evenly for his liquid breath. She touches his nose. I let him kiss her and she likes that a lot. She touches his small mouth and he seems to let her. Or at least he doesn't seem more pissed. The whole scene takes a few seconds and I tell her to say goodbye to him and she picks up a pebble and loses interest. With a heart made of thanks, I set him down gently to swim away forever.


I live a lot in my head. A hundred times a day I pretend that my life unfolding around me is the final scene of a really great movie. I don't have to be lying in the arena dust for it to work either. Hell, I don't even come close to that really. Mostly it's just me behind the wheel of the Honda at a stoplight with the dogs way in the back and Violet in her car seat. The satellite radio on the 50's channel, RIP IT UP by Little Richard comes on. I crank the volume. I get goosebumps. I pretend the credits roll right over my face and the cinema is filled with people smiling and staring and feeling good as hell as my story wraps up.


Maximus is dead maybe fifteen seconds when the gorgeous woman turns to the people.

"He was a soldier for Rome."

"Honor him."


Empires are everywhere. Rule 'em all if you can.