Even Now.

by Serge Bielanko



Henry taps on the window glass at the geese out by the stream. They can't hear him. They're pretty far off and plus they are probably thinking about geese stuff; who's got the stale bread, ya'll?

Inside the train it's Christmas lights and Dean Martin pretending he's tipsy as he bumbles through 'Jingle Bells' and the din of kids crying and laughing and peering up over the high refurbished seats to peer down at who's in back of them, or in front.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. He is hellbent on getting their attention anyway. He's almost two now, a little boy with a smile that creates real honest-to-God light when he flashes it, which is a lot. But on this old train car this morning his face is serious as he uses his binky to boink the glass steaming up with his gentle breath.

I watch him there, balanced beside me on his unsteady legs and I reach up and touch the skin on the back of his neck above his winter hood.

Tap-tap-tap. Methodically. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Tapping his way out of this "Polar Express" train that I bought tickets for months ago. Santa will be there, I told my wife. And they play Christmas music on the P.A! She grunted her okay/I hit 'Pay Now' on the Pay-Pal/we became four future passengers together.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. He taps it like he doesn't want to break it, but his eyes upon the geese say he might do that if he knew it would bring them this way.

They are down there, though. They are down there in a different world and they can't know that a little boy is watching them and reaching out to pull them in.

Tap-tap-tap. He's like a ghost now, Henry is. A kid behind glass, tapping away to the world. Here I am. Are you coming?

The train buckles and starts to ooze.

"Have a holly jolly Christmas...I don't know if there'll be snow but have a cup of cheer."

Tap-tap-tap-tap. The geese slide away from us. A couple hundred miles to the north, the classrooms where it all went down are just like they were since the banging and the popping went quiet. No one has moved anything or anyone yet.

And if there's tapping, no one hears it.

Not yet, anyway.


Lord knows I've tried. Hell, we've all tried. Nothing works though. In the morning on a Saturday just before Christmas you can mix in some apple butter with your oatmeal and listen to the coffee dripping down into the pot while your 40-year-old guts percolate last night's beers into another shit on the horizon but you are still just a weak fern of a bitch standing in the great northwoods.

CNN is on and I sit down in front of it and listen to them circle the wagons containing things they will never know.

I sip the coffee and it tastes okay, like coffee from some gas station somewhere, I guess. It's not Starbucks or anything. It's no Italian cup laid out before you on a cafe table in the shadow of a 600 year-old cathederal, but it ain't supposed to be because I'm 180 pounds of American weekend plopped down in front of a 40-inch Sony and so I reckon the brew fits the scene just fine.

We will ride the Polar Express today. Me and Violet and Henry and Monica. In the early morning, while it was still dark out, we all climbed on the big bed in mommy and daddy's room and watched the movie together. It was something that I had daydreamed about for more months than I should even admit. I wanted us to be fresh off the film when we climbed aboard the old trains the local railroad junkies bust out two or three times a year.

How cool would that be, I had reminded myself over and over again. How cool would that be to manage to watch the movie and then take the kids on a train ride?

Then, it just happened. It could have gone so wrong, too. Henry could have easily drifted off to put small toys in the toilet after a half-hour or so. Violet could have certainly gotten hungry and slid down off the high king mattress and announced that she wanted something to eat. One tiny monkeywrench and the whole thing could have just fallen apart in my hands like so many of my foolish plans, like soggy bread.

But somehow, it all came together.

The kids stared at the movie on the TV, their jaws slightly separated by the action and the elves and the runaway train skidding across the frozen lake a few miles from the North Pole.

My wife disappeared and then reappeared with a cup of coffee for me.

And that one tasted like God had brewed it himself.


The guns. The guns. The guns.

The guns are still out there, in someone else's hands now, probably destined to end up in a lab and then who knows where. You'd be a real asshole to want to fire any of them again, but I don't know where they end up really.

Who gets the guns that mow down 6-year-olds?

Do they melt them down?

Do they end up in a basement storage room with paper tags attached with thin wire?

What would the tags say anyway? Lanza? Sandy Ridge? Case 1677364?

Who fucking cares, right?

Who fucking gives a fuck, at this point.


What you remember when you are slipping away is anyone's guess. But even when it comes on fast there is probably something:

Your bat slamming the rubber tee under the baseball, the voices of your mom and dad mixed in with all the happy cheering back behind you somewhere, the sound of your small heart thumping so hard down inside of your bony chest, hot dog smell, a bird flying over centerfield, the ball rolling slowly across the bright green grass three feet in front of you, the interrupted baseline disappearing beneath your sneaks as you chug as hard as you can towards the five or six kids in Dodger blue all gathered around first base looking lost and desperate and confused and excited and trying to get you 'out' but not all that worried about it in the end.

The clumpy snow on your sled blades falling away as you brush it with your wet glove.

Santa Claus in the sky/he's really a plane/you will never ever know that.

Your mother's warm oniony breath as she situates you upon your pillow at the end of a long good day.

The chlorine in your eyes. The sting of happiness.

Your tiny brother in the doorway holding Winnie the Pooh.

Mint. Toothpaste. Burning life.

Legos all over the floor before you and your alphabet flash cards mixed in with them and the warmth of the room raining down from the bright lights above you sitting there in your pajamas with feet.

The dog you have always known.

Lying on your side, your eyes opening slowly, as you realize that it's morning now. And that it's your birthday.

Touching first base, feeling it under the balls of your feet, joy swelling up inside of you.






I quit smoking two months ago for the second time in a year. You fall off the horse, you get back on, dude.

But I bought a pack this morning, just to taste them again.

It's unhealthy and I'm weak and I want to crush them in my fist.

But first, I need to smoke a few as I write this.


What would I trade to keep you here by me forever, my love?

I would trade all of my veins. Miles of thin worms that keep me going, I would trade them all in a heartbeat to make it all okay for you.

I would trade every word I have ever said just so you could say one more.

That's how much I need you. That's how much I love you.

I would remove my guts with a teaspoon and carry them across the mountains to hang them from a tree overlooking the furthest sea if I knew that it would keep you smiling.

To hear your laughter, I would stand before the greatest army ever known and approach them across a summer field until a distant voice shouted halt and I would keep right on walking.

I have loved you so much for so long.

And I would give all of that up just to love you maybe a second or two more.


(Lighting a cigarette...hold on...there we go...I blow smoke in your face.)

In the days to come we will again talk of Earthly things.

We will once again hear these words/ it has already begun:

'Semi-automatic guns don't kill people. People kill people.'

But, c'mon.

(I blow so much smoke in your face that you can't even see or even breath.)

'Soldiers die protecting my right to own these assualt weapons.'

Who amongst us speaks for the dead, then?

'This is the greatest country on Earth and if you don't like it then leave!'

(I blow burning cities of smoke directly through your head and you are Buddy Holly's pilot/upside down in the snowy night sky/ or are you right side up?)

I love it too, you see. Maybe I love it more than you.

Is that possible?

Can you believe that?

The guns that forged our nation, the guns of our Second Amendment, the 'arms' we gave ourselves the 'right to keep and bear' were muskets. They were single shot shooters. But we have strayed way too far from that now. We have allowed ourselves to shatter the boundries again and again until what we are left with is a monster of our very own making in the form of rapid-fire death that no self-respecting Founding Father would have ever been proud of.

You were so sure you loved your country and that all of these guns proved it. But, like it or not, those days are over.

(I reach down through all of the smoke engulfing you and I take from you what I need to take from you in the name of love.)

You continue to live your life. Or you don't. There is no telling.

But your fucking rapid-fire child-killing machine is gone and the sun continues to set over your neighborhood with all of the majesty of Heaven here on Earth.



The geese are behind us now as our train rolls slowly down the tracks. Henry taps his gentle greeting still, though.

He taps it at the five or six elderly train-spotters who have gathered at the edges of farm fields we are moving through.

They wave at him and he erupts in smiles.

Sleigh bells begin to ring!

Henry looks quickly and so does my daughter and there at the front of our car he appears.

"Ho-ho-ho!" It's him. It's him.

Santa Claus appears and the kids in the train begin hollering and crying and standing up on the seats to get a glimpse of him and the whole scene is chaotic in all of the right ways, in all of the most beautiful ways we can ever know in this life.

I put my sunglasses on fast.

I can't help it. I know I look like a douche, a sunglasses douche in a train car, but to be perfectly honest with you, man, I'm fucking crying.

I am so in love with them, with this. With life.

Brenda Lee comes on. They're piping her in.

"We're rocking around the Christmas tree/ have a happy hol-i-day!"

I'm so in love with life, even now.