A Pinnacle to Heaven
And my flame made a pinnacle to heaven
As I walked once round it in possession.
–Robert Frost, The Bonfire
“I’m bustin’ out, Sol.”
Tony Pistratta shrugged his shoulders and cracked his neck like a boxer getting ready to go another round. The temperature was a nice 78 degrees. Low humidity. A slight breeze. It reminded him of the time he took a trip to San Diego, assisting his employer with a troublesome client. Back then, he thought it was the most perfect place on Earth.
Now he walked home with his only friend and a stomach full of pastrami on rye, but still feeling unsatisfied.
“You’re full of it,” Sol said. “Forget why you’re doing it. Where you gonna go?” There was little humor in his voice.
Tony hadn’t thought too hard about that. Why should he? He always was of a one-track mind. He hated overthinking things. In a former life, more former than his recently clean life, he was a dog player at the tracks. Went with his gut and felt his way out of things. Those familiar feelings returned.
“It don’t matter, but I’m done. No more harps, no more people smiling for no goddamn reason, and no more of this thing following me around everywhere.” Tony reached up and knocked on the glowing golden ring hovering over his head like a big brother.
“I think you need to get your noggin checked, kid.”
Kid. Sol reminded Tony of his grandfather, even kind of looked like him, only he wasn’t. His grandfather was somewhere else. A place that got a bad rap, but that Tony was certain was a hell of a lot more fun than where he was at. Since Tony arrived, Sol had taken on the wise old man role. Almost like how a buddy is assigned to you during your first day of school, but this buddy had a silver widow’s peak sharp enough to impale a goon and puffy red bags beneath each eye that made it look like he was smuggling poker chips.
He was a good guy.
“You know what your problem is?”
Tony stood with his hands in his pockets, staring at the old man with raised eyebrows that said educate me.
The old man flicked the side of his head with hard finger. “You left whatever lick of sense you may have had, down there.” He pointed toward the ground that supposedly lay far below the thick layer of clouds on which they stood.
“Yeah, you forget already?” Sol said. “You finally did the right thing. You confessed your sins. And I don’t mean you just said what you did wrong and went on with the rest of your life. You confessed them, Tony. We all heard you up here.”
Sol shook his head so long that Tony thought it was stuck in motion, like one of them clacking ball and magnet paperweights that sits on the desks of CEOs. “You turned your whole life around just to get on the VIP list and now you say you wanna leave?”
Shit, Tony thought. Was he being rash? His hand motioned towards the coat pocket he didn’t have, searching for the pack of smokes that didn’t exist.
“I didn’t know it would be like this,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been here two months and I feel like I’m gonna lose it.”
“132 years, but it probably feels like two months. Time’s a little different here.”
They walked among skyscrapers. All of them shined. Smooth white marble adorned with gold trim, they reached into a set of clouds even higher than those on which they stood. Like Manhattan, only without the street noise and stench. Why they gleamed, Tony never understood. There was no sun in sight. Just a radiant light bleeding out of every available space.
People of all types populated the streets, some walking just like Tony and Sol, others riding in carriages pulled along by some sort of quiet, invisible machinery. Every face was plastered with a smile, but to Tony, their eyes seemed to be hiding something.
Sol said, “Let’s say you find a way to break out. You think those cherubs are just gonna let you walk…float…jump…whatever, right out of here?”
“What’s going to happen if I try?”
Sol stopped walking and grabbed Tony’s arm. His grip was strong for an old man.
“Look, Tony, just think long and hard about this. You ain’t a goomba eatin’ clams down at Don Peppe’s anymore. Don’t throw this away.”
The expression on Sol’s face reminded Tony of a pleading bloodhound.
“You sound like you know somethin’,” he said. “Level with me. What’s gonna happen if I try?”
“I don’t know anything. Can’t say it’s ever been done before, so long as I’ve been here.”
“How long’s that? You never told me.”
Sol sighed. “A long time, Tony.”
They continued walking in silence until they reached Sol’s apartment. The two of them parted ways and Tony didn’t look back.
He never looked back.
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