pink and green leaves

Fireworks (an excerpt)

Twelve miles from the District line, from the heart, no, the brain, of the nation, our car snails along a two-lane back road. The two-minute traffic jam ends when old men with flags wave us off the road and into a choppy field, filing us neatly into parked rows. We unload our blanket and cooler and follow the human stream to the main clearing and down towards the meadow. People veer off left and right. Small groups: families with children, middle aged couples lugging lawn chairs, long haired teenagers in cutoffs and tee shirts.

Far to the left is a stage where a local country music band chats up the crowd in between songs. A Good Humor truck is parked a short distance away, selling ice cream bars to a line of children. Another group of children giggle and squirm in front of a homemade wooden puppet stage. Good Christian Puppets, Community Baptist Church is hand painted on a sign above the small stage. Old men sit at a long table, wearing their World War II uniforms, talking to the old people who pass by. It is too soon for the Vietnam Vets.

We pass all this by. Clark leads me down to the fence line and to the right. We spread our blanket a mere six feet from the fence. Not many people sit in this area. It is still light, and we can see the Lion’s Club men down in the meadow beneath us, checking the fireworks, pacing, waiting. A fire truck is parked on the other side of them. The clumps of grass beneath our blanket prickle. We spray ourselves with bug spray and the mosquitoes leave us alone, except for the stray hum that zings past our ears.

It is my first Fourth of July fireworks since I was nine, since the July before my father died. Well, except for that time when I was sixteen and wasted and rode downtown in the back of Dave’s van to see the fireworks at the Washington Monument. But the only thing I remember about that is being stuck in traffic after the display and having to pee so bad that I made two friends, Katie and Joe, get out of the van to hold a blanket around me while I peed on the grass in a traffic circle. Later Katie told me that Joe peeked. Then we had to run for the van. A cop was motioning for Dave to move along and he’s shouting out the window, I have a girl peeing here, and we jumped into the van just as it started to move. I felt like an actor in the movies, jumping onto a moving freight train.

Now I’m eighteen. Clark is twenty-three, and I have been dating him since January. The Fourth of July is his favorite holiday. He always sits right up front. Says it’s the only way to go. So we sit there sipping beer from paper cups, leaning against each other, buzzing gently from the joint we smoked on the way, watching the sky turn darker shades of blue. Sounds come to us from far away, like those summer days when you’re napping with the window open and you can hear the kids, the lawnmowers, the birds, but the sounds all mix together in your dreams and don’t mean anything. We sit there together, breathing humid air, and nothing means anything.