Independence Day

A year passed in the space between the fireworks.

Two little college girls all dressed in white sat on a baseball diamond at the local park, emptied out and quiet after dark. The chain link fence cradled their tiny human frames snugly beneath the open sky.

Mia lifted her shiny black head off of her friend’s shoulder and turned to face her.

“What’s your favorite kind of firework?” she asked, her blood red lips impossibly immaculate (she insisted the trick was in the liner) and kohl cat eyes softening in the dark until she had the face of a beloved doll sitting on a nightstand, making any nightmares disappear with her contented smile.

Claire felt small in the reflection of her friend’s eyes, and she forgot all about finding the right position for her long legs. Together, they were off, imagining that the stars were actually the lingering sparks of last years fireworks.

Zoom!

The show began. They both agreed they liked the drippy gold ones that looked like aging gold leaf. Mia liked the surprise crackle that followed the enormous red ones as they exploded. Claire liked the way the loud ones filled her whole body until her heart ricocheted against her chest like an iron bell.

Road trips and playgrounds and church altars all seem to shrink once puberty is over, but not fireworks. Even after you grow up, they still seem big. The space between them is is still extraordinary. Like perhaps in that space, you hear the silence of a million busy cities. Like you hear the year stopping on the 4th of July to take a breath. Maybe fireworks are secretly the whole respiratory system of the American Dream, a people sustained in those delicate pauses by the anticipation of a celebration that eludes language barriers and R.S.V.P.’s and box offices. Fireworks belong to anyone willing to look at them.

The friends were bathed entirely in shifting colors and simple questions flickered into difficult questions the way actors grow up on stage between the pulses of a strobe light.

The chain link fence separated Claire from the rest of the world. She belonged to the sky. After all, if fireworks could be free, she could be free. Free to be weightless, bodiless, and spirit-full. And her spirit was eleven again, just about to burst into herself. She felt the fence press her into one hundred different pieces and shoot off into the sky.

Boom! I’ll apply to the Oxford exchange program. Bang! I’ll get something published. Crack! I’ll intern in New York City. Fizz! I’ll be a writer.

There were her ambitions, dreamed in the pause, thrown to missiles on the ascent, and wished in the sound. She watched as the ash fell softly down from the sky. She imagined each piece as a live ember, blowing into the cracks and crannies of the earth and lingering like a hibernating wildfire, patiently waiting until her breath caught up and ignited them.

Mia nudged her. Behind the fence, the rest of the group was getting up to leave before the big finale so that they could beat the rush. The two of them helped each other up, the imprint of the chain link fence clinging to their backs like a mother’s embrace. The rest of the group was already ahead as slowly brushed the dust off of their legs and palmed the creases out of their clothes. As they walked off of the baseball diamond, they each creased their brows, trying to prepare conversations for the walk back. But as they faced each other, they smiled knowingly at the sparks they saw dancing in each other’s eyes and were silent.

Clutching each other’s arms, they walked out of the park, crossed into the empty street, and disappeared like fireworks in the night.

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