Story Shots: Fireworks

Story Shots: Fireworks Our monthly column featuring creative nonfiction from our contributors—stories so short you can read them in the amount of time it takes to drink a shot.

When I think of July, one thing comes to mind: fireworks. July is a month that is full of barbecues, beer, family, and fireworks. Americans love to celebrate Independence Day by playing with mild explosives after probably a few too many hot dogs and Bud Lights. So for this month, we asked our writers to create a story shot with the inspiration of fireworks.

“I don’t want to see fireworks. None. I’m too mad at America today.”

“Okay,” he replied.

“And I don’t want American food, either. No cheeseburgers – in fact, fuck cheeseburgers.”

“Got it.”

He listened to my stupidity so well. He shared my anger, I think, or at least he let me vent it. The Fourth was not a day of celebration for me; indeed, the fireworks depicting independence and sovereignty were lost in irony to me. Earlier that week, the Supreme Court had ruled that corporate religious rights outweighed individuals rights of free choice and privacy when it came to medical treatments. The night before the Fourth, the Supreme Court had extended this decision to include not just Christian for-profit companies, but non-profit companies as well.

I showed up downtrodden. He gave me a smile and we went inside. Nothing was red, white, and blue. We sat and watched Blazing Saddles and then grabbed some Indian food for dinner. Later that night, we both comforted his dogs through the loud bangs that echoed in the dark. For a bitter, sad lefty like me, the night was perfect.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but see fireworks going off in the air. They sparkled, but I saw no reason to acknowledge their shinning. I lost the awe and wonder of shiny things long ago, and instead of being dazzled by the brief and wondrous flash of chemicals burning up the night’s sky, leaving behind a pollutant tail of ash, I saw the burnt up cinders of freedoms and rights we had fought so hard to win not too long ago being blown away on a wind bellowing in the wrong direction.

– Amanda Riggle

When I arrived at George’s house, I pulled down the mirror and checked my makeup, spreading more balm on my chapped lips. They were at the park down the road, waiting for the fireworks to go off, and I was late. I had tried on my entire closet before settling on a gauzy, tie-dyed top and a pair of jean shorts. I made it half way out the door before realizing I had forgotten to shave. I stared down at my legs, where a thin layer of hair had begun to sprout. “Shit,” I muttered. Now, as I walked down the hill, I rubbed my ankle against the smooth skin on my calf, casually trying to get rid of the itching sensation that had begun to spread across my legs.

When I saw him, my heart began beating so loudly I could feel it rattling in my skull. My breath came in sharp puffs. I tried to summon the rhythmic chanting of my yoga instructor, breath in and out. Or was it out and in. I no longer remembered. Half the time, I lay curled up on a mat at the back of the classroom—the dark, musty atmosphere lulling me to sleep. They were headed in the opposite direction, and when he saw me, his lips curled into a smile. His sharp canines spilling over his full lips.

“Leaving already?” I asked as I joined them.

“George forgot the whiskey,” he said, lightly punching his friend’s arm. Later, the night grew foggy and dense. Ice clinking in a glass. Billiard balls smacking into one another. My torso bent over the green cloth as I closed one eye and aimed, his palm resting, for a moment, on my hip as he passed behind me. And later, spilling onto the carpet, together, because the bed we shared creaked too loudly under our weight. It was the first time I missed the fireworks. I could hear them, the high-pitched whistle as they shot into the air. The crackling, staccato explosions as they descended, their willowy branches dissipating as they reached the earth. I was nostalgic for them, even then. It felt like I was turning my back on something, leaving it behind like my belief in the tooth fairy or Santa. Like my belief in God.

– Melanie Figueroa

My most memorable night of fireworks wasn’t in the woods near Plains, Montana when I made Dotty Lyons the godmother of my cabbage patch twins. And it wasn’t when I snuck on our roof at fifteen and held hands with a sweaty twenty-year-old I didn’t even like (I wondered how I’d explain that to my future husband, Christian Bale). And it wasn’t even the holiday I watched the light show over Flathead Lake and met my current boyfriend’s mother, who I loved right away. Instead, my most memorable firework display was the Fourth of July in my first apartment.

I celebrated that Fourth alone, washing dishes and playing Old Glory songs on my piano with its splitting water rings on the lid. I knew I’d probably spend the night calming my longhaired cat, Sunny, when the mall fireworks erupted from the next block, but that was the first Fourth I truly appreciated my own independence and those who gave it to me: my forefathers for being the ballsy sons of bitches to shake off those Brits and my mom for helping me pay rent and live my own American dream.

Later, when it was apparent Sunny wasn’t afraid of the whistling and cracking, I walked the block to an empty parking lot for the best fireworks view in Missoula. I enjoyed being alone, thinking about graduate school that fall, about taking a road trip that month, about staying up late that night. The pinwheels blossomed and fell and looked like chrysanthemums. I was perfectly happy and alarmed when the fireballs rushed toward my lawn chair with enormous claps. In the quiet, I let myself smoke half a cigarette, not sure why I cried. I returned and opened my gate with a clank, and Sunny chased moths in the grass.

– Missy Lacock

It was his idea. It was always his idea. Sometimes I wish I had the ideas, but at nine years old, I was better at following instructions than creating them. We stood along the cinderblock wall, snickering while concocting some device made out of foil that was shaped like a Grecian vase. Breaking off all the heads of matchsticks from our mother’s Diamond matchbox supply, we sat there tossing over hundreds of red heads into the silver neck of the vessel. With a handful of matches left, we stood back to appreciate the art of our fine craft.

Since our most recent incident in Puerto Vallarta involving an M-80 and a plastic cup full of sand-crabs, we were forbidden to touch anything with a wick and a flame. So much for fireworks this year, we thought. Still, that elusive feeling of liberty infected our brains and the holiday spirit renewed our ambitions and strengthened our devious minds.

“Okay, now all I need you to do is grab Mom’s nail polish remover” he said.

“What? What for?” I replied.

“Just do it!” he yelled like an aspiring, deranged scientist.

I ran into the house, passing Mom in the kitchen, unknowingly being followed my mother’s ominous mother-eyes, and reached the bathroom where I tucked the nail polish remover bottle underneath my shirt. I made my way back through the kitchen when my mother stopped me and pried, “What are you two doing out there?”

“Just playing,” I muttered as innocently as possible.

She knew something was up. She always knew everything. Was I sweating? I felt like she could see my pores opening to release my anxious beads of guilt. “I hope you’re not up to something that could get you in trouble, because you’re already in enough trouble” she pressed.

I looked back her blankly, clutching onto the bottle beneath my shirt. Her interrogating stare was devouring every possible excuse I could fathom to reply. She must have seen me get the bottle. I looked past her gaze, bolting my eyes from left right, subconsciously stuttering “Uh, um, uh…”

It wasn’t until I heard a plastic thud reflect off the tile floor. I stood frozen, staring down at the bottle incriminating me. Wiping her hands on her apron, she bent down to pick up the bottle with a look of confusion. She reached that moment of realization when I saw her staring off into the distance. When she ran outside, I followed close behind her and saw my brother stoically holding onto the last match. When his eyes caught my mother’s, he, like some victorious war-hero, stroked the match across the box and tossed it into the foil vase as if it was our last dying hope. From the slender neck rose a flame blackening the side of the wall, marking the beginning of a triumphant race. As my mother chased him with every ounce of rage fueling her body, the strings of her apron flapping in the wind, and my brother speeding past me, I caught a glimpse of my brother’s infamous grin stretching across his face. It was then that I knew. It’s every pyromaniac’s favorite time of the year.

– Lauren Sumabat

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