July 4

Independence Day (U.S.)


When you were much younger, you resented your county’s strict rules about purchasing fireworks. They’d outlawed the larger rockets, fine, and the Roman Candle variations that shot a sequence of small fireballs in the air.  Safety concerns, of course.  There were stories of unsupervised boys setting off rockets in fields, standing too close to the fuse and blowing off their hands, or getting a face full of glorious color that melted their eyes into darkness.

Supposedly there was a student who used to go to your high school, who had a hook for a hand.  The injury might have been caused by an auto accident, or been there since birth, but as July 4 rolled around, the hook was a cautionary tale for any child who considered patronizing the giant fireworks stands in nearby counties with looser regulations.

Your older brother talked about such an excursion.  He and his friends returned with contraband Roman candles, and did exactly what you weren’t supposed to do with them:  at twenty paces, they lit fuses, held them like magic wands, and shot flaming star-bombs at each other.

So yes, there was abuse.  But your county had gone to such an extreme.  You weren’t even allowed to buy sparklers, which were essentially harmless.  The best you could hope for were a few packs of black snakes:  small black cylinders that looked like a broken piece of chalk, made of sugar and baking soda and some slight combustible.  When you set them on the ground, they burned until smoke turned solid, a snaking curl of ash that stretched and writhed along the ground.  Fun for a few times, but hardly a spectacle.  They smelled like gasoline, and the snakes crumbled when you touched them.

In later years, you lived in towns with lax rules.  Local kids bought huge packs of noise-making rockets, and you’d hear them not only on the 4th, but on the weekend leading up, and then leftovers every night thereafter for almost a week.

As a kid, you would probably have been happy with the recent court ruling, declaring fireworks were a form of free expression.  The regulatory laws were struck down in most regions, and the fireworks industry blossomed — not only the large seasonal trailer-stands, but multi-packs sold in local drug stores and groceries, even at the convenience store across the street from your apartment.

Many of the packages had warning labels in different languages.  The English line was hard to read, but you that accompanying instructions would advise about proper precautions.

The previous weekend was surprisingly silent, considering how many rockets had sold in your neighborhood.  You guessed everyone was saving up for the actual day.

Your cat is already hiding in the closet, as if he can sense the noisemaking that will commence after nightfall.

What happens is far more than you, or Frisky, could ever have anticipated.  It sounds like you’re in a warzone.

Flashes of multi-colored light play through the slats in your closed mini-blinds, accompanied by a machine-gun series of pops and bangs.  It’s like the final movement of a professional fireworks display, when they shoot off an incredible number of rockets at the same time, filling the sky with color and smoke and thunderous noise.

But this isn’t a professionally timed display.  You think of your brother and his friends aiming tiny Roman candle stars at each other from a semi-safe distance.  What would happen if rebellious kids had even larger rockets, and aimed them recklessly at each other, at buildings?

Creating a display that lost all site of patriotic celebration, lapsing into relentless chaos.

You pull up the mini-blinds and look outside. Smoke and colors and sparks fill the air, and you can’t even see across the street.

Suddenly, a flaming rocket smashes through the window and falls dormant on the hardwood floor of your living room.  The rocket, and shards of glass, barely missed hitting you.

You worry that the rocket itself will explode.  A slight flicker of light shines through a tear in the large cardboard tube, and you listen for a hiss as flame and powder meet.

Nothing.  A dud, apparently.

Then you look more closely at the fallen cardboard rocket.  A severed hand with two burnt fingers is stuck to the outside of it.