City Cancels 4th of July
by Sherre Vernon
But not the fireworks, at least not on our street. The neighbor whose puppies we lift back over the shoddy chain link to their mama—the neighbor who, before all this passed my husband carnitas the same way—is celebrating the pursuit of happiness as defined by the rush of lighting shit on fire. With guests. Music’s up, Bar-B-Q is on & my husband is out running interference hoping to keep the 3-year-old in the part of the yard where neither spit nor bottle rockets can reach. And the skies of night were alive with light—with a throbbing, thrilling flame. My husband, I suspect has given our Ellie-dog so much melatonin that she’s on a bad trip & I mean to ask him from the front door just how many treats he’s slipped her—I mean, she’s barking sideways & lounging down into a glassy-eyed heap—when he calls out from our driveway, leaning over the waist-high gate, to the end-lot oleander & a bit of dirt. My man—who will next week bring in a stray ginger kitten, is not wearing a mask but a Daredevil T—My man—who intends only a starlit hammock with his daughter—is tipped forward asking some unseen force “…if maybe, if you wouldn’t mind, you know, plants are flammable & my three-year old is right here…” when a guest of our good neighbor who’d littered the road in matches and gunpowder catches my husband’s gentle nudge & untucks himself from ground spinners, emerges from the bushes & stumbles drunkenly toward him. Amber and rose and violet, opal and gold they came. We’ve never met this man, so my husband stands there like he’s going to shake hands, mend fences or some such—until I call after him. He turns toward me with a look of shock as though suddenly he remembers we are all stuck in this damn pandemic & steps back. The drunken pyrotechnik ambles further down the street mumbling “my bad, my bad” & my old man saunters toward me like this is One Good Deed—when an M-80 (it swept the sky like a giant scythe—it quivered back to a wedge) whistles & sizzles its entry over the fence & onto our grass. The toddler in sympathy plays her harmonica at full lung—the dog rouses herself from her stupor like some berserker cavalry. Even the puppies rally to our cause. My husband—ardently bright, it cleft the night with a wavy golden edge—he hollers & rushes with shovel & sand & water & foam—It’s been a long time since my grandfather taught us to light snakes & sparklers on asphalt to count & calculate the seconds from spark to fire of roman candle—but only two years since this whole valley evacuated to a flaming bush. & this man we’ve never met is back, trying to assert his independence by lifting his leg over our front gate calling my husband names he doesn’t understand names I find too clever to translate. My husband couldn’t kick the ass of a spider. But you wouldn’t know that, the way he’s masked up & charging back outside. The dog yips & howls in the wrong direction— the toddler howls & trips & now she’s running toward me with a skinned knee while the only other woman on the scene is trying to unstuck her lover from the tangle of the gate & I call mine back to me. I’ve got something cold to drink, the toddler rocking on my lap. My husband lets out a long sigh & the neighbor waves like this ain’t no thing— & there in our awe we crouched & saw with our wild, uplifted eyes charge & retire the hosts of fire in the battlefield of the skies—
*Lines in italics are excerpted from Robert Service’s “Ballad of the Northern Lights.”
Sherre Vernon (she/her/hers) is the author of two award-winning chapbooks: Green Ink Wings (fiction) and The Name is Perilous (poetry). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and anthologized in Bending Genres, Fat & Queer, and Best Small Fictions. Readers describe Sherre’s writing as heartbreaking, richly layered, lyrical, and intelligent. To read more of her work visit www.sherrevernon.com/publications.