Firework

by carl coetzee

Sometimes rules are made to be broken, my father tells me. Despite this running contrary to almost everything he’s ever told me, I agree. He probably knows better than me. Also, this is awesome.

 Carrying as much as I can, I slink through the doorway, tiptoeing along the dusty wooden path and over the dune of sand which obstructs the house from the sea. The silhouette of my father trails close behind, followed by those of my friend Liam and his father. Moving quickly, we dart from a patch of tall, itchy grass and across the cool, smooth sand. As we sprint, we keep a close watch around us to make sure we are really alone; seeing that we are, I plunge the wooden end of a single firework deep into the sand. Behind me, my usually-more-timid-than-this father fumbles with a box of matches and hurriedly lights the fuse. Then, just as quickly, we all scurry back into the bushes as our firework whistles into the clear night sky and erupts in sharp color. Below, we revel in satisfaction as the vibrant hues of our rocket fade away.

I clench the other fireworks tighter in hand, thinking briefly of the intimidatingly large and well-stocked Pennsylvanian tent from which we bought them. Each one carried a promise of grand spectacle, the assurance that these fireworks won’t merely fizzle and spark but instead soar and paint the cosmos in bedazzled red, white, and blue. Above us, our last rocket has completely melted into the cosmos, yet we remain in the bush for several more minutes. Reminding myself to wait until the coast is clear, I recall an earlier confrontation with a fake guard in costumed uniform, hired by the more prudish residents of the beach to scare off anyone who would think to light so much as a sparkler on Independence Day. While objectively harmless, this scare tactic initially succeeded -- our first encounter with this vaguely threatening mystery man had terrified my tame, law-abiding father into resignation. There would have been no fireworks that July if not for my father’s sudden change of heart; as the sun set on the evening of the Fourth, he was seemingly possessed by the rebellious spirit of the holiday and suggested that we discharge our explosives regardless. The right to detonate fireworks on July 4th, he declared, was a right of the people, and he would not sit by as his God-Given Liberties were being trampled upon.

However, as aforementioned, he had little experience in such acts of insurgency; as a result, our holiday does not resemble the night of thrilling defiance we thought it to be. Instead, it appears more as the timid dance of four mischievous children, running from the expanse of the open beach to the safety of tall grass, quaking in anticipation of a fake guard who in all likelihood was off-duty and perhaps even engaged in similar activity. 

We carry out this petty disobedience for the next hour, nary a guard in sight, until eventually our arsenal runs dry. Triumphantly, we start to make our way back to the house until my dad’s sharp eye catches something in the thick grass. We deduce quickly that, in our frenzy, I had accidentally dropped a precious rocket into the brush. Armed with our newest incendiary, we make our way back onto the beach. As we walk together, I ask my father if I could be the one to set off the final firecracker; he reluctantly agrees, and we start to set up. 

However, my father possesses formidable foresight, and suddenly envisions a rogue, erroneously-planted firework falling over mid-fuse and shooting across the ground to cause impending injury to his loved ones. With this in mind, he now makes a conscious effort to sturdy the rocket, nearly submerging the stick deep inside the cool sand. Matches in hand, I make my way to the explosive as he joins our brave compatriots on the other side of the beach. 

I light the fuse and quickly run backward, stopping a mere few seconds later to look up and admire my handiwork. However, as I look towards the stars, the firework is nowhere to be seen. I sit for a few seconds in my confusion before hearing my father’s panicked shouting from behind me.

“RUN!”

For my father had plunged the firework too deep, and it had been unable to free itself from the thick coastline to join its brethren in the heavens. Instead, it still fizzles, its fuse nearly spent, at ground level. Being mere feet from the rocket, I act quickly, turning back around and hurling myself at the earth. As I do, the hiss of the fuse gives way to the BOOM of the firecracker. Behind me, Liam jumps out of the path of a rogue spark. At the same time, I feel a shockwave from the explosion break across the top of my back as I hit the ground and brace my head. The sound eventually fizzles off and my dad runs across the beach, anticipating a future 9-1-1 call. To his surprise, I pick myself up unscathed.

The four of us start walking back to the beach house, still abuzz from the incident. My father has visibly lost a significant part of his rebellious fervor, dissolved by fear and promptly replaced with his usual lawful demeanor. Suffocating in the guilt of his most recent act of child endangerment, he attempts to parent responsibly once again. 

“You see, y’know, this serves to teach us a lesson about… explosives… and how when not used responsibly… they can… uh…”

I interrupt him mid-sentence.

“Dad, I know you want to turn this into a ‘teaching moment’, but I have to stop you right there. It’s the Fourth of July. That was awesome.”

© 2020, Carl Coetzee