In the backyard, firecrackers fizz in our hands. We dare each other to throw first. We draw the firecrackers to our mouths, chomp on them like cigars. Watch the fuses burn. Blue smoke drifts up our noses, down our throats. We hold the smoke inside of us, blackening our lungs, exhaling when we feel sick. Then we hear the gruff voice of our neighbor and the bark of his dog. He threatens to call our parents, CPS, the police. As we withdraw the firecrackers from our mouths, they bang. Fine gray powder coats our still-intact fingers. We laugh and throw the charred remains over the fence. Our neighbor peers over the top rail; his eyes and shiny pate glint in the midday sun. We know he is on tiptoes, even standing on a brick. Where are your mom and dad? he asks. They are gone, but we do not let on. They left days ago. A trip, they said. To visit relatives. They didn’t fool us—our family is close with no one. Our parents always said that was our fault. But we care little for what our neighbors think about us. This is our neighborhood, our street, we decide what we do here. We light more firecrackers, wave them above our heads. Our neighbor steps back, disappears from view. We lob the firecrackers over the fence, hear them explode in midair. An animal whimpers, then a soft voice speaks. We lie in the grass, try to glimpse our neighbor through the gap at the bottom of the fence. In the dirt lies a mound of tan fur. The retriever lolls on its side, legs shaking unnaturally, its watery black eyes rolled back. Our neighbor hunches over his dog, drives the brick into its skull.
Christopher Linforth has recently published fiction in Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, Day One, and Descant, among other magazines. He has been awarded fellowships and scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.