You live two blocks from a city park that hosts the Fourth of July parade, carnival and fireworks. Once a year your sleepy neighborhood will be taken over. Hoards emboldened strange by the holiday license to drink in public and be stupid with explosives will arrive bearing lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, flags, transistor radios and cherry bombs. They blithely make your yards their parking lots, trespass and trample and choke sidewalks and streets in lit processions of flash lights and aluminum sparklers. Their orange cigarette tips will bob ahead like lures.

Soon their blankets will cover the fields all the way to the woods. Progress in the dark is a mine field of hands and feet, plates of potato salad, dry humping teenagers, dead soldiers of Blatz, Schlitz, Strohs, Rolling Rock, Fanta or Seven-Up bottles, a land where any unthinking remark or misplaced look or bump or nudge or gesture can set off the explosive potential waiting whenever so many people come together in the dark. Do not be afraid. It is your first taste of civic anarchy, to be forever flavored with the tang and bitters of gunpowder sulfur and beer. Everywhere the adults are eating, drinking, smoking, tonguing, grasping, gasping, laughing, cursing.

They who run the world will all be here: in straight sharp lines of brow and jaw like tail-fins; in car interior colors of cream with red, blue or black; in men’s crew cut, ivy league, d.a. or rockabilly pompadours; in women’s bouffant, beehive, pixie or artichoke cuts; in pants of cuff-rolled denim or white Capri; in shirts Hawaiian or Cabana or T’s, (the latter tight and bicep-rolled to hold non-filter cigarette packs). Many of the men will brandish “back from ‘Nam” (or Baghdad or Afghanistan) stares, cadences, shrugs, slang, stiletto-macho X-15-age werewolf sideburns and teeth and eyes that will have you, the different kids, in a seizure of terror, and release. Now will be the time to act.

You will talk and scheme and worry out minute plans without regard for what the Big Night will actually be. Someone will say it is like “striking a giant match across the skull of the world” and you settled for that. You are “the brains,” “the mad scientists,” the 11-year old nobody “nerds” (at a time when the term has the obscene punch of “kike”, “cunt” or “nigger.”)  You say, Come Kill Your Darling Country.

On the early morning of the third your plan is to break into the fireworks truck parked in the corner of the field and tamper with the charges. You have talked about living lives risked in extreme experiment, and here is the big one: mixing combustibles for a new world of shapes and colors, out-doing their show with fun that will hurt and laughs that give all of them the same stranger’s face; incantations in sparkler across hot night air, striking a giant match across the skull of the world. Come, kill your darling country.

The first skyrockets will tear into the sky and the ahhhs and ohhhs rise from the quaking blankets all dark around you in a sea. You run and dive as into an oncoming wave at the beach. You will be heedless, fearless, senseless. You will kick at faces and ran faster, climbing people like stair steps, flying over grasping hands, battling through screams of pain and rage lost in booms, and groans of awe for the hot chemical show overhead. You keep on, straight into the woods. Angry voices are close behind. You will enter the woods in an exalted state of fearlessness and inexhaustible energy, skipping down a narrow switch-back path we know by heart, to the right of the shale cliff you call “H,” (without knowing why).

A sharp zigzag down the back-way crashes into a narrow, noisy stream. You take positions off the path and a little downstream, at the edge of a gully behind big mossy rocks. Above you a willow tree catches a new, cool breeze, fluttering leafy vines over the ebony water. Your panting breaths finally slow and you listen but hear no sounds of pursuers. Above you silver mag stars, fat on titanium and bromides, flash revelations of smoke, solid and sheer as cliffs. They are quickly riven apart by detonations of other hot metals, fuel and casing types: copper halide blues, strontium reds, cesium indigos, potassium violets, barium greens, calcium oranges, lamp-black golds playing The Palm, The Ring, The Diadem, The Crosette, The Spider.

The show reaches its finale: multi-break Whistlers and Hummers that “strobe” multiple explosions falling closer and closer to the crowd. You count the explosions. After many bursts you count one, two, three too many, too loud. The rockets will reach the ground while still burning, hissing and twitching, like cicadas locked to mate and die, igniting grass and blankets and flesh. Shrieks will cut through the booms, echoing into strange cacophonies between pain and pleasure, the human and the animal. There are alarms and sirens and cries to God. Then echoes, the crowd dispersing, cars starting up and driving off. Stars poke through the colored smoke. It thins, they brighten, and the air goes cold.

You will wait. Then one of you, then another and another will whisper of your getaway, your next move. The way ahead, someone says, is lit by a giant match raked across the skull of the world! Your voices join and rise into chant, hot and luminous, words lit from inside your throats as if you’ve swallowed sparklers whole, and do not and will not feel one damn thing in the great parade ahead. Come, let’s kill their darling country.

Gregg Williard's fiction, essays, poetry and visual art have appeared in Diagram, The Collagist, Your Impossible Voice, decomP, All The Sins and Sein und Werden, among others. He teaches ESL to refugees in Madison, Wisconsin and produces the spoken word radio show Fiction Jones/Under the Radar for WORT community radio ( His novel with graphics, The People in Tubes Motif  is forthcoming in 2019.

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