After the fight, the mother took the children across the state line to buy fireworks, and the father went to the garage to work on the car he’d been restoring. As soon as the mother left the house, her remaining tears evaporated instantly from the heat. Inside the garage, the father’s sweat formed a clinging bond between the back of his shirt and his skin. He bent over the hood, peering into the mess of gaskets. He adjusted a bolt or two, disinterested at the work. The light was dusty-orange, filtered through a four-paned window on the eastern wall, one of its panes missing, covered by a slice of cardboard. The fight had rattled him, ignited something he couldn’t understand.
The children were both as fiery as bottle rockets, their minds racing at the thought of purchasing illegal fireworks: an espionage mission. They had simultaneously forgotten about the fight they had overheard through the open window as they played upon first mention of spycraft.
Behind the wheel, the mother dug into her nail beds, extracting a piece of misplaced dirt. She, unlike the father, no longer felt rattled. The heat got to our heads, she said to herself as the milemarkers dropped in number. But, as her van crossed the state line, as she saw the signs and the banners, she wondered if there was more to it than the heat. She shrugged the thought away, focusing instead on the squealing children in the backseat.
They purchased six bags of fireworks for the town’s annual Independence Day celebration. Bright and colorful fountains of fire; cherry bombs; moon whistlers that lasted for minutes; mortar shells that erupted in bright splashes of color, all tucked away in brown paper sacks in the back of the van.
The father had finished his work and took a cold shower. As he stood in the tub, he looked down at the pale tile and saw black streaks of grease slide down his legs and trickle toward the drain. He stood there until the grime had washed itself away. A door opened and closed, and the house erupted with laughter, and yet he didn’t move. He thought of the mother, standing there in her black gingham dress, and felt nothing.
As the children sat building cities out of their contraband in the kitchen, the mother and the father could no longer avoid one another. In a way that only mothers and fathers know how, things seemed normal to the children. But the adults noticed the differences, the lack of eye contact, short and direct sentences. They each felt ruined, that the fight had caused permanent damage to their relationship. It was as simple as breathing, the way they knew, as unexplainable, as natural. That was what they understood as they took the children for ice cream, as the sun began to bleed, putting an end to the burning heat. A wind came blowing in from the foothills, and that was that.
The neighborhood gang began making its rounds of suburban terror. They kicked over garbage cans and spat on sidewalks, upturned garden beds. As they passed the house where the mother, father, and children lived, the leader of the gang punched the piece of cardboard from the windowpane in the garage. He struck a match and lit a cherry bomb, lobbing it through the hole, and continued on. The firework soared in an arc past the restoration car and exploded in a pan of oil. Sparks frittered a radius around the pan, caught hold of a stack of automotive magazines, setting their dry pages alive.
The flames took the garage. Cans of spray paint exploded, their colors lost in the blaze. And then the house — wallpaper flaked in strips; doorknobs melted. Pictures became crisps of blackened paper.
The father, mother, and children were just finishing the bottoms of their cones when they walked upon the blaze. They ran down the street, the inferno making them look small and unimportant. The father and mother stopped, looked first at the house, then each other. It was then the fire reached the fireworks sitting upon the dining table. Streaks of magnesium blew out of the windows, and the father swore he could see the whirling of a Catherine Wheel inside the bay window. Roman candles exploded and mortar shells sent sonic booms throughout suburbia.
The mother and father stood there as the children wept; the mother was unsure if they were crying because of the house or the fireworks they had so longed to ignite. A sudden, wicked smile flicked across her face at the thought, and spread to the father’s, who was watching her, as if it was a contagious thing. They turned, unblinking, smiling, then laughing, at the thought of their burning home – his burning car, her burning patterns and heirlooms. They sucked in the gunpowdered air with rapturous appreciation as they howled together.
The fight that morning had unclear origins, one of those things that begins after a breath or a wrongly-placed sigh. The mother and the father were in the kitchen, he reading the morning paper, she cutting an onion for a salad for the Fourth gathering. Somewhere within that eggshell spackled kitchen, a combination of the heat, the smell of onion, the texture of the inky paper, had ignited within them a fuse. It began slowly, uncoiling itself, snaking through their insides before violently exploding in a tangle of angry and violent words, which culminated in the throwing of the kitchen knife and a glass of orange juice across the kitchen at one another. In a stroke of chance, the two objects collided midway, clattered to the ground in a mess of pulp and stainless steel. The impact shocked them out of their stupor, the first of its kind in their—to this point—quiet life of domestic bliss. The mother dashed out of the kitchen, did not look back. The incident lasted less than a minute, and when it was over, the crying mother collected her children and drove them across the state line to buy fireworks. The father cleared the broken glass and knife and went to work on his car. And the calendar declared that it was Independence Day.