Fireworks by Bill Elenbark

Explosions in the sky bursting with the sound and all these echoing vibrations rattling through the field around me – me and Nick, side by side in the wet tall grass with the heat and the bugs and the perspiration, on vacation, our summer vacation, Nick at my side eyeing explosions in the sky, one by one then in a sweltering rush, everything so rushed in my mind with this high and these sickening booms crashing through every second with a flash in the distance splintering darkness where I’m dreaming, always dreaming fevered images of us – Nick and me sprawled out on the grass, legs splayed in the dusk, gazing up at the lights beaming bright for an instant almost blinding and then fading, flitting fading, disappearing after breaking until I forget that they were there and now they’re gone.  The moon is out tonight, Nick noticed and he mentioned it, he notices things more than me, I didn’t even know we could see the fireworks from here even though I’ve always lived here, since I was five, since my father left and didn’t return, I’m not sure why, or I forget if I knew or whether I cared – I forget most everything these days, maybe from all the glue.  We used to go to the high school to see the fireworks, my mom and the teachers from her school and their kids, these chattering girls and smelly boys who didn’t bother with me or I didn’t bother with them, quietly waiting for the clouds to separate into threads of smoke and sounds, rushes of crackling sounds over the trees from our spot in the grass, Nick and me partly wet and nearly rusting, almost molting from the heat of the earth on our bodies, sweating shaky bodies, side by side, faces up to watch in admiration these fireworks rapidly breaking over the trees by the high school.  Nick hands me the bag with the glue but it’s too much, I already huffed enough tonight or today, I can’t remember when, but I feel all kinds of high and Nick likes to get high more than me most nights but he says weed makes him nauseous so we haven’t tried anything harder – they say huffing is worse than other shit but I don’t mind, I like the high, and I like being with Nick, and it makes me happy and horny and sleepy at the same time.  I close my eyes and find his face inside, his skin against my skin, his arms wrapped up around mine this thin knotted mess of overheated flesh in my dream — fused like freaks until I wake.

The lights in the sky now are white, the colors are harder to produce someone mentioned one time, probably at the high school that I don’t visit anymore to watch the fireworks, not without Nick, I don’t do anything without Nick anymore. My eyes are open again and I’m staring at him, his face clear and white, a little bright off the moon’s reflection, and I can see the sweat by his ear slipping down his cheek to his mouth, his lips blotted and chapped or a little charred from the glue. I feel a mosquito creeping up my wrist and then digging into my hand but it doesn’t move when I slam, it squishes into my skin, breathing me in, and the sweat on my wrist gathers in a murky pool around the blood, sweet sweat in the dark interrupted by light, explosions of white that ignite the sky with deep reds and pale blues until the colors get blurred and the sounds become obscured, these bells and alarms and faint carnival music like a carousel spinning, loud enough to hear but not quite place the song. I’m tired but I’m not sleepy because I’m already sleeping or I’m wide awake and dreaming but I don’t remember dreaming, I don’t remember anything with the heat so unrelenting – this sticky humidity sinking inside like the blood on my skin and Nick’s skin in my mind, his fingers outstretched in the grass next to mine, inching closer through the space between us until the tips are touching, this delicate touching, overwhelming every thought I ever dreamed and I’m awake again.

“You think your mom would mind if I slept over?”

“What?  No,” I say with too much pitch, it’s too quick, he sees that I’m too eager, or maybe I’m just high. He’s never stayed over at my house before.

“It just sucks at home with the stepfucker. My mom’s working the night shift.”

“Yeah, absolutely, you can stay over.” My delight is spilling out but I don’t know how to control it.  “My mom likes you, you know.”

“Really?” he says with a wicked grin.  I slap him on the side.

“Not like that!”

I let my wrist linger against his chest to feel the moisture through his T-shirt and the heat of his chest.  He lets it stay for a moment.

“Cool.”

Nick sits up in the grass with the bag holding the glue, crinkling the edges and jamming his face into the center, sucking in another hit long enough and deep enough to force a cough at the release and he offers me the bag back again. I feel the wet of the grass or the sweat on his skin as he touches my skin. I take it this time.

“You know, Trevor told me that some people at school were asking about us.”

“Asking what?”

“You know, whether we’re like a couple or something, the way we’re always together. Supposedly some assholes thought we were gay.”

I try to laugh but it doesn’t come out and I want to sink down and hide but there’s nowhere to hide and all the sounds are obscured and the colors still blurred and this staggering heat won’t stop pressing through my skin and it’s beginning again, this horrible feeling that keeps coming again and I can’t control it but I need it, I need him, I live for this wanting but I hate the way that it takes over my body and it keeps coming out, all these explosions again, high above the trees in a mass of mixing colors, streaming reds and yellows and whites so bright that I see Nick in the dark, his face in the light.

“Maybe we don’t tell anyone I’m staying over.”

I nod, or I try to nod, but my stomach feels shaky and the air feels colder, or stranger, and Nick is studying me now so I can see him, his eyes wavering. I think I hear screaming over the trees by the high school and I think about my mother, I wonder if she’s there, she didn’t mention going or she might have mentioned it and I didn’t notice, I don’t pay much attention when she talks to me anymore. She always asks how I am but I tell her just fine and my grades are fine which is all she really cares about, she never really asks about anything else. I wouldn’t attempt to tell her about Nick. It might have been different if my father was around, he used to come around when I was younger, often bearing gifts, but my mom would start to bitch about the child support he missed, so he stopped coming around and I stopped giving a shit.

“Have you ever been with a girl, Jake?”

“What?”

“Have you ever done it with a girl before?”

I watch his shaggy hair and his eyes, bright blue like the sky – not this sky, with its moonlit grays and clouds so high you can’t see them, not even in the light from the moon or the fireworks, but the afternoon skies with bright clouds and no smoke and no buildings, no sounds, just silence through the fields where I played as a kid all alone but not lonely and lost in the spread of the sky.

“Not even a blow job?”

I laugh and he follows and I rise to sit next to him.

“That’s cool.”

I glance down at the bag and lean forward to take a hit, wrapping the edges of the paper around the corners of my mouth up to my nose and it explodes with a jagged pulse like a bolt to my brain, this rattling through the crevices and the folds of gray matter at the start of some dream – a seesawing dream steeped in festival sounds and the smell of burning plastic that showers my senses, my mind about to break until Nick shifts forward, finding my eyes, his hair flopping down around his face above his ears, his skin wet with sweat and each sound, this rapid clattering chaos in the distance drawing nearer, crack-crack-crack like a whipsaw chain at my back. I set down the bag and lean closer.

“I only been with Staci myself.  And I didn’t really like her,” he says.

The sky is spinning, black and spinning, but our knees are touching, I think we’re at the climax, at first these smallish bursts over the trees then all at once, much higher. I feel the perspiration dripping through my shirt and my hands, his hands still next to mine on the grass like I’ve been dreaming, jittering dreaming, of all this touching. This spark from my chest rises into my throat and it feels sharp at the edge, pressing up from inside. I reach for his hand. He lets me touch.

I know I’m thinking too much or too loud, he has to hear me, or he has to know, with his talk about being gay and about being with girls and about us, the way he’s letting me touch him, with the tips of my fingers blending into his skin until I’m breathing him in. I lean forward to shield my eyes from the lights, to block out the sky, to block out this doubt from fucking with my mind, but the sound it gets louder now and I lose focus when Nick turns to look and I’m staring at the back of his head and blonde hair but it’s so fucking loud through the trees all of a sudden, this uproar behind me, the sound of a horn on the track from the train past the high school, piercing through the dark until I slip, I lose my grip, I fall into him, my arms on his thighs and my head on his chest, collapsing against the heat of his chest. He spins back, full-on laughing, and the sweat from his shirt seeps down through my skin, sucking me in until he lifts me up, sliding my head along his neck, over his chin, against his face. I can almost taste the sweat sticking to his face.  I let my lips brush across his cheek and I know it’s a mistake. But I linger.

I close my eyes so I can’t see his eyes and I let my lips wander down his cheek to his lips and he kisses me back for a second, this sweet wetness on my mouth for a moment, maybe longer, until the press of his fists into my chest jars me awake.

When I open my eyes he’s backing away, after pushing me away, but I push forward, knocking his hands away, knocking his arms down to his waist to lean forward with my face.

And he punches me. Hard. Above the chin. Against my mouth.

The fist connects with my teeth and the shock sends me tumbling. He screams.

“Dude, what the fuck?”

The noise from the train sweeps into my brain, this booming braking over trembling tracks, rising in rhythm but racing past so fast so loud it explodes in my dream in my sleep like I’m sleeping only sleeping but I’m not I’m awake and this isn’t a dream. I trip backwards into the grass, my head bouncing off the ground.

“Did you just kiss me?”

He’s up on his feet, glaring down at me, the pain not yet slipping from my mouth to my brain.

“What the fuck, Jake?  Are you gay for me?”  He spits out the words like bullets through my skin.  The pain begins to set in.

He stumbles backwards on the grass and I try to stand to help him, but the shock through my jaw shoots into my body, lightning waves that keep me tethered to the ground. Blood trickles out of my mouth.

The train speeds away and the horn fades and the fireworks stop. Everything stops. It’s just darkness in the grass and the heat is worse than anything.

“Nick,” I say, but he doesn’t wait for me, he’s rushing away in a half-run, then a full-out sprint across the field and I want to chase him, I need to catch him, I need to have him near me again.

I can’t move. I’m stuck to the ground. The blood slips down my mouth and drips off of my chin onto the grass, onto my skin. The pain is overwhelming.

Bill Elenbark…

Bill Elenbark holds a BS in Engineering from Rutgers University and an MA in Writing from Rowan University.  His writing has appeared in the recent anthology Resilience as well as in technical articles for Industrial Engineer and Logistics Management magazine.  His day job as a consultant for a national logistics firm affords him never enough time to write but he’s hoping to publish a just completed novel titled Us Kids Know.  He can be reached through his indie rock music website www.vaguespace.net or @VagueSpace

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