Jenna had always loved the fireworks.
On that magical night, the fourth night in July, the air would feel a little different. As far back as she could remember, Jenna would join her family in hiking up the tall hill, the only day of the year when they were allowed past the electrified fence. They would hike up, searching for an empty spot of bare earth amid their fellow citizens.
Of course, there was so much more to the night than fireworks. Uncle Albert, always clutching his cheap camera to his chest, would be there. He would spend the entire night with his most prized possession pressed against his eye, only seeing the explosions through the tiny peephole. The clicking of his camera could sometimes be heard, between the explosions. Although nobody ever looked at his pictures afterwards, he would have a great time trying to capture the magic of the fireworks.
Jenna’s mother would almost always wander off, partway through the show. She would take the opportunity to socialize, to share the latest gossip with her neighbors and catch up on the juiciest tidbits. Her voice would drift past in snatches, little fragments of conversation.
When she was younger, Jenna would cling to her mother’s sleeve, tugging on it every now and then in a vain effort to return her mother’s attention to the displays of light and sound above their heads. Now, she knew that there was no point in trying, and ignored the bits of chatter that interrupted her fireworks.
Some years, the fireworks were hidden by clouds and rain. Other years, the engineers didn’t properly calibrate the mortars, and half of the display would be hidden below the treeline. On one particularly memorable year, proletariat riots had forced the authorities to threaten to call off the entire performance. Fortunately, a hasty agreement had brought about a one-night cease fire. That night, the silence between the explosions had been filled with angry mutters of the “opiate of the masses.”
Jenna didn’t care. As she stared up at the bright lights, blooming in the sky, she forgot about her family’s designation as Naturalized Citizens, 4th Class, forgot about the long hours that both her parents had to work. She didn’t care that they weren’t allowed on the closer hills, that they didn’t have the best seats and that 1st and 2nd Class Citizens got their own seats, with chairs and nets to keep off the bugs.
Next to her, Grampa suddenly points in the air. “That one looks like a watermelon!” he cries. “A watermelon, I’m sure!” The rest of the family nod along, tucking the blankets a little more closely around his frame.
All that mattered to Jenna, on those magical nights, were the ringing booms that suffused the air, the faint but unmistakable scent of gunpowder in the air, and the glows of the bits of burning phosphor in the sky, briefly illuminating the faces around her on the hill.