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Fireworks in September

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

The explosions and whistling had been going on all night. Sparks from ignited gunpowder flashed through the window of Sophia’s fourth floor walk-up, and a neighbor yelled out the window, Ya’ll motherfuckers think this is Disney World? Hoots and laughter taunted the neighbor’s cry.

Picking crust from the corner of her eye, Sophia looked up the time in Karachi--10:00 am. Her parents could be awake unless they had another late night gossiping with neighbors. She opened WhatsApp and could hear her parents describing their ailments while stopping mid-complaint to ask if those were gunshots they heard in the background. Just fireworks, she’d explain. Some kids got their hands on Macy’s-level explosives.

In September? they’d ask, in awe. The next generation of anarchy, she’d explain. Before they panic over her safety, she’d rush them off the phone, using drowsiness as an excuse. She could imagine them disapproving of her choice to live alone.

The neighborhood was exhausted from the sixth consecutive night of sleeplessness. Cranky office workers would emerge from their warehouse-converted studios bitter from what they had read in The New Yorker was a tradition of working-class neighborhoods. They buy them illegally from car trunks, they’d explain to each other as they’d order their chai lattes. You know, it’s the only type of entertainment they can afford.

A watchdog app posted cell phone videos of kids recklessly igniting smoke bombs and missiles full of metal salts. A continuous scroll of comments theorized that the police were planting palates of such explosives in minority neighborhoods as a conspiracy to incriminate Black and Brown teens.

Excuse me, said a woman’s muffled voice from the street. Sophia bounced to the window and pressed her forehead against the cool pane. Look, I have a rescue dog that suffers from anxiety. The noise is stressing her out. Is there any way you can take a break? Sophia squinted and could make out a middle-aged woman, braless in a faded concert t-shirt and distressed house slippers. The woman both pleaded and mediated.

This is going to be a shit show, Sophia thought. She cupped her hands along the side of her face to get a better look. That dog was probably her livelihood.

Oh word, said one of the teenagers. Sorry to disturb you.

The scene wasn’t turning out as dramatic as Sophia anticipated. The well-intentioned woman thanked them, and the crew moved to the other end of the block. Shortly thereafter the popping and fizzing resumed.

Disappointed, she opened the fridge and peered inside as if food would magically appear. Next to a water-soaked box of baking soda lay a crumb-covered salve of butter and a Diet Coke. Sophia handled the can, thought of how the caffeine would keep her up, and placed it back inside. She pushed her palms against her eyelids, filling her vision with bursts of red and green.

Dust bunnies along the edge of the baseboards called to her. She thought to vacuum but hesitated since it was so late. Even though the world was exploding outside, she didn’t want to assault her lower neighbor’s studio with the roars of her Bissel Upright.

She walked over to the hissing radiator and lifted the towel she had brewing on it. Pressing the warm cloth against her face, she inhaled the micro fibers. What was stopping her from putting in ear plugs, counting sheep, and eventually crashing?

She checked her phone for messages. No one had called her in days--she was running a test to see how long it would take for someone to invite her out for a change. She was sick of being the one who arranged frou-frou brunches or organized spontaneous cocktails or planned 30th birthday parties. She hadn’t been restless enough to end the experiment yet, even though the lack of outreach was making her feel as insignificant as junk mail.

Her vision was becoming obscured with tears when she heard a high-pitched scream followed by a bang. Yo, what the fuck? someone yelled while a group chortled. We’re just messing with you, a girl yelled. Come back! What followed was what Sophia envisioned as a playful quarrel in which friends tugged at the victim’s arm and forcefully hugged him until he stopped taking their teasing personally.

Echoes from fireworks across the borough bounced off each other. Whatcha doing over there? one boom said. I’m good as hell, another replied. The absurdity of it all gave Sophia meaning in the meaningless. Her belly jiggled as she chuckled, and she grabbed a piece of fat on her abdomen to reignite self-hate.

She collapsed on the couch and reached for her laptop. Rapping her fingernails on top of it, she thought about what awaited her: sensational news, China-produced goods, porn, old emails, games, and, God help her, social media. She pushed the computer aside, not in the mood to engage with the internet. What did she do before it existed? Watched network TV, made prank calls, read magazines--was life better then?

Sophia could do, eat, buy, read, think about whatever she wanted without having to ask anyone. She was untethered, free. Freedom, I won’t let you down, George Michael had sang.

She tilted her head back as if she were bathing in sunlight. People were everywhere--in their cramped apartments covering their ears with pillows, on the corner smoking, in a plane admiring the skyline, at the club dancing, in the nursery rocking their babies, before the sink gulping pills. Or they were sprawled on their couch telling themselves that they were fine and that in no way were they conflicted or heart broken or lost or confused. Sulking because no one was inviting them for coffee. Accepting that their parents were the only ones who would take their call this late. Calculating how the recipe of their life was a base of assimilation marinated in the status quo and sprinkled with fresh sprigs of mediocrity. Reminding themselves that so many people had it so much worse--seriously, people were being sold as sex slaves out there--yet here they were feeling as if the world had abandoned them.

Sophia licked the front of her teeth and tasted her stale saliva. She thought to rinse with Listerine when a series of rapid pops set off what seemed like five straight minutes of explosions. The faint smell of smoke seeped through the windows.

She rifled through a junk drawer in her kitchen, the non-working pens, random tools, and locks without keys making her hand dusty, until she spotted the familiar red wrapper with the image of a hissing cat with fiery green and yellow eyes. Excavating the package, she gazed mischievously at the Black Cat logo with the circle R next to its name.

The woosh and boom invited her like a last minute plus one to a wedding. Grabbing a lighter and keys, she dashed out the door and let it slam behind her, leaving her apartment empty until she would get back.

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