The Green Firework

Submitted into Contest #232 in response to: Write a story about someone looking for a sign in a dark sky.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Fiction

Fireworks were always a big to-do on the Fourth of July. Some considered the fireworks a nuisance — lights and sounds designed to wake children and traumatize dogs. Others treated them as the show going on in the background of more important things, like gossiping with friends and neighbors, kissing a new boyfriend, or keeping an eye on children in the dark.

Joe Peterson was one of those children, the kind who watched the entire fireworks show from the first dinky firecracker to the final blast of the grand finale, whose only consolation as the last lights fizzled out was that another show was coming next year. He loved standard fireworks, the ones that came in reds and blues, sometimes exploding across the night sky, other times fizzling out before they could realize their full glory. As years went by, new explosives came on the market, dazzling him with golds and bright silvery whites, sparkling brightly before sinking down toward earth like the branches of a weeping willow. 

But once, during the last Independence Day celebration his mother attended, he saw a green firework. He was still young, at the cusp of being too big to sit wrapped in his mother’s arms in public. But that night he let his mother fold him into her, feeling the steady beating of her heart against his back, her thin fingers tracing little circles on his forearms, and her chin resting on top of his head. 

“Wake up, Joey,” she said, and Joe realized he’d fallen asleep. The field was filled with people, but all was silent. “It’s starting.”

She stretched out behind him and splayed her legs in a wide V. Joe did the same, and laid his head against her stomach. An old man by the grandstand shouted something into a microphone. Everyone clapped, and then it was quiet again. Joe began to tense up a little bit in anticipation of the noise, but relaxed when he felt his mother’s hands reach up to cover both of his ears. 

The show was magnificent, leading with a series of red, white, and blue fireworks that zigzagged in the sky like showers of shooting stars. That was the first summer Joe saw the weeping willows, feeling his mouth gape open a little and looking up at his mother, whose face lit up with each firework. After the opening rounds faded away, a faint circle of gold shot up into the night sky, fizzing as it rose until it exploded, revealing streams of bright green light that stretched out in a circle like the petals of a flower. Joe gasped and his mother held him tighter. 

“The green ones are special,” she said. “Like Tinkerbell. I’ve never seen a green firework before.”

Joey laughed. “I still like the weeping willows better.”

“That’s fine,” she said. “You keep the weeping willows. The green ones are mine.”

His mother never saw another firework. That fall, a drunk driver crashed into her while she was out on her morning walk. Joey never saw his mother’s face again, except in pictures, which he looked at every night before bed, staring at her bright hazel eyes, her long brown hair, and her smile, willing her to reappear next to him. 

The first summer after she died, Joey went to the fireworks on his own, sitting in the back against a chain link fence. The show was the same as ever, loud, bright, red, white, and blue. The weeping willows were back, too, but no greens. It was the same every year after that, variations on the same old thing, with the exception of a new pink firecracker his little sister loved. Each show began with hopeful vigilance as Joe watched and prayed to see his mother’s favorite firework, to feel closer to her in its light, but ended in bitter disappointment. 

Joe stopped watching the fireworks show eventually, letting go of the magic they held for him when he was a boy, like most grownups do. He moved far away from home, went to college, got a job, got married, and had kids — a boy, Joe Jr., and a girl, Sarah, who he named after his mother. 

They spent their summers in Western Michigan, running up and down the sand dunes, hiking in the woods, and swimming in Lake Michigan. When the kids started elementary school, Joe and his wife Nellie decided they were finally old enough to stay up late to enjoy the Fourth of July celebrations in the nearby beach town. They walked along crowded streets, eating ice cream and holding hands, stopping to play carnival games when the fancy struck. At sunset, Joe and his family found themselves being pulled along with the crowd toward the beach for the fireworks. Joe grabbed Sarah and hoisted her onto his shoulders so she wouldn’t get lost, and the four of them settled on a patch of cool sand near the edge of a jagged dune. Nellie held Joe, and Sarah curled up on Joe’s lap, falling asleep almost instantly as he petted her soft golden hair and pulled unruly strands out of her face and smoothing them back across the top of her head. 

“It’s starting!” Joe Jr. yelled, jumping to his feet and clapping his hands in excitement. Joe looked over at him and saw his son standing next to Nellie, with one hand resting on her shoulder. On the way to the beach, Joe had felt an anxious knot in his stomach, but it loosened and disappeared when he felt his daughter’s warm little bottle curled up on his lap. Sarah started snoring softly, but when the fireworks began she startled awake and cried softly until Joe comforted her, cradling her tight against him until the whimpering stopped and she sat watching the show, just as excited as her big brother.

Joe felt he’d been transported back in time — the fireworks were just as he remembered them as a boy, the same colors, the same shapes and sizes, even the same weeping willows he’d loved so much. Joe Jr. gasped at the big ones and Sarah clapped in delight at the weeping willows.

In the middle of the show, during a lull between the big opening and the grand finale, a single firework rose in the night sky.

“Aw, this one’s a dud,” Joe Jr. complained. But then it exploded in a burst of jade green, its sparkling tendrils trickling outward before collapsing to the ground. 

“Green, daddy!” Sarah said. Joe looked down at her face as the lights flashed in the sky and saw a twinkle of amazement, the same one he imagined he’d had as a child. Sarah sat back down in his lap, and he splayed his legs in a V, propping himself up with one arm and holding his daughter tightly with the other as she leaned into him.

“The green ones are special,” he said. “Like Tinkerbell.”

January 12, 2024 20:30

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1 comment

Trudy Jas
00:49 Jan 18, 2024

Hilary, you made me cry. I'll forgive you. That was beautifully told with all the color and yet simplicity that fireworks should have, Masterful! thank you.


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