Sep 20

Mirror Girl Part 2

The door slams late at night; her father, back from wherever he goes at night. But his eyes are clear and bright and his voice sharp. He laughs and dances in the kitchen, Alma can here him. She goes into the kitchen because he is never like this, not anymore. Who is this happy late-night father?

    “Alma!” he cries out. “I’ve just heard the most wonderful news!” He grabs her hands and  looks deep into his daughter’s eyes. “Christ. Is about to be reborn.”

    “What?”

    “Our savior!”

    Mike had been raised by a grandmother who wore a habit every day and counted the rosaries before bed. Alma has seen the pictures of her, faded and ripped at the corners, her wrinkled face set into a frown. Her father wore a tiny suit and pouted. He told her about this, once, how he hated the rigourous beliefs of his grandmother, who made him pray before every meal. He never took her to church; he seemed to have given up all religion.

    “Okay,” she says. “I’m going back to bed.”

    Mike grabs her shoulder. “Don’t forget, okay? This man at the bar told me all about it, right? Christ is coming back to save the humans!” He is giddy like a child. Perhaps it is just a passing fancy. Once he came back sober. Once he tried to take up golfing. All his dreams had crashed back to earth. Kitty, too, is a phase, just like all the girlfriends who left their empty perfume bottles in the bathroom and tampons in trash. Why should any of these things be different?
The Fourth of July comes with the bang and sulphur of fireworks the night before, the smell of charred meat and barbeque sauce wafting over the entire town. Flags which have not seen the light of day for a year are pulled down from rafters, attics, closets and hung with pride. People paint their faces and play flag football in the streets.

    Retta stands at the stove and fries burgers for everyone on their street, patty after patty sizzling in the grease. Occasionally she swipes her fingers over her sweaty face and they leave dark grease marks along her skin. Alma slices watermelon while Brynn makes lemonade and Daemon assembles the burgers.

    “Don’t forget, Maura’s kids hate mustard!” Retta calls. Or, “Hey, just wrap that one in lettuce, will you? Jake’s gluten-free.” Or, “I heard Lucy’s making a cake.”

    Every year, at the town hall, is a potluck, though everyone just brings hot dogs and hamburgers. The more ambitious bring stews or potpies. Alma has never been there before, usually she stays at home and eats noodles and sneaks out to watch the fireworks explode over the trees. Earlier that day Mike told Alma that he was having a party and this time he didn’t want her around so it wouldn’t be like last time. Alma walked to Brynn’s house and left Kitty in the kitchen making five-layer bean dip and nachos, Mike on the couch already drinking.

    “Hey, it’s four o’clock,” Retta sighs. She swipes a towel across her face and turns off the stove. “Anyone want a snack?”

    “Yes,” Daemon grumbles. Brynn nods with him and soon they are eating cheese on little crackers.

    “Wow,” Alma says quietly to Brynn. “Your mom sure likes to cook. And for total strangers, too!”

    Brynn’s brow furrows. “They’re not total strangers to her. She thinks everyone in this town is family.” They watch Retta bustle about the kitchen, cleaning counters and arranging pans.

    Some time later Brynn’s father walks in armed with cardboard containers of lemonade and bottles of soda. Alma watches as he puts them away and kisses Retta on the cheek. The flies buzz around the lights and they all wait for the next instruction.

    “Stick ‘em on a platter,” Retta orders.

    Alma takes a square platter and makes a square pyramid of hamburgers on it. She even throws a little sprig of some herb on top of it so it looks a bit nicer. The grease oozes through the buns and puddles on the ceramic, the table, her hands, smelling of smoke and meat. The tomatoes aren’t just red, they were green, almost streaked or speckled with red. Heirloom tomatoes. They burst in her mouth, but tasted like any other tomato.

    Retta pours lemonade into shot glasses and toasts their independence. “For being free!” she cries, clicking the glass against her husband’s. “Now, into the car. We gotta get these to the town hall.”

    Everyone is inside the town hall, bearing platters and pitchers and plates and bowls and plastic silverware and paper plates. Someone totes three steaming pies, all lined up on their arm like a waiter. It smells like a restaurant but feels more like a family reunion: all smiles and laughter. Alma tries to discreetly hide behind Brynn.

    “Janet!” Retta calls out and she disappears. Then her husband, off to the men’s side, where his buddies bump him and give him a beer. Then Daemon, who is swallowed by a crowd of boys his own age.

    The sounds echo off the marble hall and high ceiling, clicking and clacking and clattering and chattering.

    “So,” Alma says.

    “Food,” Brynn replies.

    They each take a plate and wander down the long table laden with food. Here a frosted pasta salad. Lasagna. Hot dogs. Caesar salad. Alma picks up a warm wheat roll and a golden packet of butter, then some pulled pork swimming in barbeque sauce, then salad, then a generous slice of blueberry pie, the shiny berries spilling out the sides. There is just so much food. Who had time to make anything big enough to share? Who just has enough food for a whole other family. It’s a strange feeling but a warm one, bubbling up inside her like a hot spring. She smiles and follows Brynn to the front lawn, where people have set up camp on towels and blankets and chairs.

    “Where do they set off the fireworks?” Alma asks.

    Brynn gestures down the road with her fork. “Over at the Lake. But most people just stay here to watch.”

    “For three more hours?” Only at dusk are the blazes of colored chemicals visible in the sky, shining like dyed stars in the night.

    “Uh-huh.”

    Silently they chew, Alma rotating from pork to salad to roll to Cola, savoring the different textures. Salty. Bitter, crunchy. Sweet. She sees little kids with mac and cheese smeared over their plates, their hands, their faces, chasing each other around and squealing while parents sigh. She sees college students lounging on the grass, home for the summer. She does not see almost anyone from her grade; they are probably all off on some grand adventure elsewhere.

    “Hey, losers,” Daemon shouts from behind. He cuffs Brynn’s shoulder and she bats his arm with her plate, leaving a smear of sauce on his skin. “What? I’m just being friendly, is all.” He nudges her with his foot and disappears again after his friends.

    “Mmm,” Brynn hums. She points to one of their backs. “Cute guy alert.”

    All she can see is his back, the ragged tee-shirt, ripped jeans, long scruffy hair. Just a body. “How do you know.”

    “I’ve seen him before,” explains Brynn. “His name’s like Jayden or something. Dunno. Cute, though.”

    “Kinda old, though,” Alma mutters.

    “Yeah,” Brynn sighs, then gives a half-shrug. “But, seriously. I think he kinda checked you out.”

    “Ew?” Alma asks. “I’m only fourteen.” Is it gross to be checked out by someone like that, someone who wasn’t even looking at her face? What will he remember of her, her body or...

    “Sorta. He’s not that old, really, if you think about it. Only a couple of years,” Brynn offers.

    Later, as the sun dips into the chilly bowl of the horizon and streaks the sky with color, the anticipation grows. The little kids ask, over and over again, what time is it, so they may count down until the fireworks show. “They said eight thirty.” “Just a few more minutes, sweetheart.” “Almost there, now.”

    The bats start to flutter overhead, almost bird-like in their flight.

    Then: a spark, through the trees. A faint stream of smoke, of exhaust, in the sky, headed by a white cone. There is nothing for a moment, then: a crack, almost like thunder, and the sparks swirl away from the center.

    Everyone oohs and ahhs and cranes their neck to see the magical sparkles. Alma sees the same excitement on their faces, the same joy, childish but somehow eternal, all of them staring at the sky as though they are experiencing it for the first time.

 
About the Author: Oceania
"I've never really said anything worth repeating."-Mr. Hall
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