Bodies huddle near the edge of the water. Sitting, standing, holding hands. Friends drink out of plastic cups. Lovers hold chins while they put lips on lips. Cars are double and triple parked, lined up behind one another with the patriotic expectation of not caring about being trapped while we patiently wait.
I stand with my bike between my legs, in between a bent chain link fence and a car with its engine running. Behind me, Huron Street pops and snaps with a rapid succession of illegal fireworks. Low-lying flares light up a half-moon dome of space between the concrete and the canopy. Puerto Ricans play their music from cars and boom boxes, sitting in chairs unfolded in front of bodegas.
A girl screams in Polish. A French bulldog walks past wearing an American flag around its neck. A boy sits on the roof of his car smoking a cigarette while mauve clouds disappear against a dark sky, rapidly becoming of lesser consequence, dominated by the darkness and the red, white, and blue lights below. An older man comes up to shake my hand and tell me that he’s seen the fireworks seventy times, or maybe he says seventeen times. He says they used to launch them off of the East River but the city changes it every year. He doesn’t know why.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
It starts: a series of wilting marigolds and golden palm trees, sunbursts like a lion’s mane. Handfuls of red and green glitter tossed into the air while the explosions rattle the air like thunder.
The fingernail moon is covered in smoke, soft like a searchlight, while fireworks crest over the top of midtown Manhattan. A girl walks past, followed by two friends. They’ve already given up. “This view isn’t even that good,” she says. But it is good; she’s just unwilling to see it.
When I was a kid, back when my parents were still married, we used to watch fireworks from the back of my dad’s Ford F150, parked next to an endless row of other cars on the dirt median divided by defunct train tracks. We packed beers and Capri Suns into a cooler. We brought blankets and nylon chairs and waited for fireworks to launch out of the football stadium of the community college.
It was the same community college where my brother would end up getting his front teeth knocked out with a baseball bat, where I would attempt to learn how to back dive off of a two-meter board, where I developed an unhealthy addiction to peppermint Certs. Years later – after they stopped doing the firework program because of budget cuts, after they razed the hillside and built a horrid series of taupe condominiums – I would end up back there again, taking classes in rooms filled with apathetic kids who were never good at school.
The smoke becomes so dense that the sky begins to look like a premature dawn, the light from the city catching in smoke and intimating sunrise. Clouds travel towards us like ghosts, away from New Jersey and towards the East River. Red reflects into the smoke and it looks as though the city has caught fire.
A beautiful apocalypse.