Someone says hottest Fourth of July on record and it is, from then on, fact. Our neighbors are big into making sweeping statements and closing off roads for block parties. Their kids run around in a sticky, screechy blur of red, white and blue and every once in awhile someone says youth is wasted on the young.
I carry Melissa's birthing ball out on the lawn and she bounces, nursing a glass of white wine and sporting a look that dares anyone to say anything. She is four days overdue and the doctor's going to have to induce soon, ruining my wife's fantasy of a natural birth.
On the sidewalk in front of our house, two little boys are trying to shove sparklers in each other's ears, and I wonder if I should find a parent. "I hope this baby isn't a boy," Mel says. Her ankles look like fat lady thighs, but the doctor says that will go away as soon as she delivers. The neighbor's grill trails plumes of smoke into the humidity, hot on hot. The street is coated in the scent of lighter fluid and burgers, suntan lotion and lime. Every once in awhile a pop pop pop and I think how easy it would be to kill someone on the Fourth.
A woman comes up to Mel and rests her hand on her belly, sighing, her drink sloshing in her cup. "You are like a little Buddha," she says, giggling. Behind her a group of girls, way too young for the short shorts and bikini tops, perch on plastic lawn chairs sucking popsicles and giggling at their cell phones. I hope this baby isn't a girl.
A high-pitched squeal overhead and everyone looks up to see a dud firecracker spit dirt-colored smoke into the sky. Someone hands Mel a hunk of watermelon and the juice dribbles off her chin onto her white maternity shorts. She is worried I might faint in the delivery room. Her friend's husband did that right before the baby came, and he missed the whole birth. Sometimes at night Mel shows me pictures on You Tube of surgeries and accident victims, just to test.
"Shut up," a woman tells her daughter. "You can't have the ice cream."
It's finally dark enough and one of the drunk neighbors clears a space in the street to shoot stuff off. They move all the kids to the curbs. Mel sits next to me on the lawn, breathing heavy.
The neighbor brings out a large circular drum with one long wick. He bought it in South Carolina, he says, like we are all supposed to be impressed. He lights the wick and jogs back to the curb. We all wait.
"It's not lit, dad," says one of the ear-stabbers from earlier. He grabs his father's lighter and runs out to the drum. Someone screams. Mel grabs my hand and presses down. Wet grass between her legs, and she says, "Oh shit," really low.
The firework goes off then, just as the boy reaches it. Flashes of blues and greens and pinks take over the sky, and despite ourselves, for a second we are all mesmerized by that show. Trails of fire and light, sizzles and snaps, the deep booming in our chests. I am seized by a feeling of inevitability, of no turning back. Then the burned-up pieces start to fall in our swimming pools, our garden ponds, on the soft tops of our cars. Then the ashes flit into our hair, our eyes, impossible to brush away.