4.11 / November 2009

The Fourth

Killing carpenter ants with hairspray and stick lighters got boring.

The relatives said, “You’re wasting your time. Watch where they come from. You need to find the nest.” The relatives said, “Don’t forget the newspapers tomorrow morning.”

We said, “But it’s always the end of the world.”

The relatives said, “Fire up the grill.”

The sun was setting. We put chicken breasts, marinated in a fig-habanero barbeque sauce, on the heated grates. We said, “They’re done,” when the smoke started to roll in waves under the overhang.

The relatives poured a stein of beer on the flames.

We cried, “That’s a mortal sin.”

The relatives closed the hood and said, “Too much sugar in the marinade.” The relatives said, “The best way to put out a fire is to cut off the oxygen.”

We took pictures of the smoke.

We had boxes of sparklers. Someone kept saying, “Sparklers—the gay cousin of fireworks,” because they had heard a comedian say it. It wasn’t nearly as funny the second time around.

We made a cake for our country. Three layers each covered in red, white, and blue fondant. A red, white, and blue fondant rope around the base. Red, white, and blue gum paste stars. We piped firework explosions with red, white, and blue icing. We laid seven red fondant stripes and six white fondant stripes over the top of the cake. Massaged them around the curves. We punctured the cake with dowels—support beams.

The relatives said, “Do you always put wood in your cakes?”

We said, “We’ll cut around them.”

Our country’s cake was chocolate. Inside—Mexican vanilla frosting and raspberry preserves.

We called everyone outside for the sparkler presentation. We had talked about it all day. We stuck sixteen sparklers into our country’s cake. Someone said, “It looks like the cake is receiving acupuncture,” but none of the relatives knew what that meant.

The relatives said, “There is no way you’ll get all those lit in time.”

We said, “In time for what?”

Sixteen became eight. Eight became four. The cigarette lighter burned our fingers and we only got one sparkler lit. We lit a fifth because the sparklers seemed to light better off each other.

The relatives said, “Now we all should sing God Bless America,” and they started and we huddled behind the cake until they were finished.

Someone said, “It’s almost too pretty to eat.”

We forgot to cut around the dowels.

We watched the fireworks from the dock. Someone kept saying, “Okay, that one was definitely mortar fire.” Someone said, “Oh, I like the purple ones.”

The relatives said, “We see the colors before we hear the report because light travels faster than sound.”

We all lit sparklers, the gay cousin of fireworks. We sang Yankee Doodle Dandy. We said, “Pretend you’re directing traffic at the airport.” We said, “Pretend you’re a fire dancer.” We said, “And for our next trick: We light the American flag on fire!” The relatives guessed how much money the people down the cove had spent on exploding colors and sounds.

The dock was swaying. Bugs were biting. The relatives said, “The dogs must be going apeshit.”

We said, “Has anyone ever seen an ape go apeshit?” We waited for pauses in the fireworks to dip the spent sparklers into the lake. We wanted to hear them sizzle.

We said, “Let’s make pina coladas.” We said, “We’ve only got vodka.” We said, “That’s called a chi-chi.” We walked outside and said to the relatives, “We made you chi-chis.”

They drank them and said, “These taste like pina coladas.”

We played blackjack. We smoked cigarettes. We drank vodka with garlic-stuffed olives bumbling around the bottom of the glass. We smacked at bugs.

The relatives said, “We brought bug spray—it’s in our bag.”

We told jokes, like the one where the doctor goes to write a prescription, pulls out a thermometer, and says, “Great—some asshole’s got my pen.” We smacked at more bugs. We heated up leftovers. We talked about politics. The relatives told us that athletes can’t afford to get involved anymore—that it’s all about the money now. We told everyone that J.D. stands for Jerome David. We checked baseball scores. We offered a brick of cheddar to the relatives. We told them that it had been aged for three years.

The relatives said, “You couldn’t afford the new stuff?”

We wrote down coffee orders for the next morning and put a line under don’t forget straws. We ran out of vodka and started on the beer. We smoked more cigarettes. We slammed our cards down when the dealer got blackjack. We tried to get better hands by saying, “I’ll deal this time.” We knocked each other’s flip-flops off and threw them across the lawn.

The relatives said, “When will these people stop with the fireworks—midnight?”

We went for a boat ride. The Beach Boys were playing. Someone said, “I feel like I’m drifting down that river to hell, but the Beach Boys wouldn’t be playing in hell, would they?” We were down to some bottles of wine and the whisper of drugs. Someone kept saying, “Call up the hospital and reserve some beds, wouldya?”

One of the relatives said, “I don’t like that kind of talk.”

We watched fireworks explode across the water. When we got back, we fought each other for the right to tie the boat to the cleats on the dock. When we did it, the relatives pretended not to watch. We pretended not to notice the relatives watching our every move.

We stood on the porch and made plans to pull lake weed the next morning. We volunteered for wheelbarrow duty, pipe duty, and wheelman duty. We finalized coffee orders. Someone brought out board games and spiced rum and bags of chips and a carton of cigarettes.

The relatives said, “No, I can’t. I’m driving.”

The dogs were quiet except for the chatter of their tags. We drew stick-figure bathroom humor. We signed each other’s names and gave them to the relatives. We sent sloppy SOS signals across the lake with a flashlight. We slapped at more bugs. We used the relative’s bug spray. We said, “The country is ready for change.”

The relatives said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

We said, “We don’t feel a thing anymore.”

We said, “Let’s go play pool,” but the pool table had gotten moldy during the winter, so we didn’t. We started drinking blackberry liquor. We stopped. We said, “There’s still more of these freakin’ carpenter ants.” We stomped them and then scratched our ankles for a few minutes after. We called the relatives dirty stay-outs. They started singing 50’s television theme songs and we sent them to bed.

The relatives said, “We’ll call the air-conditioning guy in the morning.”

The relatives told us to make sure we locked the house up, especially the sliding doors. They said, “We don’t want any accidents.”

When we went to sleep, we had a dream in which a man with a musket came into the house, through one of the sliding doors that we’d left unlocked, and shot us one by one while we slept, even the dogs. As he reloaded, he told us Civil War facts like: 620,000 people died during the Civil War, which was two percent of the population and besides the rifle and cannon, popular weapons included revolvers, swords, cutlasses, hand grenades, Greek fire, and landmines. Before he killed each of us, he made sure to point out that the relatives hadn’t saved us, and that we wouldn’t be around to save them, even if we wanted to. The man was sweating.

In the morning, we told the relatives about the dream. We said, “Before he pulled the trigger, he said, ‘God Bless.'” We just assumed he said: America.

4.11 / November 2009