I sit on the concrete loading dock at the edge of the harbor, combat boots dangling over pollen-coated waves. Behind me, pigeons flutter in the eaves of the blue and grey boathouse. Their wings beat against the corrugated walls like gunfire, the frantic sound blending with the crackle of fireworks. Smoke, ash, and sparks drift across the lake and choke the humid summer night with the smell of phosphorus. I close my eyes after another blue and red explosion, imprinting the colors on the inside of my eyelids. This is my first Fourth of July in Marquette, away from home.
I imagine that I’m seven years old, sitting in Grandma’s backyard with my little brother and cousins. Her faded yellow house sits just down the road from the South Range baseball fields where the fireworks are lit. We huddle together underneath the ancient swing set to watch. Red paint rusts from the empty frame and we pick at the flakes until Grandma lectures us from the back porch about the dangers of tetanus. Instead, we busy ourselves with stalks of rhubarb freshly stolen from Grandpa’s patch at the side of the house. They stain our small hands pink and our faces pucker at the bitter taste, but we eat them nonetheless and I’m too young to worry about the calories. Mom and Dad sit behind us with a few of our aunts and uncles in green plastic lawn chairs. They hold hands, rose gold wedding rings still on their fingers. The metallic smell of cheap beer drifts down from the porch to where we sit, waiting for darkness to fall. Fireworks burst above us and the thunder of the detonations pounds against my chest like the drum line of a marching band.
I open my eyes again and stare across the harbor. There is silence now between explosions as Marquette waits for the finale. Even the pigeons have stopped fussing. In that momentary silence, I remember rusting paint and sticky rhubarb hands in the days before alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, divorce, and tattoos on my legs. Fireworks erupt inside the old ore dock, echoing across the still water.
It sounds like war, and that is something more familiar.
Katie Sullivan has her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Northern Michigan University and currently teaches English Composition at Gogebic Community College. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her horse, Macintosh, and playing drums with The Pasi Cats, a Finnish polka/rock band.