I feel like I’ve had to write the date 4/29/20 for these like a dozen times; the first part of this month went by in the full compression that only boredom and repetition can achieve; but then time suddenly gelled, and there were eight 4/28s, and a dozen 4/29s. Time has achieved such an incredibly weird texture, like some complicated food left in the sink overnight.
There’s a particular, malevolent idleness that can seep into things. You might feel like things are simultaneously fragile, and immutable; that your touch won’t be registered on the surface of anything but will somehow still break it. It can turn the front of your brain into concrete. I’ve been sitting and rubbing a spot on the wrist rest of my keyboard for a couple minutes straight.
The temperature every day here right now is a freak. Will it be 70 and balmy? Or will it be 40, and with raindrops from a heavy drizzle riding on an invasive wind?
The cloudy sky today looked impressive in its melancholy, anyway. Tectonic chunks of cloud drifted across the sky, a wimpled texture on their flat bottoms. Towards the horizon, smaller groups of clouds were stacked on top of one another like a cairn of heavy stones, or scraps of iron not fit for welding.
I watched this sky from the top of a sloped street in the nearby neighborhood, which I was walking through again. There was a faint, weak treeline at the far end of the road, behind the houses where the incline bottomed out and turned a corner. The sky didn’t meet this weak treeline; it passed down behind it to meet the true horizon somewhere unseeable from here.
Sunny Lake, where I used to walk, was where Aurora always had its Fourth of July firework shows. It felt like a big event to me, when I used to go. For a high schooler it was a social event, and the kind of thrilling social event, like hanging out under the bleachers at the football games, that is intoxicatingly freeform.
(In high school things like football games or fireworks shows had this added dimension, this possibility for social intercourse, that was more important and essential than whatever the event itself actually was. I would evaluate these events solely according to the likelihood there would be this particular kind of social time.)
Sunny Lake is a manmade lake, circumferenced by 1.75 miles of wide tarmac walking path. On the front side there’s a little boat house with an attached pavilion. Nearby there’s a dock, one of those plastic docks where the plastic’s made to look like wooden planks, and that floats on big pontoon-like barrels, so that the dock leans and rocks when you walk on it. There’s a playground, and beyond the playground a green, a gentle rise; that’s where people would sit with blankets spread out to watch the fireworks; and at the base of the rise a small selection of circus food trucks were arranged in a half circle: soggy hot elephant ears, french fries, cotton candy, heavy plastic cups of sugary sour lemonade with whole halves of lemons submerged beneath the crushed ice.
I’m trying to remember what happened at one or some of these Fourths of July. Who I saw, what I said or did; but I can’t remember much. One year it stormed, and we all stood under the pavilion until the storm stopped, and the sun came out like it does here in the summer, and in the thick humid air there was the unmistakable smell of the earth itself, a musky, almost unpleasant smell, that the rain’s multitudinous blows had pressed out of the earth.
When it finally got dark – that night, or some other year’s night – the fireworks started. They launched them from somewhere on the far side of the lake. Fireworks that were one glowing star threading up and up into the sky before splitting into three or four hot points that dropped back down, halfway to the treeline, then were brightly bursting; others shot off in precise ranks before popping at different heights; ones that screamed up and then fell down fizzing and sparking in erratic lines like an ant whose pathfinding mechanisms have malfunctioned; and the big classic blooms, too, in gold and green and red and blue.
I don’t think it’s only my current cynicism that makes me remember there was something perfunctory about the performance, every year; as if it were ultimately beside the point, a rite that we all acknowledged had to be gone through, but that nobody believed in or relished. Whoever was firing the fireworks fired them fast, one after the other, with little or no delay between one and the next; so that the entire performance for which ostensibly we’d been there waiting for hours for went on for no more than five or ten minutes; and when it was over, everybody all at once started to pack up their stuff and make their way back to their cars (which was sometimes a long walk), as if, with the rite concluded, nothing else of import could or should happen; and over the lake, the air was scarred by dozens of smoke trails, a cicatrix wreathing and wreathing above the dark sullen water: a medusa’s head, slowly collapsing into itself.