Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Spirit of the Holiday by Meradeth Houston

The Spirit of Independence Day lives on.


The last of the smoke cleared from the fireworks that had lit the bay. The booming thunderclaps had scared the last dogs and the crowds gathered their blankets and chairs. The trickle of people headed home were a little quieter, their voices still filled with happiness, but now muted by the night.

“Ready?” He leaned over and bumped my shoulder with his own, a small grin lighting up his features as I looked at him.

I sighed. The end always came too quickly. The light from the show over too soon. I didn’t want to go back. If only there were a way to pause, let the night linger for just a few more hours.

“I guess.” He stood and held out a hand, pulling me to my feet with a little added force that made me run into him.

His arms caught around me, tugging me close as he rocked us around in a slow circle on the lawn. The lawn around us had nearly emptied and the calm of the night, the rush and hiss of the surf past the low wall, marked a perfect moment.

“Another year,” I whispered. His neck felt cool against my forehead as I leaned against him.

“One of many more.”

I didn’t respond. So many ‘ifs’ clung to that word that I didn’t dare think too much about it. We could only hope for many more. Our lives depended on it.

We gathered up our things, folding them away into a bag he slung over his shoulder. He took my hand as we walked up the path toward the city lights. A few other stragglers trickled out onto the busier street, the clog of traffic still creating a long line at the freeway entrance.

We kept walking, no real destination in mind.

These last few hours were the sweetest. The ones I cherished the most, even if the always heralded the end.

“What did you like best about today?” he asked. His hand twined with mine squeezed a little tighter.

I cocked my head to the side, pretending to think it over. While the fireworks were always my favorite, today had more things to celebrate. “The laughter.” There had seemed to be more today. More faces smiling. This city we visited so infrequently had felt happier. It rang out in smiles and the laughter of the faces we watched.

The answer seemed to please him and our arms swung as we walked along the lit sidewalks, passing parties and sparklers and music that spilled out to greet us.

“The peace,” he said, with a shrug, knowing I’d want to know his response.

“You always say that.” I laughed at how obvious an answer it was, coming from him.

“Doesn’t make it less true.” His dark eyes met mine and the night with all its wonders seemed to expand before us, ignoring the end that approached all too fast.

Almost seeming to respond to our good mood, a siren, then two, cut through the air. They slid under my skin and I shivered, drawing closer to him.

The source of need came clear as we walked. Two blocks away and we smelled it. Flames. Our pace picked up. The heat came next, burning away at the ocean mist that swallowed the city.

An officer, face grimy and eyes too wide, kept the crowd from getting too close. We joined the throng, but even the hushed whispers of horror couldn’t drown the screams.

A Church. One of the oldest in the city. And faces and hands beat at the windows in the second story, the roar of orange flickering flames licking at the same glass. The leaded windows were too hard to break.

On the lawn, it was almost worse. The gathered people, wrapped in the silvery blankets handed out by the EMT’s, sobbed and pleaded for something to be done.

The words, scrawled in giant white letters, seemed to glow in glare from the police searchlights. Hate grew from them, impossible to ignore. Those around me stiffened as they read, no one wanting to believe someone could have done this on purpose. Not on this night. Not in this country.

Arms went around me and I tried to let that comfort me, but this scene seemed to eat away at every bit of happiness from the day, consume each of the laughing faces I’d seen and joined with.

“Remember, it’s just one event,” his voice spoke in my ear. A quiet reminder to hold on to the good.

“Why does it have to be this way?”

“If we understood that…” he shook his head. His eyes completed the sentence: if we understood the why of why people stove so hard to take away the liberty, the freedom, the very lives of so many, then we might have a chance to fight back.

But we didn’t understand. It went against everything we could see and understand.

We watched, my hands pressed against my mouth like I could hold in the scream of dread that settled in my throat—hot and prickly. The flames couldn’t be stopped. The police forced us back.

The Church collapsed.

Parents wailed.

The crowd cried.

I had to look away and pressed my face against his chest, soaking his shirt with tears.

His lips pressed against my cheek before his breath rushed warm in my ear. “Look.”

I followed his finger toward the opposite side of street. There, the house that stood there had thrown open its doors, and a couple with their two children pulled people into the warmth of their lights, pressed water bottles into hands, offered blankets to the shell-shocked people who watched.

“Is it enough?” I breathed the question.

“For now.”

The tug that caught at my lower back signaled the time. We needed to go. Without looking at one another, he took my hand and led me down the street. Around the corner and into the shadows.

“Next year?” he asked, already a whisper as we faded.

“Will we be able?” I hated asking the question, spoiling the last moments together. But I wondered. The power that gave us this one day, the ability to feel and touch and celebrate the feelings that gave us shape. The beliefs of so many that literally breathed life into us for this single day. Could it last another year after what we’d seen tonight?

“Don’t doubt it. Same time, same place. Next year. These people aren’t free of us yet.” His smile was warm, confident, and I knew it was mostly for me. For comfort.

My fingers were numb and the feeling reached up my arms, wrapping around me so I couldn’t feel his embrace any longer.

And then, with a rush of wind, we were gone until the next Independence Day.


Meradeth's never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:

>She's a Northern California girl and now braves the cold winters in Montana.

>When she's not writing, she's sequencing dead people's DNA.

>She’s also an anthropology professor and loves getting people interested in studying humans.

>If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she's terrified of heights.

Find Meradeth Houston online at:www.MeradethHouston.comFacebookTwitterInstagramTumblrAmazonGoodreads, and of course her blog!

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