Fireworks at the Start of Autumn

by Todd Stansfield

It was a night in early August. I saw fireworks exploding on the hill, right up against a tower supporting telephone wires. You could see the gold and white sparks, appearing to bust through the wires, and if I hadn't known, I might have thought there was a short. But the wires had been busting every night for two weeks, always after nine o'clock.

The hill was tall and flat on top, almost like a mesa. There was a small and very dangerous road that rose over it, parallel to the wires. I would stand by the window and watch the hill and wait for cars to run off it. I saw this happen several times: vans, pick-up trucks, even the school bus painted gray with bars over the windows. The driver always got out and looked up at the hill and waited for the next car to come along. The people were small dots from my window. I could imagine the faces of the men and women and teenagers who had tried to conquer the hill.

They were teenagers for sure, setting off the fireworks. They used most of their gun powder the first night. It was something to watch. A dozen Roman Candles, even the ones with sparks that change colors mid-spray, all the illegals they sell across the border in Wyoming. They had nothing left by the morning, and a gray cloud of smoke drifted through them, and made them their own shadows.

They enjoyed the shows, the other eleven prisoners who occupied cells at the south wall of the pod. Sometimes after the burst of fireworks, I could hear them laughing. Others banged on the walls in a rapid beat leading up to a burst. They might, for instance, start with a slow one-two rhythm that would turn three-four, five-six, and then lose all pauses. I listened for these rapid continuous beats to know when to look. I might be on my bed reading, or doing pushups, or waiting for shower call, when I would hear that constant thumping. I would stand up, step on the crossbar, and hang from the window-ledge to see.

Therewere always four of them. They were four very close friends. It was obvious by their adherence to launching at nine o'clock, by their insistence to aim at the telephone wires.


I dreamed of the dead.

It was a night in early August. We were driving out to Cheyenne. Jacob had picked me up in his mother's blue van. Dave and Wyatt sat in the back while I sat in front, DJ-ing the radio. I kept pressing the crappy plastic Seek button. Sometimes it would stick and then skip ten stations. Wyatt kept talking about the van.

"What the hell are you driving?" he said.

 "I'm driving," said Jacob.

Dave was flicking a lighter. I saw Jacob's head turn and his eyes roll toward the back.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he said. "Hey, no fucking smilies. Wyatt."

"Dave, put the lighter away."

"You remember when we used to do that?" said Dave. "Make smilies on the bus?"

I told him I remembered. He used to flick on a lighter for thirty seconds before pressing it into the seat. Dave didn't have zits then and he talked less. In the van, he steered his conversation toward me.

"Remember the very back seat, Bode? How many fucking smilies did I make?"

"I don't know." I thought of a number. "Thirty."

"Really? Thirty? That many?"


"Wow," said Dave. "You look older." He turned to Wyatt. "It's good to see him again."

And we drove to Cheyenne. When we reached the town, Jacob spotted the fireworks stand. It was not so much a stand as a building, with a permanent flashing sign and lights. Wyatt carried a large green duffel bag into the store. Dave got a cart and started sweeping items off the shelves.

"That's enough Roman Candles. That's too much," said Jacob. He started adding up the cost of the items. It was just over two hundred. "Bode, you think you can pay?"

"You owe us," said Wyatt.

I told him I probably could. I had money in my wallet, but I didn't know how much. They watched me reach into my pocket, and when I pulled it out, there was two hundred and three dollars.

"Thanks, man," said Jacob. "This summer's killed us. We've borrowed all we can get."

Dave patted my shoulder. "He is a good friend."

"O.K.," said Wyatt.

We left the store, the Romans poking out the ends of the duffel. The road back was much shorter. The mountains were still tall but they were half as long. The Eisenhower Tunnel shrunk to one lane and ended before it really began. Even a few towns seemed to be missing.

We made it back to my house in under an hour.

"You should wake up," said Wyatt. He was crouching on his knees. He snapped his fingers and slid the door shut, before I could say anything.


It was the same kind of firework being shot off, three dozen times. But each launch was different, the blast coming sooner or later, growing wider or thinner. It was toward the end, the last one lit, the firework shooting off horizontally, and exploding at the bottom of the hill. I could almost hear the four, panicking as they ran to their car, the doors opening and shutting as they sped away. It was completely dark then, no lights except for the distant lampposts of a far away town.

Not one laugh or bang from the others.


I dreamed of them.

Jacob was driving the van. Dave sat in the back, laughing into his hand.

"Holy—" he said. "Did you see that one blow up?"

Jacob was rolling and rolling his eyes. They kept rolling back to look at us. "You idiot. You stupid—the cops!"

Wyatt was playing with the radio. "He won't learn."

"It wasn't that bad." Dave shook his head. Then he looked at me. "It wasn't that bad."

I told him it wasn't. I told everyone the candle had a crappy base, and that Dave had no way of seeing the future.

"Of course of course," said Wyatt. 

In the distance I saw the lights of the town. They were orange and warm and I could see them spreading over the road and the hood.

"Where are we going?" I said.


Jacob let me drive the van on Blue Road. This was in June. He said something about teaching me to drive before going to Alex's. Wyatt and Dave were in the back, counting raindrops on the windows. "One, two, three . . ." At fifteen we reached the top of a hill, starting to laugh.

Then we were going down.

Jacob grabbed the dash. "Slow down, Bode. Shit, slow down."

I braked. The tires skidded and we slid into a ditch. There was a quick bumping and then a hard jolt. Jacob grabbed his collar. Both Wyatt and Dave were swearing.

"The fucking front," yelled Jacob. "My mom's going to kill me!"

I started laughing. I couldn't keep it in. "You're alive man!"

Jacob hit me in the arm. Again and again he hit me. His face was red, but I could no longer see his eyes and his ears and his nose. I just saw his face, a blur.

"No," he said. "Why whywhy?"

Then we were at the bottom of the hill again, going up. "One, two, three . . ."


It was a year after the crash, a year before juve. I found the newspaper clippings in my parent's filing cabinet. Some were old, going back one year, others new. I sat and read them over the table, including the one about my arraignment. Teen charged as adult for crash that killed four. Teen pleads not guilty for fatal crash. DA:Teen's trial 'could be months away.'

I walked outside and sat on the porch. I could hear their hymns from the church down the road. I could picture their candles.


The four continued to provide a show, only every fifth or sixth night, or during some weeks, not at all.

I heard they would be caught any day. In the mornings after breakfast in the mess hall, I watched a black cop car retrace its tracks to the side of the hill, where it parked beneath a canopy of trees, right near the telephone wires.

BIO: Todd Stansfield is an MFA candidate and part-time faculty member at the City College of New York. He is the assistant editor of Fiction, and the managing editor of Shiv'im Panim, an undergraduate journal published out of CCNY's Jewish Studies Program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Hot Type, and other publications.