29 Aug 2010
“I want a bitter girl and a cheeky boy and a night with fireworks just after a dance in a decade when everyone thinks the world is about to end. “
No-one past graduation thought it was worth a damn, but the fireworks were going ahead. Important to keep morale up, the radio said. So barbecue charcoal spread its scent through the neighbourhood, and in the firefly-fussed evening the kids and dogs and parents came out of their houses, to pay homage to the patriotic display. Perhaps it was the last rally in a doomed battle, perhaps it was a modern try at banging pots and pans to keep night-haunts away. Whatever the reason every face tipped up, every pair of eyes to the south sky that smokey summer evening. After all (said the silent voice in every head) even with the fireworks, the sirens are plenty loud enough to hear.
It was cold. The girl was cramped, and she was cold. There was metal above – smooth and cool. Concrete below – solid, bonechilling. To either side metal, and a wall of damp, crumbling plaster. She crouched there, calves cramping and knees aching; she was listening to sirens out the window and her own quick breath. The sirens wailed a slow song, a song that would take years to resolve into a tune. They had been going on for centuries.
There was a scuffling of feet – she pressed hands over her ears and screwed her eyes closed tight.
The air hung heavy; maybe it was the summer humidity or the smoke from burning leafpiles or the threat of utter annihilation, but he didn’t feel it. Saw it, pressing sweat into the skin and dogs back onto their haunches flattening smiles into thin-lipped masks – but he didn’t feel a thing. Immune or fool-headed he was lifted up by a greater force than even The Atom, one only a teenager in love could tap. Busted sneakers and ratty shoelaces left on the verdant lawn, bare feet took him tenterhooked to her door. Three knocks (no more) and there stood the Knave: big goofy gap-tooth grin topped with a smear of freckles, eyes full of promise armed and ready.