On Why We Can’t All be Buzz Aldrin

Nancy handed me a sparkler because I wouldn’t stop complaining. It worked for a while too. As I waited patiently for the larger fireworks, I watched the tiny bursts of light from the sparkler fade into the air around me. It wouldn’t have been so bad if anybody wanted my help, but Peter was spacing out into a cup of coffee, counting and recounting the fireworks, while Nance flirted mercilessly with a boy from the neighboring campsite. Watching her adjust her shirt into oblivion was making me sick, so I focused more on the myriad shining creatures leaping into the night.

I thought of them as tiny fairies or angels or aliens. I put the sparkler out in a tub of water. Thinking like that used to make me feel magical but now it all felt like a lot of bitter lemon promises. Looking up from the tub, I saw the neighbor staring dead on at Nance’s boobs. She caught my eye so I made an exaggerated gagging face and went off into the woods to piss.

On my way back from the woods, I stopped to watch my brother and sister from a low bush. Spreading dirt across my face, I imagined I was a spy. I had to observe them, report back, kill them if necessary. Nance’s shirt was so low now that her cleavage was practically in another Zip code. God knows how many times Peter had gotten to fifteen fireworks. I tried to imagine what Jimmy would be up to if he were here. He and Peter would probably be playing catch with a firecracker and arguing over who got to light the first one. He would have teased Nance and she would have laughed and dumped the water tub on his head, filth and all. Maybe not though. That was before Nance hit puberty, Peter went to Iraq, and Jimmy died out on Route 17.

That was when we lived in the house with the stained-glass cacti on the front door. Jimmy and the boys would dodge tumbleweeds as they played a five-man game of baseball. Nance and I would be making dinner out of mud near the creek that ran by the shed. Sometimes Jimmy would let me be in the outfield, catching rogue balls before they skipped too close to the road. I’d always have to come in before dusk though, while they got to keep playing a bit longer into the evening. When that happened, I’d sit in the sill by my bed and listen to the hollow crack of a plastic bat and ball going at it like jousting knights in those stories our mom would read us. Only, in my head, that crack was a smash and the ball flew off like Buzz Aldrin trying to grab a star and bring it down. And I could hear all the cheers just as loud as Chase Field. And I could see Jimmy rounding the bases and coming home.

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