When I was a kid, my brother and sisters and I used to take sparklers out into the night and draw shapes in the air. This wasn’t just on the Fourth or on New Years, though that’s when we’d stock up. This was any night. All summer we’d hang around on the front porch until we got bored counting the fireflies and then we’d light up the sparklers. In the winter, not every night but enough of them, we’d huddle into our coats and dance outside and chase each other with lights. We took the sparklers camping, we took them to the one dilapidated drive-in where the old-timers shouted at us for interrupting the movie, we took them to the HEB just for something to do in the parking lot on a Tuesday night.
It’s been, oh, thirty years since I last held one of these things, but tonight, I am going to sparkler you. You weren’t a part of any of those childhood memories — I met you decades later — so your idea to do this wasn’t based on sparklers at all. You’d read the things in the paper about Hunter S. Thompson, about Timothy Leary, about all these other drugged-out eccentrics burning the last of themselves away into little ash, exploding in the sky, becoming a light for us all to look at in the night.
You said it all was bullshit. If those guys had become anything it was just wisps of smoke anyone would mistake for a neighbor’s cigarette, and then they were gone. A smudge on the sky, at best, nothing immortal about them. And besides, you wanted me to never let you go. You didn’t mind the idea of burning out and fading away at the same time, but for me to expel you like that, launch you away from me at the speed of a gunshot. No, it horrified the both of us.
So, this compromise. This crackling explosion gripped tight in my own fingers, the end of a livewire igniting the night. It wasn’t easy to find a manufacturer who would do it, and it took almost six months to clear the process with the health officials, the fire safety officials, so many more people involved in your cremation than ever turned up at your funeral. But I did it.
The light shatters into the darkness and sparks singe my arm hairs, make tiny pinpricks on the front of my sweater that glow orange less than half a second and then blacken to soot. In my mind, I try waving the end of it around, making circles, hearts, your name, a star. I can’t decide, and as I watch the ember eat its way down the wire of the sparkler, three inches from my fingertips, two inches, I just want to hold you still.