It’s Like Christmas in July Sometimes

RJC Smith

I was out back, melting in the summer heat, when I saw something in the bushes. I thought it might be John but it wasn’t. It wasn’t June either. It was Cousin Adrian. He had gotten out of jail and was here to sell us fireworks. “I’m selling fireworks,” he said.

“Oh I see. I see that you are selling fireworks.” I glimpsed the table he had set up, which displayed his fireworks.

“Yes. I’m selling fireworks,” he explained, “Like Roman candles, but others too.”

I gathered up John and June and we bought some. We headed up to our bunkroom where John rolled them into cigarettes. He rolled them with gum wrappers because we had nothing else. He passed it to June, who tried to light it. It flew from her hand. Across the room it sputtered and sent out lights. The lights drifted for a moment before congregating around the corners of the ceiling. The room became awash with smoke and colors. The smoke made John hack up a cicada. I waited for him to finish then I hacked up three. We kept rolling more fireworks, stuffing a towel under the door to mute their whirr. I smiled. So did June. John looked nauseous, but soon perked up in alarm. “What’s that noise?” Our parents were banging on the door. I opened it.

“It smells.”

I thought so fast I became lightheaded. “Yes, we were playing Cowboys and Indians. I was sending out smoke signals.”

Cousin Adrian was at the end of the dinner table. We cut at our steaks until our arms gave out. Cousin Adrian just unhinged his jaw and slid the steak down his throat. It looked like a rat suffocating inside of a python.

“Look. It’s wriggling like a rat in a snake,” John whispered.

“I know,” June said, “I feel kind of bad for it.”

Cousin Adrian downed his cola bottle and walked through the screen door. We followed him out onto the lawn. “So how were those fireworks.” Cousin Adrian made a smoking gesture, transferring a small amount of cola from his mustache to his right hand. His left hand held an erotically loose grip on a cola bottle’s neck.

“Those fireworks were good. No, in fact, they were great,” I said.

“We smoked every one,” said John.

“Do you have any more?” asked June.

“And do you have any papers?” I added.

Cousin Adrian downed his cola bottle and walked through the thicket. We followed him out into the woods. Swooping bats were lit in the moonlight, snatching up crickets screaming for procreative sex. We were led up a hill of cattails where manure piles rose like fertile effigies of the land. We were in an abandoned barn and Cousin Adrian was passing me a joint. “You better get a hit before it gets away.”

“Right,” I said. As I was hitting it it flew away. John vomited. I felt good lying down on the cool wood. June brushed a tick off of her shirt and then strapped it to a firework. It went up and exploded into blue. “Wow, brutal,” I said.

“I know, a bit sadistic. I’m kind of ashamed,” June said.

“No don’t be, it had it coming,” I assured her. John burped and gagged but soon perked up in alarm.

“What’s that noise?” I heard it too, a light rapping on the ground. A turkey vulture was walking through the open doors of the barn.

“When are you going to vacate my home,” it said. Cousin Adrian spat. “I don’t want to involve the authorities,” it said, “but I will.” And it flew up into the rafters. Cousin Adrian spat. We scratched our wrists and coughed and checked our arms like we had watches.

“Could we pick up some fireworks from you, Cousin Adrian?” John asked. We could hear the Turkey Vulture still shuffling in its perch. Cousin Adrian got down on all fours. He faced the rafters and barked. Cousin Adrian was a dog. He barked and his scruff curdled. His spit, frothing from his mouth, formed a pool under him. Cousin Adrian was a dog and he was here to sell us fireworks.

“Cousin Adrian,” June shouted, “Fireworks. We need fireworks.”

The Turkey Vulture looked concerned.

“I wouldn’t buy from him if I were you,” the Turkey Vulture said.

“Why not?”

“You don’t get like that just from sparklers and Roman candles.”

“You mean turn into a dog?” The question made the Turkey Vulture blush. It looked around and avoided our eyes. We realized we were the only three people left, with no knowledge of getting back to the house. The Turkey Vulture looked concerned. It cocked its head and sighed. I’m too empathetic, it probably thought.

The Turkey Vulture took off on its guiding flight and we skidded down the cattail mountain after it. In the density of the forest, the roots and branches sought to make us wood. One caught John. He cried out, but we had to keep moving. I was afraid the Turkey Vulture would escape sight. Our surroundings created the impression we weren’t leaving the same way we entered. A dread sank into us and the air started to smell like smoke. The Turkey Vulture began to circle and we stopped below it. John caught up and wheezed. The Turkey Vulture landed on a branch in front of us. “I see smoke from back where we came,” The Turkey Vulture said then looked behind his shoulder. There was no smoke to see on the ground. I wondered if the barn was on fire. I wondered if Cousin Adrian the dog had gone hog-wild with his fireworks and now the barn was on fire.

“I think it set the barn on fire,” it said.

“Who? How?” John wheezed.

“I think Cousin Adrian the dog lit the barn on fire. I think with fireworks. I think I need to go. I’m sorry, just keep moving forward.” It flew off. “I think anyway,” it shouted from the air. We didn’t know where forward was so we just stumbled. We came to a clearing with a house similar to our own. It was off. The next clearing had a similar house. The next clearing had a similar house. We came to another clearing with another house of the like. The next house seemed close enough. We had become too tired to keep looking, so we shuffled by our quasi-parents up to the bunkroom where everything was a little shaken.

In the night I heard growth.

The next few weeks things were different. It became the summer we stopped checking for deer ticks. We never went into the woods or played Ghost in the Graveyard. John spent all his time mumbling in the shower and not brushing his teeth. I was the opposite. June lost her virginity to the mirror on the dresser. I did too, but I wasn’t the one bragging about it.

I went into the woods again to try and find Cousin Adrian. I couldn’t find anything, not the barn, not the cattails. I only saw trees which stood still and insentient. The amassed dead leaves beneath me formed a river. Its current pulled me back into my own yard. I kneeled down and picked up an empty cola bottle, which marked the meridian between forest and domestic grass. I sniffed it like a bloodhound. I wished I had more of those fireworks. I wished I had enough fireworks to become a bloodhound.

Cousin Adrian the dog turned up on the side of the train tracks. He had been flattened but his smokes had remained unscathed. John tugged out the pack from Cousin Adrian’s shirt pocket and passed its contents between us. I lit mine up. It tasted like they smell. I passed the lighter to John who lit his. He passed it to June, who tried to light hers. It flew from her hand, so she lit her cigarette with mine. They drained all the moisture from our bodies. A train came in silence. Little hands reached out from the wind it made to undo our seams. We flew out of our skin as turkey vultures. The cigarette fell from my mouth and the air rushed in like ice water. Below us the identical rooftops slanted and distorted into September’s wake.

RJC Smith is from New Jersey and New York, and lives in Brooklyn. Links to other work can be found on his Neutral Spaces.