Today was the Fourth of July. Again. With picnics and band music in the park. Dancing in the gazebo. Firecrackers. Watermelon and cherry pie, Families and friends with clothing stained red. I’m smiling, nursing memories, swaying with the music.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
I turn to a young lady in a flower print dress, her pale face framed beneath a yellow straw hat. “Dance?” she asks, accenting her question with a slight curtsey. “Sure,” I tell her. I lead her to the center of the gazebo.
Her hands are delicate. Her body, a wisp. Her hair tickles my face, and she follows my lead like a shadow. “One-two-three. One-two,” we sing in harmony as we flow through and around the others who are as still as statues — some sitting, others resting. I hold her close. She doesn’t resist. Dare I? I kiss her cheek, and she presses her body to me. I wonder if this is love.
The trilling of whistles startles her. We separate, and she spins away across the floor. So many people moving at once. I lose sight of her, left only with her scent, and I want to cry. But then I begin to giggle when I hear the whistles again. There must be a parade today. I love watching parades. The marching. All lined up. So precise in their steps.
Sirens wail above the music. Is it noon already? I had almost forgotten about the civil defense drills. No one else pays attention to them. In case of an air raid, I must go to the school and sit on the floor in the hallway, my back against the wall. Head down, between my knees. Sometimes praying, asking forgiveness. But if Jesus died for our sins…
I look again for my friend, but she’s gone. Panic swells.
Three men appear as from nowhere, one wearing a suit. I don’t think I’ve ever worn one. Maybe he’s the mayor. Did we win a prize for our dancing? I hope so. I’ll give it to my new friend.
The second man is dressed in a black shirt, black pants. His long sleeves are fresh and ironed, and he looks comfortable in this summer heat. I’m in short sleeves, sweating. He needs his black hat. Baseball umpires always wear a black hat.
The other man’s in uniform. A long time ago, I was in the Army. For a couple months. But this uniform looks different. I give him a hand salute.
The man in black speaks to me. “It’s time, son.” His voice startles me, like being jostled awake from a dream. He tugs at a pillow I’m clutching. Why am I holding a pillow?
The soldier cuffs my hands. Then a chain. The metal pulls heavy and cold on my wrists and ankles. I can’t dance like this! Where’s my friend?
My visions return. Not statues. Not watermelon. Not cherry pie.
We walk down a hallway I’ve never seen. The man in the suit leads. Then the umpire reading out loud from a book. I’m next, followed by the soldier. Single file. We’re having a parade. I love parades. So precise in our steps.
Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction. Some days to curb his angst. Other days to fuel it. This is his eleventh story at EDF.