"I don't get it", says Eugene, frowning. "You're saying that you all do fireworks... to mark this guy trying to blow up your government? So, is it some kind of celebratory thing, like, better luck next time? Or is it like some kind of warning to everyone else, like, watch out, wouldn't want to end up... being shot up into the sky to explode into a million pieces...?"
"I dunno, either way works - it's not that what I meant", Jack says. "I was saying, it makes a whole lot more sense, whatever the origin - I mean, most traditions start out pretty weird, right? What've you got, the one with the pumpkin pie and the turkey - "
" - that's not us - "
" - yeah, whatever, same ball-park, what I meant to say was, it's a stupid idea having fireworks at midsummer. Especially when you're that far north! With your weirdly over-long days. You want proper darkness, and you want there to be a real chill going on, really bone-shaking, like you're going to spend the winter huddled up indoors, knitting socks or whatever cause all the roads are snowed in - or, well, it's a bit soggy and miserable when your bus is late - so you really appreciate the vodka or whatever your mate's brought in to the park, and you can't even concentrate on the fireworks cause you're freezing and wishing you'd worn thicker boots. So there's a long, cold night and a dark backdrop, get it? It's not interesting if it's in summer."
"Well, I'm sorry, I guess I'll just have to travel back and tell the guys, look, sorry, but Canada Day in July's just going to make things awkward for us celebrating down the line, best make it another six months, right?"
"Sure. Or just have more fireworks. Any excuse for some explosions."
"And you guys, you have a bonfire, and you burn some kind of effigy, as well, right? Is that, like, part of the warning or something...?"
"Sure. Why, you've got someone in mind?"
"Me? You know full well I'd never dream of suggesting one of our own - local - friendly - leading figures to experience a firey end in effigy form! Never. Let's go to a song."
Traditions were boring, but Eugene had still managed to never miss a Canada Day celebration with his family since he'd finished with college out west. It was because of the food, mostly: they'd gather out on the roof, family and friends and neighbours, several dozen strong, and three or four big communal barbeques would serve up grilled veg and fish and burgers all evening long. The fireworks were an afterthought: they could just about see the lights flashing, and, a few seconds later, hear the booms and cracks come skimming across the lake.
One year, they'd tried going in closer: packed up sandwiches and stood with the crowds for hours beforehand, staying close. Eugene had tried to get photographs: he'd dragged in a tripod and set it up among the close-packed bodies, angled it and done long exposures in the hope of building up layers of light, catching the trails. The photos had all come out overexposed: so much so, they'd looked like they'd been filtered in inverse. He'd fiddled with the colours on them every which way and they were still never quite right: he'd shrugged, and the next year, had photographed plates of food, the grills, the crowded tables.
He had never missed a Canada Day, and this year, in the comms shack, he and Jack had brought in whiskey and raised up their glasses to the microphone. They'd kept it fairly short. "For any Canadians among our listeners. Cheers, and stay safe."
Jack's parents used to go to the small fireworks night down at the school, where the teachers would get a roast chestnut machine going - and, one year, popcorn - and they'd all donate to the fund to buy ten minutes' worth of steady, gentle fireworks, with some uncoordinated big whooshes at the end. He was fourteen when his friends decided it'd be more fun to go off to the main event, where they'd finish cigarettes quickly outside the gates, stamp them down to join a hundred other flattened ends.
They'd all go to the local park: a gang of mates, and booze mixed in with Coke bottles. It was the biggest fireworks night in the area: they had the display, followed by the bonfire, and a funfair at the other end, with volunteers all over the place shaking buckets of coins at them, tabards stuck over their thick coats. There were kids everywhere, too: bundled-up shapeless blobs with glowsticks stuck over the tops of their hats. They'd be the ones waving the flashing plastic swords and the whirling light-up spinners, bright spots in the crowd.
After a while, they ran to the other end of the field when the fireworks came on, using the downtime to get more rides on the Orbiter and the Tornado. He'd be spun upside down and around as the sky lit up, catching flashes, the bangs thumping through his chest. Might as well take advantage of the lack of queues, he'd figured: the display was the same every year.
"Look what I've got", Jack sings, once they're back in their own tent, and he watches the instantaneous quip die halfway to Eugene's mouth, and Eugene's eyes widen in the darkness, when he produces the sparklers.
"... Where did you get those?", Eugene whispers, poking them as though he can't believe they're real.
"I've got my sources", Jack says, preening. "Okay, my sources were actually Five. You know how the runners all have flares but aren't allowed to use them? Five said they'd sent her into the stores the other week, to restock the runner's shack? Turns out there's a whole box of all kinds of flares and sparklers and whatever else down in the basement! Guess they wanted to keep them just in case. Anyway, she only grabbed a couple so they wouldn't notice, and I swapped them: I'm taking her shift swabbing the decks at the hospital."
"You mean, washing down and sterilising the surfaces."
"Well, you know me. I like to try and keep life interesting."
"Jack: these are amazing. Should we... you know?"
"Yeah! Let's do them, let's do them both here!"
"Oh, we should do them one at a time, don't you think? And maybe take them out to show the kids - it's not fair if only the two of us - "
"Come on. Live dangerously. Let's do them both, together, and let's keep them just for us. The kids'll all want a go if they see them, and Janine will find out and that'll be the whole supply busted just like that. They'll be okay: just, hold them out from the bed a bit, maybe. Here, you hold them both." He produces a box of matches, listens quickly for noise around them, then strikes a match and holds it close.
They both lean in, watching the flame flicker, and shrink, and - there, the sparklers catch, sputtering into life. They sound just like they look, and Eugene jumps a little at the sudden noise, before - "quick, here! Take it, wave it around a bit" - and Jack grabs one and honest-to-God prances around the tent with it, illuminating the walls, grinning ear-to-ear.
Eugene can't take his eyes off the flying sparks: it feels like a ridiculously unfamiliar sight. Has it really been only a few months? They crackle and sputter, fall down to the rough carpet around his feet: he waves the sparkler back and forth, the light leaving yellow trails in the darkness.
"Happy Canada Day. You think I'd forget?", Jack says, coming close to turn his sparkler into a glowing rainfall over Eugene's own. Eugene just shakes his head a little, and smiles, and the both of them watch the light, burning its way downwards, warm sparks falling to cover their outstretched palms.