Jul 5, 2008

We reached Nevada City in the late afternoon, and after tea in her garden, with a dozen koi in a pond, we went to the fairgrounds to see the fireworks. M wanted to show us where she'd sung in the local singing group the night before. The place was covered in bodies on blankets, everyone counting down the light. There were booths full of frosties and fries, a woman giving free hugs, an Elvis impersonator and kids darting every which way like ideas in an ill mind. People wore half clothes; they had thick calves and they were uniformly fat. A jabba-the-hut-of-a-man sat in his wheel chair, surly looking, with oxygen streaming into one nostril. We watched the Elvis become Roy Orbison but the songs were too slow, not 45 but 78. This is the country and slow is in, slow is good. Slow is what you need. We sat down on some bleachers and fell back on the empty row behind, M's 85-year-old head on my arm. Wow, we all said. Whoa! Look at that. Just before the show started a DJ with long scraggly white hair and a military cap put on God Save America and God Bless America and The Stars and Stripes Forever. A boy sped by on roller shoes. Girls tried to get each other to dance. There was some line dancing and then a pretty woman did the macarama all by herself, looking neither happy or sad or confident or embarrassed. M kept saying, wasn't this the way it was always supposed to be. Didn't we feel America's heart beating. I said, of course, but I didn't feel that at all. People looked half happy, just a little bewildered. How could it be otherwise with all the Yukons and F150s in the parking lot and local gas near $5. But then out of it all stepped a six-year-old girl, Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane Mortenson, a rabbit out of a hat, so blonde, so wistful, dancing around with her American flag on a stick, and in the strobe light, a lithe creature of beauty and talent and possibility. A ghost. And then the fireworks, right over head, red glare and all, until finally an orgy of sound and color, what women are supposed to see when they climax, a truly magnificent expression of bombs bursting. And suddenly it all ended; the bodies drew up their blankets and disappeared.

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