What Could Be Better Than A Fireworks Show?
by Victoria Carr
The tears of the sky still clung to Oriana’s skin, reluctant to evaporate into the already humid air. There was little hope that she would be dry by the time the train eased to a stop at her station. If the humidity wasn’t bad enough, the cluster of bodies surrounding her ensured that any part of her not drenched by the rain was covered in salty beads of sweat. But tonight, she didn’t mind. As her awareness lingered on the heaviness of her saturated singlet top she couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity. She was usually the first to run for cover in a rainstorm and yet here she was, soaked to the bones and smiling about it. The thought just made her smile more. She felt… happy. Yes, she felt happier than she had in a long time. A short breath escaped through her nose. Was that the beginning of a laugh? Oriana was laughing on a train filled with strangers who smelt of parties and perspiration. She had to stifle a chuckle at that only to realise that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt the perfect contentment that now washed over her. It had been too long.
Her math teacher had once told her that in senior school, her holidays were no longer her holidays. They belonged to study, just like the rest of her did. Weekdays were for schoolwork and the afternoons were for homework and Saturdays were for finishing more work and Sundays were for regretting all the things she’d left until the last minute and then dreading another week of doing the exact same thing. So, despite the fact that she had survived Year Eleven and the first term of Year Twelve, she still woke up every morning feeling like she was running out of time. She was chasing the clock in an endless race Oriana knew she was not going to win. How did she know this? Well, she knew in the same way that you know that an out of shape teenager carrying the enormous weight of ‘expectations’ wouldn’t stand a chance against Usain Bolt in the 100m Olympic sprint. She had long since accepted that feeling like her life was falling apart was, well, a part of life.
Even when she was celebrating Christmas with her family, the plethora of problems she had conjured up about the upcoming year stole the spotlight in her head. “Can you pass the ham?” was accompanied by “What if I drown in the endless abyss of responsibility before I graduate school?” and “Did you like the gift I got you?” translated roughly to “Imagine the embarrassment of failing all of your exams”. “What do you want to do when you finish?” won the award for Oriana’s most frequently asked and most despised question. She thought that if she heard those words from the mouth of one more of her aunties she might just dump the bowl of discarded prawn tails over their head. She’d already asked herself the same thing more times than she could count and being reminded that she had no idea how to answer only fueled the unease plaguing her body.
As she watched her family chatter with each other and listened to the squeals of her cousins playing with the garden hose, all she could do was plaster on a smile and ponder the unsolicited advice she’d received. It was like sifting through junk mail.
“You’ll figure it out soon enough”- That’s what she was told last year.
“Do something you’re passionate about.”- Too bad she wasn’t remarkably enthusiastic about anything she’d ever tried.
“There’s so many options for you to choose from!”- That just made it more difficult to decide anyway.
What they all seemed to say was that a flash of inspiration would come eventually, lighting up her mind with excitement and guiding her through the next year. She watched three of her cousins fight over who would be allowed to pull the last bon-bon. They bickered and snatched it off of each other until an unexpected tug between two of them caused the cracker to tear in two accompanied by a mild “bang”. The cardboard was discarded and much to the childrens’ dismay, the only toy inside was a heart shaped pencil sharpener. The problem, Oriana decided, with waiting for this sought after burst of motivation was that if it ever came, it might be as short lived as the excitement of pulling a Christmas cracker. She glanced at the sharpener and paper crown now trampled and forgotten with the scraps of cardboard. Her worries only grew.
Time had dragged on between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Oriana had smiled for photos and politely thanked people for their gifts only to succumb to a foreboding sense of anticipation anytime she thought about the year to come. The clock she was racing against was flaunting its impending victory and everyone just wouldn’t stop talking about it. She had even been dragged into the centre of Sydney to watch the fireworks- an extravagant waste of money, she thought.
The night air teetered on the edge of stifling, redeemed only by the subtle ocean breeze which tickled Oriana’s bare shoulders. Her family had caught the train to Circular Quay in the early evening to spend the night watching the firework show from the Cahill Expressway (which had been turned into a parklike viewing area for the occasion). It wasn’t that Oriana didn’t enjoy spending time with her family, rather, the idea of celebrating new beginnings made her anxious. A whole night spent fawning over exploding lights in the sky to ‘welcome the new year’ seemed like a waste when she knew her imminent future would be nothing if not stressful.
As the first batch of fireworks began invading the peaceful night sky she watched the cloud of debris each ostentatious explosion left behind. Oriana had to admit, there was a unique beauty to the sudden bursts of colour and light but they were so very fleeting. One moment, a waterfall of sparks was pouring off of the Harbour Bridge, the next, only dust was left behind- a remnant of the spectacular display. It reminded her of the bon bon her cousins had fought over and that reminded her that she was severely lacking in the area of spontaneous inspiration. As more fireworks lit up the sky, a thicker cloud of smoke built up. Oriana seemed to be the only one who noticed that the aftermath of the explosions left the sky foggier than before. It was an exhilarating display, but were the short-lived flashes of light really worth all of the anticipation and preparation?
Gradually the show ended and people returned to their seats and picnic blankets. Oriana replaced the crowds at the edge of the Expressway, looking out at the now smoky harbour. She was waiting. For what? She didn’t know. Something about the smoke unsettled her. It was the way it lingered in comparison to the explosions which had been so instantaneous. Maybe… Just maybe, a single flash of inspiration wasn’t what she needed, especially if it was accompanied by a looming fog like the one choking the air above her.
Then, the sky opened up like it too felt the urge to wash itself clean and rain started to pelt down. She felt each drop hit her, washing away the light coating of salt which crusted her skin. People groaned and squealed and rushed for cover behind her but their distress was drowned out by the drumming of the rain. It filled her ears and beat down on the harbour and then she was arching her neck, giving in to the blissful nothingness. She breathed in the musky scent and with every breath she felt lighter. The consistency of the downpour tranquilized her anxiousness as she squinted towards the Harbour Bridge. The view was clear, the sky had been disburdened of smoke. Oriana felt a burning sensation in her nose and her eyes turned glassy. The rain had washed away the need she felt for an inner firework to be sparked. For once, her problems took their cue and exited the stage and she let herself believe that it was perfectly okay to be empty.