It’s a peaceful afternoon on Homes Avenue and Draper Street, but it’s a fragile peace. Just a few days ago the skies were alight with early celebrations. But it’s quiet now. Porches are empty. On Olney Street, the Hernandes family is gearing up for its show. The music is ready, relatives are streaming in, and the fireworks are in the basement. Seth points to a flag-draped pole where a man was shot and killed outside his home last year. A small garden honors his memory. Seth doesn’t know his name. Killings are a footnote here, a passing reference. Seth says he can’t dwell on it. Night closes in. Melvin, Seth’s brother, opens a small container labeled “Box of Barrage.” He places the box in the middle of Olney, sets the fireworks ablaze and races to the sidewalk. Flaming balls shoot into the air. They smell like paper burning. They rise above the rooftops in showers of white, red, and brilliant blue. Christmas lights might be the highlight in suburbia, but here in the ’hood, it’s all about the Fourth of July fireworks. They sound like thunder clapping — whizzing, booming, crackling. A few miles down on Corona Street, revelers at a family cookout are also marveling at the booms. Then one man falls to the ground, a bullet through his left shoulder. Another man feels the stinging pierce of a gunshot in his leg. Everyone scatters. My colleague and I show up a few minutes later with our iPhones and my dog, who has become our icebreaker. A woman sees us and tells us to go in and fix a plate of food. Her daughter makes us a plate. And we sit on their front porch eating into the night, listening to their stories.
Meghan E. Irons