The Stranger I See

November 1, 2008
By , Hudson, NH
Fireworks explode in the distance ' maybe two miles off ' and the reverberations of the flammable compounds reacting so violently can be felt through the air. Crackles and pops linger after flower shaped lights vanish in the dark twilight sky. The veil of these shimmering specks illuminates the smoke that's slowly accumulating in the breezeless night. They look colossal, even more so from the close proximity, and tower over the crowd that had drawn for this moment exactly. The soft murmurs of the admirers sound so similar to the soft hum of a lulling parent quelling an infant, even though none were present.
The mosquitoes are starting to dissipate with the lateness of the hour, but some still remain to annoy everyone; no one brought bug spray. But I ignored them ' the sights of the night were far too spectacular to be plagued by parasitic flies.
The black air was chilled so perfectly because of the water nearby. The prominent lake stood as a blatant reminder of how tiny we were in comparison; a dark mirror reflecting the blossoming flares that blanketed stars and smothered the soft lapping of the calm waves. It was vast in diameter, lined with lush green trees on every edge that fought for space in the waterfront. Spectators cursed the black shadows in those same murmurs for obscuring their view of the fireworks. These were the same people who verbally envied those smart enough to rent a boat and watch the show from the water itself, instead of being confined to the spacious balcony of the resort.
All of these factors would have been perfect the previous night, but a day later than Independence Day wasn't too far off ' people around Rangeley were still patriotic to an extent, so I guessed it didn't matter too much.
Beside me, my friend was growing anxious. I could see the slight twitch in her fingers as she held her camera, the bob in her leg that slightly shook the picnic table we were sitting on top of, and her almost constant shifting of weight which had caused her to brush against me in the first place. She was enthralled. Fingers itching to capture the phenomenon in time and frustrated at precious failed attempts, she leaned into me more and nudged my shoulder.
'Hey, Nina,' she spoke in a low, singsong voice that made a crack of a smirk break on my face in suspicion. My attention was drawn from the fireworks to the blonde sitting beside me and I made an effort to slow the motion, to hinder the action with mock annoyance. Seeing this, her own smile only broadened on her face and she held the camera out away from us, pointing the lens back at us.
'Don't-,' I would have told her not to take my picture, that I felt gross and sticky, but knowing Sam, she wouldn't hear of it, so I cut myself off.
She understood without any further elaboration, and instead beamed. 'Smile!' This exclamation broke the quiet air and all eyes belonging to the aggravated strangers turned to us. The flash went off ' as brilliantly blinding as the fireworks behind us ' and they gave us nasty glares.
We both ignored them as she turned the camera around, eager to see how the self-portrait turned out. From the back of her digital camera, she looked at the captured image and laughed her melodious laugh. Turning it to me, I did the same.
In bright, LCD definition, I saw both her and myself looking in different directions. I was looking away, at the people glaring ready to give them my own brand of silent judgment for interrupting our moment. Sam was smiling, still partially laughing from earlier, as was looking past the camera. She was oblivious to the people who gave us the stink eye.
Looking at the photo now, I can't do anything but smile. Not only is it a frozen memory of an amazing vacation I had taken with a dear friend, but it shows in dazzling color just how different she and I are. That she was so at peace with the moment, with the booming fireworks and lapping lake, that she didn't bother acknowledging the people trying to ruin it. That she didn't care enough to glare back as I had because she simply wasn't bothered by them.
The stranger in the photo isn't smiling but the sunshine haired girl beside her is, angelic and glowing beams bright enough to show the content she truly felt in the soft night. It brings back memories of staying up until three in the morning talking so pointlessly, it was too funny to end. And even despite having already said the 'goodnight' formalities, conversation still arose and pursued through the long hours that passed as minutes would.
My memories of Rangeley Maine are nothing short of novel worthy, but this was the best by far.
It wasn't just watching fireworks with a best friend. It was her inadvertently teaching me how to be at ease, that the presence of someone you truly care about can be enough to outweigh dirty looks and snide remarks spoken purposely for us to hear. She taught me that I don't have to fight malice with malice; that obliviousness is exasperatingly more effective.





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