What happened is that just as Keith was lighting off the Grand Finale fireworks, Rexter, his girlfriend’s little dog (that fucking dog, he would later call him), barked at a squirrel and Keith jumped and pointed the Hot Rocket 4000 in the wrong direction and it went screaming off into the bleachers and burned a strip right down the middle of Councilmember Gerlike’s toupee and then smashed right through the football stadium’s observation window where members of the press were kicked back, drinking mojitos because they figured the camera was set up, their job was done for the day, and the firecracker hit the camera and swiveled it around to face on-the-scene reporter Jay Quendale, who had his shirt off for some reason (it was hot, I guess) and was playing one of those little circular games that has a small metal marble in it, and now there is video footage of that that’s the reason he got fired last summer.  And that’s when Councilmember Gerlike started wearing a blonde toupee instead of the dark brown one.  It’s all they had in stock and it didn’t match the rest of his hair but after a while when nothing else DID come into stock he just went with what he had, because by then it had sort of become his signature look anyway.

Anyway that was the end of Keith Stanberg’s career as the apparent heir to his family’s fireworks show business.  Nobody would hire him, even though it was the dog’s fault, (or so he thought), or maybe his girlfriend’s fault, and so he broke up with his girlfriend, too, who is now married to the next guy that she went out with–Paul Rodcliffe, who immediately got her pregnant so maybe she didn’t have that much of a choice since she was 38 at the time and didn’t really have that much leeway to say no and continue looking, because to be honest, she had already dated pretty much everybody else in town and there was no one left, so she had the baby and luckily the baby turned out to be a cello prodigy, or at least they think so, from what you can tell from a five-year-old, which some people think–you can tell everything by then.

In the meantime, Keith was living on the outskirts of town in one of those row townhouses where the most prominent feature from the road is the garage.  For the past five years he had worked in a motorcycle repair shop, which was quite satisfying in a number of ways.  Oh and he had inherited the dog, Rexter, because Julie (the old girlfriend) didn’t want to take the risk that the dog would snap and nip at her baby’s hands, because those hands needed to play the cello for years and years and years to come.  Also, her new husband had a terrible allergy to all animals, which is just to say that he was one of those guys who liked white furniture and he liked to keep things around the house in neat piles, even though it was all HIS stuff in the piles, and those neat little piles covered every square inch of flat space in their quite spacious home,so that nobody else could put anything down.  Paul’s world was 100% in order, including the regimen he had imposed on his (luckily very docile) five-year-old,  and a dog would have simply not fit in at all to that regime.  So Keith had the dog.  It was working out pretty fine. In five years Keith had managed to go from calling him “that fucking dog” to “hey you.” And the kid’s passive aggressive rage problem would not surface for another 6 years or so.

On evenings Keith would sneak out to Elmhurst Lane, a little abandoned street behind his garage-predominant condo complex and he would practice with experimental fireworks that he had been assembling in his basement.  The pineapple spinner.  The exploding fire engine.  The leaping tortoise.  The tossed salad.  The leaping tortoise was a challenge because it was a slow firework, and usually they were supposed to be fast and exciting and so Keith needed to work that one out, but the others…those were coming along.

Of course he could not tell his family about what he was doing, because he was their competition now.  For all they knew he was just trudging along, working with a wrench, tightening bolts and getting greasy and making noise in a cycle garage day after day.  But that’s not what he was doing.  At least, that’s not all he was doing ALL the time.

Not at all.

Keith swept up the debris from the leaping tortoise and was thinking about what to do for dinner with his cell buzzed in his pants.  A text. It was Jay Quendale.  And he wanted to hang out.