The Home of the Brave

Sorrento sits down at a table, behind the ongoing luminary service. Some of those gathered are still speaking.

Diane joins him on the bench. “What size are those shoes?”

“You know, I don’t even know.” He reaches inside, looking for a size tag. “What’s this?” His hand comes out holding a wad of paper. “It was stuffed in the toe.”

He and Diane look at each other. “You don’t think…” Diane begins.

“Oh my god,” Sorrento says, and starts laughing. “Leon had tiny feet!” The laughter turns into great guffaws, shaking him until he gasps for breath and tears stream down his cheeks. “Don’t tell anyone,” he says when he finally regains his breath. “I don’t think he would have wanted anyone to know.”

Diane makes a zipping motion over her lips.

When the luminaries finally finish, Pen and Mr. T begin handing out sparklers. Sorrento and Diane rejoin the circle standing in the firelight. Lighters make their way around, and sparks flare to life. But this year nobody dances, or twirls, or draws glowing trails in the sky. Instead they stay in their circle, the sparklers burning down and guttering out.

It begins with Diane. “O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light.” Her voice is high and rich, a voice meant for Broadway. She sings slowly, giving life to each individual syllable.

Francis joins her: “What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming?” Then Sorrento adds his voice: “Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight.” It spreads, the melody taken up one at a time by every person it touches. “O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.”

This is no song to celebrate America. This is not the tune sung unthinkingly by baseball fans and bored schoolchildren. Nor a tortured rendition full of unnecessary added notes and embellishments, a performance intended to impress and outdo.

This is a cry in the dark by an abandoned people. A plea for mercy from a ravaging disease and an uncaring world. A hand held blindly out, in desperate hope that another will find it. Defiant bravery in the face of the endless night.

And the rockets’ red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free,
And the home of the brave?

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