Paper Lanterns

      by Breanna Bright

      Christine lived in her mom’s house with her boyfriend, Eric. During the long months of summer devoid of rain and school work, they found themselves with little to do. They lived out in the country on some deserted highway, full of space and only distant neighbors. Christine took ice cream and sat on the porch. Eric drank wine coolers beside her, cheaper than buying his own liquor. While they sat in the late June heat, an idea came to Christine.
      “We should by our own fireworks this year, and set them off out here.”
      “You’d better check with your mom. There might be a burn ban,” Eric said.
      Christine hadn’t thought about that. It had been a very dry summer; half the state was on fire, and several of their friends had reported scorched farmland and dead harvests.
      “Well, fireworks are all half-off,” she said. “Let’s load up and we can set them off when it rains.”
      “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
      They picked a day to go fireworks shopping. It was hot, like all those long summer days, but a breeze gave brief relief, finding its way through the big red-and-white striped tents that littered their town. All boasted discounts due to weather conditions, and they were indeed good sales.
      Christine and Eric browsed the aisles, giggling at funny names, and selecting rockets that promised the most impressive displays. As they shopped, a paper-thin package caught Christine’s eye. She pulled it from the shelf.
      “Hey, Eric. Look!” Christine held out a package with a picture of a floating paper lantern on the front. “It’s a paper lantern! These are so cool. You light them and they float away. You make wishes on them.”
      “Wow, that’s really pretty. Why don’t you grab it?”
      “Do you think the open flame will be okay?”
      “Yeah. Like you said, we’ll wait for the next good rain.”
      By the end they had two paper bags full of fireworks. At home Christine hid them in the closet. They waited for the rain.
      A couple of weeks passed before the sky clouded and released a small sprinkle. Christine watched the pitiful drizzle from the porch. The raindrops made puffs of dust as they struck the ground and quickly disappeared. It seemed pointless.
      Eric stepped out beside her, sneaking one of the wine coolers. “We’re never going to get to set off those fireworks,” Christine complained.
      “I know. Feels like we’ll never get a good rain.”
      “Not enough for my lantern anyway. This sprinkle would work for the other fireworks if we’re careful, but with that open flame I don’t trust it.”
      Eric thought about it, and snapped his fingers, “I know, we’ll tie a string to the lantern. That way it can’t get away from us.”
      “That might work.”
      “Come on, let’s try it out. This is the first rain we’ve had in ages. Who knows when we’ll get another one?”
      “Alright, let's wait until it gets darker.”
      They sat outside, watching the sun set, swaying back and forth on the porch swing. Christine sighed and rested her head on Eric’s shoulder.
      “What will you wish for?” Eric asked.
      Christine stared at the sun. Blobs of color crawled through her vision, but she didn’t blink. “Aren’t you suppose to keep those secret?”
      “I think that’s just birthday candles.”
      “I’m pretty sure it’s all wishes.”
      “Tell me anyway. I want to know.”
      “God, where do I start? There’s so much to wish for. It’d be nice to have a little more money so we wouldn’t have to live with Mom anymore, or for my car to magically be fixed.”
      “Or for your sister to get better.”
      “Or Dad to be alive.”
      “Maybe some luck with college.”
      “To be with you forever,” Christine finished.
      Eric smiled at her.
      Christine shook her head. “What about you? What would you wish for?”
      Eric looked at his wine cooler with disappointment. “A hundred beers. And a custard donut.”
      “Oh, come on.”
      “Nah man, I’d kill for one of those custard-filled donuts right now. Goddamn, so good. Too bad we’re so far from town.”
      Christine sighed. “Wishes are stupid anyway.”
      Silence fell. They watched the sky, a soft turquoise on the horizon.
      Eric nudged her. “Come on, cheer up. Let’s light that lantern.”
      Eric unfolded the lantern while Christine retrieved a spool of thread and tied it to the thin metal frame. The lantern was big and fragile. The paper crinkled desperately under their touch. Eric folded out the bit of cardboard inside, flipping the pages like a tiny book. He found a box of matches and struck a light.
      Christine held the lantern aloft while Eric fiddled with the cardboard. It was so light. Christine thought that if the wind was strong enough, it could carry it straight up into space.
      Christine looped the thread, tying it to the base wire, and made sure it was knotted securely. Eric held the flame inside the lantern. Christine watched eagerly.
      “Got it!” Eric pulled his hand back and gently lifted the lantern up as high as he could. Inside the lantern, the fire ate at the cardboard book. He let go.
      The lantern started to fall back down.
      “Hang on, hang on.” Eric got another grip on it, and lifted it again and gave the lantern a little toss. This time it hesitated in the air, and then started floating up.
      Christine gasped like a child. “Wow!”
      The lantern drifted on an invisible breeze. Christine felt a tug on her string and let the thread unwind from the spool. The lantern floated higher. Christine stared after it, watching the little flame flicker behind the sheet of purple. A ghostly light that teased and became brighter as the turquoise faded into navy blue.
      “Careful,” Eric warned. “Don’t let it go into the trees.”
      Christine carefully maneuvered the lantern away, working it like a kite. It tugged at the string, trying to free itself. Christine felt overwhelmed by an urge to just let it go, to see how high it would fly. Would it go so far that it would become just another star in the sky?
      “Make a wish.”
      The lantern kept trying to fly, and she kept holding it back.
      The fire began to die as the lantern floated down. It blended in with the dark sky. Like an exhausted bird, it hit the earth, the fire died, and the paper crumbled.
      Christine stood there holding the wilted thread, her dead lantern on the other end.
      Eric gathered the lantern, accidentally tearing the paper under his fingers. “What did you wish for?”
      Christine didn’t answer. She watched as Eric carried the lantern toward the trash. She gathered up the string, rolling it back into the spool. When all was finished, she put it away.
      “That was cool,” Eric said. “I bet we could make one of those ourselves, maybe in the winter time, so we won’t have to worry about burning down the countryside.”
      “Let’s go get donuts.”
      “Really? You sure?”
      “Yeah, come on. Custard sounds really good right now.”

Breanna Bright is a recent college graduate. She writes more than she job-hunts, and is worried she's a little too close to her cats.

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