The Balloons

by Catherine Maskell

Do you remember the first time we met at that thing, in that broken down old barn? There were balloons everywhere. And tickertape and streamers. It felt like a national holiday or a homecoming. Everyone was in a great mood, and drunk, but not us. I think we were the only two sober people there.

My dad had been drinking all afternoon and he was just about passed out at the end table, staring into the middle distance for minutes at a time. Initially you didn’t realise he was my dad and you made that dumb face at me in imitation of him. I didn’t know where to look. I was so embarassed. I felt my cheeks flush hot red, which only made them burn hotter and redder. Then you looked embarassed and stared down at your napkin, scratching at a stain or something that wasn’t really there, with your unkempt index fingernail, until you’d dug a hole down to the table cloth.

My dad just continued to stare, oblivious to the beginnings of our courtship.

I think maybe now he was staring at the balloons.

The balloons just floated there around the room. Serene and inflated, like they were better than all of this, but tethered.

_______________________________________

When you came over for my birthday, just as you had promised, I flew down the stairs literally jumping groups of steps at a time in an effort to get to the front door in the quickest possible time. Looking back on it now I guess it was obvious I was trying to outrun it all.

My heart was racing. My lungs were inflating inside my stomach making me nauseous and confounding my legs. I didn’t know if I was going to make it so I threw myself clumsily, but with gusto, down the last twelve steps and twisted my ankle a little at the bottom. I felt like a fool as I flung the door open. But you didn’t seem to think so.

You just stood there smiling. And so I stood there smiling.

I shouted:

BYE!

in the direction of my parents, who had fallen asleep on separate comfy chairs in front of a television show repeat that had long since finished, and sped out the front door into your safe, warm, beautiful arms. You kissed me on the head and then the mouth.

You smelled of woodcarvings, as always.

You had an old plastic shopping bag of three small wrapped gifts and tugging on a piece of string was a yellow balloon, on which you’d written with the greatest care, HAPPY BIRTHDAY in thick black marker pen. You handed me that balloon and away we went. It tugging away toward the cold, empty night sky, us anchoring it back to the earth.

______________________________________

We probably should have released that balloon into the new night to watch it float up, higher and higher and out of sight. Instead we took it back to my room where it nudged at various parts of the ceiling for a few nights like an attention starved puppy, before slowly deflating, and ending up a crinkly old bit of skin with an ungainly string tale on the dusty floor by the radiator.

Catherine Maskell enjoys sleeping and eating, and is a little concerned that the internet is damaging her memory and her attention span. Can be found rambling on here sometimes.

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