Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
One day little Sam paraded into my house hauling an enormous, garish red Valentine’s balloon, while my sister Lucy trailed along mumbling sheepishly, “Sam talked me into it.” Sam was pre-speech at the time. The balloon was one of those that our local market, maddeningly, floats on the ceiling to tempt children, who wail with desire for them.
I remember my older son, Teddy, at about age 4 wanting one, pleading from his seat in the cart as I shopped for food with my other sister, Meg, here visiting from New York. I absently said, “Nice try,” and ignored him. He then turned to her with his sweetest expression, and said craftily, “Aunt Meg, do you like balloons?”
One of the first helium balloons to arrive at our house was one that Teddy, then maybe 5, brought home from a birthday party. His brother, Roy, 2, wept in fear when it was stuffed into the car. At home the balloon had to be taken into another room, out of his sight.
Sam’s balloon, of course, shot up to the ceiling almost immediately. Lucy was simply relieved it was lost in the house, rather than the blue yonder, which would cause great grief. Our ceiling is 12 feet high. We all thought the red balloon would drift down in a few days. We thought wrong.
Balloons, like mystery, have power. The first art film I ever saw, at about age 10, was “The Red Balloon,” from the award-winning French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, about the friendship between a humanlike balloon in Paris and the boy who rescues it from atop a light pole.
Mike, my husband, spends a lot of time in the wilderness, trail running and bowhunting. He says the single item he sees most frequently in far reaches is balloon scraps. Way far away. For better or worse, balloons last.
Sam’s Valentine bobbed on the ceiling as days turned into weeks. We stopped noticing it. Summer passed, and friends coming over might enter the house and remark upon the balloon on the ceiling. “Oh, yes,” we’d say in surprise, looking up.
It may have been late fall or even winter when the red balloon finally began sinking, a little at a time. As it descended, its lateral movements increased. The balloon, eventually hovering just overhead, would roam with the currents and all our hot air: over the table, toward the kitchen counter, out toward the front hall. At times I’d turn and gasp to glimpse the scarlet form near.
It lowered another foot or so, and drifted more.
The coup de grace came one night, late, when the household was asleep and I was folding laundry in the mudroom. This time the balloon actually turned a corner, entered the room and proceeded to follow right behind me. I turned around in the silence, saw a lurking, head-high, red presence, and shrieked. That was when I decided it was time. I found scissors, hesitated, told myself I was being ridiculous, and then cut a snip out of the side. As the balloon trembled, its sides growing pathetically flabby, and wobbled to the floor, I knew I had made a mistake.
The next morning the kids were aghast. “You cut it? You cut our balloon!”
More recently, I attended a memorial service for Dorothy, the gracious mother of my friend Julia. Dorothy, a lifelong nurse and an EMT instructor on a Native American reservation, had died suddenly in surgery. Among the many stories and jokes shared was a fond memory of how she enjoyed the cartoon Scooby Doo, would watch it, still laughing aloud, even after her grandson Thorne wandered away from the TV.
I tipped my head back in thought, and noticed something on the high ceiling of the church. A Scooby Doo balloon had escaped, somehow, and bobbed silently against the wood. I hoped it would stay up there a long time, buoyant and resilient.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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