Red Balloon

by Paris Nilson

I am born in a grocery store for the purpose of something important. The moment of my birth is not a large one, and it is not thought of afterward. I live and die in one breath. Today, as with all coming days, is meant to see how long that initial intake will last me. I am, at every edge, a beginning. I am so round and airy like a globe, it is ironic that I should never have been anywhere. This sudden virility is pregnant with a gaseous content; I am imbued with an upward pull, a magnetic longing. I wag and wiggle at its slightness. I am tinted a red hue: red like fire, and like rust. I am the color of rude gestures, the color of shaking, the color behind eyelids.

But I do not have any eyelids of my own. I have only one thin, fibril finger which keeps me tethered to the earth, and you let my finger hold onto your backpack. I have your face. When you open your mouth, I have your tongue and your teeth and your bad smoking habit. I am dressed opaquely in the dewy film of your speech. When we first meet, you look at me for two minutes without blinking. You say thank you, then you are silent. You take me to an empty car and sit me on the chair beside you, still clinging to the handle of your backpack. You drive for a heavy while, only making left turns. You finish off the Tic Tacs. You do not play music. You do not have a slot for CDs, Bluetooth, or an aux cord. Even if you did, you would not use them. Each time you turn, I am not expecting it. I tug belatedly to the right. Each time you turn, there is glass there to stop my wobbly finger’s further protraction. Occasionally you glance at me, stroke me, caress me. It is gentle. Still, I shy away with loose vigor, though I do not mean to.

When we arrive at our destination, we sit there in the car another heavy while longer. Outside in the air there are tall, sad choral notes clumped together like stretching sheets of taffy. They unfold up and down your vehicle as a second muted skin and envelop it. The tune is a very sad one, yet it does not match your sadness. Again, you caress me. You slap me. You punch me repeatedly, adopting the practiced form of a mad boxer. I make deep hollow sounds like spastic tribal drumming. I get acquainted with many of your car’s interior surfaces. I move slowly and blandly. You are not satisfied; I am too unfeeling. I am too manageable.

You have damp pearls, still shapeless and forming in your eyes—they gather at the corners. One pearl slips out after another. They leave white trails that trace you—their glisten lingers. I am not a very good friend, but you do not have anyone to talk to. You think it is ridiculous to tell me about death. You have forgotten that, like all things, the second I was born I started dying. You tell me about her and about the words she wrote on you with her fingernails. She always had long clawed fingernails. On bad days they would chip away and she would curse until the moon came out. And she would seem mad, but not really. Her eyes were always glinting. You wish you could have given her one last sugar cube. She always gave you brown sugar cubes, which were glorious. You had contests to see who could suck on theirs the longest. At night she lay in bed with you and pointed at the blank ceiling and put her head on your stomach. Your belly ached, but it had a collection of trite, reliable rhythms which calmed her. Rhythms to which she could really listen. She could communicate in heart beats. It was all so special. You knew that. You knew that.

There are people buzzing in black all around us. It is a black, fanatical swarm of rushed business. Some of them knock on your door and nod to me; their faces loom like dark questions. They motion for you to roll down your window. Your eyes are closed tight; you do not see them. You hum to yourself and it is very scratchy. You hum to me until you no longer have the voice to. Much time has passed. The mob of flies dwindles and diminishes. You open your door and go out into that very wrong atmosphere. I watch you like an apparition through a milky windshield. You trudge around the car; an anxious thicket eats at your trousers and clings there until the brush is ripped from its hinges. When you open my door, a menacing wind bites me once and then retreats back to you. It is like a duplicitous balm for your sore senses. You shut the door. You lumber up a hill with legs that quiver; they knock together and sing like dead reeds in an animated breeze. I bob along above you.

You stop at the freshest stone. There is writing. You do not read it. There are flowers. You do not leave them. A small tree has been planted where the body should be. Though barely sprouted, it yearns and strikes out, determined. You are scouting for a rock the size of your palm. There are not many rocks that size here. The odds are you will not find one. You find one anyway. Your hands tremble. You loosen the grip of my finger from your backpack. You look into my eyes. My eyes that are your eyes. Eyes that are really her eyes because that’s what everyone has told you; you’ve always had them. Your hands tremble. You get out the rock and give me something new to hold on to. The rock is too smooth. Your hands are too unsteady. The sun sinks lower and grins brighter for one second. For that one second you are distracted. You look the other way; my finger never catches. Your hands tremble. I am drifting up, up, up now. You are so blue and so small and growing smaller. You are the size of my thumb. Or you would be if I had one. You look up at me very sadly. You fall to your knees. You are still looking up with sadness. You are very very small now. You are still looking up. I am in the clouds. I am with God. I am welcomed into Heaven. I am miniscule like a red iris in the sky; I am watching and dissolving. You are still in that kneeling posture; you are a bent statue. You look up with a stony gaze, and I am there no longer. If you ever move, I do not see you. No, no, I am somewhere else entirely and I see you no longer.

Paris Nilson is a graphic design major studying in the BFA program at Brigham Young University. With a deep interest in creative writing, Paris enjoys writing poetry and short stories.