Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Red Balloon

A bit of flash fiction....

The red balloon was full and taut when she brought it. She tied it to the foot of the bed and pulled sharply so that it sprung upwards, gently bouncing around like a buoy on wind-blown waves. “It’s a symbol,” she said, stroking his hair but not meeting his eyes. She rose up from her crouching position to stand at the window. He couldn’t tell if she was looking outwardly at the houses and hills beyond or at something internal. Her shoulders were high and her fingernails dug into the pale skin on the backs of her arms as she embraced herself. He noticed the pockets of her jeans hung loosely where they were once snug.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said, slowly turning around to face him. She did not smile.

He gazed out at the clouds floating past. The balloon had become a faded cherry colour. He half smiled as he recalled their game of inventing band names and lipstick shades. The trapped air no longer pushed at the sides of the latex, the balloon no longer yearned for the sky. The ribbon securing it to the metal bedframe was slack.

Along with the diagnosis came a package of counselling and pitying looks. A nurse gently warned him that often, those close don’t know how to deal with the illness.

She cried at first; then bought him a lot of bananas. Her nutrition magazines seemed invaluable as a coping crutch. She also bought him a lot of blueberries. And red things. “Red is the colour of life,” she always said. “When you look at red things you sparkle. It’s a reminder of existence.” Her scarlet boots had made him look initially. Then when he saw her ruby lips and beautiful smile he really looked. She sparkled.

“You’ll feel much better soon,” she’d said quietly. “Your mum will look after you at first, she said she’d like to. Then when you’re ready you can come…you can go home.” You can go. It was no longer her home.

 When did things go wrong? It felt impossible to pin point a beginning. Was a single event the catalyst, or had it been a collection? If he could retract one action from the Universe, would everything change? Maybe if he hadn’t fallen ill, she would have forgiven. Or maybe if he hadn’t fallen ill, she would have left much sooner.

 He turned the almost translucent balloon over in his hands. It was ashen crimson and airless, the white ribbon still attached and trailing. He lay on his own sheets now, washed and ironed by his mother. Regret intermingled with the sterile smelling air, no trace of her scent remained. He wished he had been the one to marry her. He thought of a red wedding dress he would never see.

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