Balloons Above

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Her eyes were bright, but somewhere else. If they shone on you it was blinding, the intensity of her focus. Like she saw no one, no thing, else. But you can’t hold on to light. And just as often as it was focused on you, it was somewhere else, somewhere very far away.
Talking with her was like getting into a hot air balloon. You suddenly found yourself in this claustrophobically intimate place, 4 ft by 4ft at most, with her and just her. You shot up rapidly, getting dizzy from altitude, but once up there, you felt you could see everything. She would pull you over to the railing and show you all of the grand plans that you couldn’t see from the ground, dizzying depths below you. Only from up this high could you see her grand theories and ideas that had trace-like threads over the entire world. So when she talked to you, it was like you two were crouched on the floor of her balloon basket, and she couldn’t see anything but your face, two feet from hers.
But sometimes she’d leave you on the ground. You’d have to shout just for her to hear you, but the wind would usually swat your sentences away like so many insignificant bugs. Sometimes she would try to drop messages down to us, here, on the dirt. She would package them nicely, and give them their own little parachutes so they’d land gently. But things don’t always look the same from above. She’d misjudge the toss and drop it on someone’s head, or a current of wind that she couldn’t have known about would sweep it away and knock it through a window. Her apologies and tears were similarly mistreated by the distance.
You’d think she’d get lonely up there, with the few number of guests that she permitted in her escape in the sky. But she could see everyone from up above, so why would she be lonely? And the only people she really cared to talk to were the other ballooners, meandering through the ozone with her. They would draw close together and throw a line to each other, hold on tightly, and stay that way for hours, letting the currents lead them over the earth they spent so little time on.
Most people were scared of heights, or simply didn’t care for the views that had long ago left her body without breath. She’d let anyone into her balloon who wanted to, but they usually asked to be let off after only a brief adventure into the blue expanse above their heads, and walked away puzzling over their strange guide to the sky. She of course came down at times, to taste the terrain she had already drank with her eyes. Her legs would wobble, unused to having, hard, solid, real ground press back against her feet. She’d trip and stumble over the rocks, twigs, wrappers, and litter that she hadn’t been able to see from up so high because she was looking up and around, trying to find the subtle lines that were so stark from her usual perch. But you couldn’t hardly see them from down here. People would shove back when she tripped into them passing by. “Sorry!” she’d say as they brushed her off. But she’d been gone so long, she wasn’t even sure if that was the right word anymore.
Back in her balloon was the only place she could breathe. Up high was the only place where the air was clear enough for her hopeful lungs. So that’s where she stays. Alone with her balloon and her lines. Drifting so high you can’t tell if she’s there or just another star.