Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
The Cycle Of Balloons
by Lucy Baker
Today is my 25th birthday, and so I am blowing up a balloon. It is a yellow balloon, from a pack of ten that I bought at the 99-cent store around the corner. I put the rubber-gum end into my mouth and give the first, forceful push, feeling the air heave out of my lungs. The balloon fills, resists, expands. As it swells the yellow lightens from saffron to honey to pale gold.
Over the bridge of my nose, I watch the balloon grow. I think about how when I was a little girl, my mother used to start balloons for me. On the morning of my sixth birthday—or was it my seventh?—we sat at the kitchen table, which was covered in crepe paper streamers and stacks of cone hats and noisemakers that unfurled like tongues. My mother opened a bag of balloons and inflated each one just a little, past the hard part, and then gave them to me. I accepted the balloons gingerly, as if they were glass orbs. I tried not to let my mother's breath escape, but inevitably, when I put them to my own lips a tiny bit would leak into my mouth.
I remember what it felt like to push my small breaths into the balloons behind my mother's bigger ones; how I needed to take breaks, pinch the end between my fingers, pant for a few seconds. When the balloons were large enough, I passed them back to my mother to tie into bellybutton knots. Then she dropped them to the floor, where they bounced and drifted like apparitions.
I can't remember when I began to blow up balloons on my own.
Now the yellow balloon is full, the size of a watermelon. If I keep blowing it will pop. I take it out of my mouth and tug at the end, stretching it as if I were pulling a turtle by the neck out of its shell. Then I snap it into a knot and hold it like a basketball in my hands. The rubber has become translucent. I can see water trapped inside, tiny beads of my own spit rolling around like rain drops on a window pane.
I bat the balloon into the air and watch it float down. It looks taut, robust, youthful. I think about what the balloon will look like in a few days, how it will shrink and shrivel, and how if I touch it, it will wince and wither beneath my fingers, wrinkling like old skin. As it deflates the color will darken back to its original, concentrated hue, and it will no longer be possible to see the breaths inside. The breaths leaking out.
These thoughts don't sadden me so much as I find them interesting. The cycle of balloons.
Lucy Baker has written for the Village Voice, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Fresh Yarn, and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, among others. She is a frequent storyteller at NYC's The Moth. This fall, she will begin working towards an MFA in creative nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence. Here are some links some of Lucy's other publications:
Mr. Bellers Neighborhood
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