The Balloonist

A man floats in a red hot air balloon.

He’s in his mid twenties with bushy eyebrows and amused, dark brown eyes. His black hair is windblown and a beard grows like moss on a rock around his chin. He wears a grey striped sweater and blue jeans, both well worn to comfort. A pair of beige boat shoes sits in the corner of the balloon’s basket as the man leans against the railing, arms crossed and toes wiggling on the wicker floor.

The balloonist maintains a steady height with an occasional burst from the burner. The wind isn’t fast today, keeping the balloon at a comfortable slow pace. The sun sits just above the horizon, rising to shorten the shadows. Sprawling below the balloon is countryside. A wooden fence cuts down the middle of the landscape, rolling continuous with every hill and plain.

On the right side of the fence the grass grows tall, pulsing with every gust of wind. A fox stalks a rabbit grazing oblivious in weeds above its long ears. The fox moves two steps at a time, staying upwind and silent. As the fox draws near, a hawk cries out causing both animals to pause and look to the sky. The hawk calls out a second time and the fox and rabbit flee; the rabbit to its den and the fox to a cave in the hillside. Yet the hawk’s cries are not for them. The hawk screams startled because of a giant red orb floating right through its domain; a monstrous presence that’s threatening in its indifference. The hawk soars off over the horizon.

On the left side of the fence, the grass in cut short by mashing teeth. Spots of cattle huddle together, chewing and re-chewing. Each mini herd of beige, brown and black cows are spotted with one or two calves. As the mothers eat, the calves find teats, tugging and sucking before prancing off to bother other lethargic cows. Sitting in the middle of the field is the orange and white bull. His legs are tucked under his hulking, Volkswagen Bug body. His head sits tall, regal and balanced between two long horns sticking out like a capital T. He stands out in his stillness; only his paintbrush tail swishes to flick away the flies. The cows graze and the bull surveys, even as a balloon shaped shadow crosses over them. Not a single reaction is afforded.

A farm marks the end of the fence. There is a brown stone house, a tarnished metal silo and a red, peeling barn. Behind the barn there are squared off sections of corn, wheat and other crops. There is a garage under a corrugated roof next to an outdoor stable flanked by a squared off white fence keeping in a couple of chestnut horses. The farmer and his son are out, trotting away from the house on horseback. The farmer wears an old cowboy hat, tattered and sun-baked. The sleeves on his white work shirt are rolled up to his elbows and his jeans are tucked into his boots. The black horse he rides is old, carrying the farmer to their destination with little instruction. The farmer’s son is dressed nearly the same, the only differences being his stained trucker hat and plaid work shirt. His horse is light brown and needs to occasionally be tugged back into focus. As the balloon passes over, both farmers look up. The father waves his hat and the son puts up a hand in greeting. The balloonist, leaning over the side of his basket, doesn’t wave back. The farmers don’t notice.

As the farm fades away, the balloon passes over a town. It’s a quiet, country town with one main street. This main street skewers the town, stretching beyond the buildings in two directions. The main nucleus of shops and restaurants dominate the street side, while residential housing and specialty shops are relegated to the outer layers. There is neither rush hour to worry about, nor an over flow of outside traffic. The denizens all nod to each other as they pass whether they’re familiar or not. A mother and her little daughter, no more than five years old, leave the barbershop in the middle of town. The mother looks exasperated, tugging her daughter back to slow her pace. The daughter is unfazed at her anchoring mom; completely infatuated with the shiny red lollypop she was rewarded. As the daughter skips and slips away and back from her mother, the shadow of the hot air balloon catches and holds her in place. She looks skyward, lollypop in mouth, frown formed around the stick. Cautious fear turns to uncontrolled giggling as she holds her lollypop up to point at the balloon, life forever altered by the similarities. The mother nods, lips smiling under tired eyes, and congratulates her daughter for noticing two round red things. The daughter pops her sucker back in her mouth and bids farewell to the balloon. As the mother continues their walk, the daughter re-lives the moment in which she was greeted by something so much bigger than herself. She didn’t seem to notice the motionless shaggy man in the basket.

Cars flick by on the interstate below as the sun sinks behind the balloon. The man notices the passage of time and takes final stock on his altitude. As the balloon floats on, the lights of a city glow beyond the horizon ahead. The man slips into his boat shoes and fishes out a blanket and Moleskine journal from storage. He continuous his daydreams about when he will land. He isn’t sure when or where he will, but he knows it isn’t soon. He doesn’t want it to be. He wants to float just a bit longer, convinced there is a better touch down spot just over the horizon. Always over the horizon.

As the sun sinks and the light dims, the balloonist sits down in the corner of his basket, floating through the sky, and begins to write.

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One thought on “The Balloonist

  1. Pingback: Introduction to the “then they wrote” short story series | This is how I avoid an MFA

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