Another week, another piece of the puzzle. Will our hero emerge from wherever he is? Does he even want to? In a choice between the devil you know or the hell you live, your memories or your existence, which do you choose? First part is here
My earliest memory? I once lost a balloon under our faux-coal electric fireplace. By the time I had worked up the courage to run a searching hand into the dark (and almost certainly spider-infested) underneath, the balloon had gone. To this day, I don’t know where it went. My hypotheses are twofold: intervention (divine) and intervention (parental). My parents denied any knowledge of the balloon, and I deny God interests Himself in balloons. This, I suppose, is why I am not a scientist.
That balloon had been empty. If you want to hear a story about an inflated balloon, I have one of those, too: the tale is standard; a child’s first bitter realisation of the properties of helium. Of course I cried, but then to pacify me my mother whispered that my balloon had simply left to attend the “big balloon-party in the sky.” If you are visualising me, you should visualise me saying that with a deadpan expression.
If it helps with the visualisation, my eyes are blue, and you will find not one hair between my eyebrows. I do not pluck. When they brought me in, I was 30 years old and my height was five foot ten. I have an average build but you can see my abdominal muscles through a t-shirt. I am male. My hair is a sort of sandy blonde which used to fall in natural waves, the kind of style for which other men pay through the nose. I say ‘used to’ because I have no idea how it falls now. My beard is red; I hate it. Christ, I hope they’re shaving me.
“The big balloon-party in the sky,” with a deadpan expression. After she said that, I cried all the more. At first, my mother comforted me, but then became by degrees perplexed, irritated, and finally angry. She blew her top by a low concrete wall not far from where we were parked; I was so shocked I couldn’t cry any more. Then she was upset at herself for upsetting me and then getting upset about it and upsetting me again, but she needn’t have worried so much.
The truth was, I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about the balloon-party; I was crying for my mother’s lie. Not the fact that she had lied – I knew even then that adults lied – but that the lie she had fed me was so terrible. It was a terrible lie. My mother had honestly expected me to believe that balloons attended parties in the sky, but my body had rejected it like a donor liver: violently, with tears, and with much distress.
Advice for you: if you’re going to lie to a person, do them the favour of making it believable. Most people are happy to accept a lie as the truth – even if they know full well it is a lie – so long as that lie is believable. A good lie is slick; it sounds professional; it feels like Sunday clothes: familiar and with room to grow. A good lie is easier to believe than the truth – if it isn’t, what’s the point?
It seems my life is full of balloons. I went up in one, once. Originally, my wife and I were supposed to go up together; it was her birthday present to me. She ended up staying home, of course. We had an argument, of course. She started sulking and said she hoped I had fun on my own. I didn’t, of course.
It was just me and the balloonanaught, up in the big empty cold blue, and he let me use the fire. “The higher-fire,” as he jokingly referred to it. I took offence to that joke, as I took offence to that man: he was ugly and short; he had about three hairs on his head; he wheezed; his jokes were terrible. I grabbed the lever and began filling the balloon with hot air. We started to rise, but I didn’t feel any better so I just hung off that lever while the balloon picked up speed.
I never wanted to let go; I wanted to fly that balloon into the damn ionosphere, wanted to suffocate on the altitude, or fly so high my head popped right off like a dandelion. The balloonanaught tried to intervene, but I was gone. I was already floating, orbiting the earth in a thousand pieces, buffeted and slung by forces I could never understand, much less control.
I guess I must have let go eventually. The balloonanaught must have landed. He must have been persuaded not to pursue me, or been paid off by my company’s legal department, or something else. This must all have happened, because I did not die in the cold, empty blue. I went back to work, and I lived long enough to end up wherever I am now.