Tiff Holland

Helium

 

Tina has end­ed up with the bal­loon. She refus­es to look at it, stands with her body twist­ed away from the float­ing head. A grown woman, there is no rea­son for her to be there with the yel­low orb. She can’t believe she’s been left hold­ing the string.

She doesn’t know where everyone’s gone, her younger broth­ers and sis­ter, nieces and nephews. Hide and seek or tag or some­thing. They were all at the pic­nic table and then gone with­out any­one say­ing any­thing, a where or why. The bal­loon was hand­ed off in a hur­ry, only Tina and her moth­er left sit­ting at the table, her moth­er look­ing at her and the bal­loon unblink­ing, until Tina final­ly stood and wan­dered away to the worn place in the grass just between the park­ing lot and the trail­head.

Tina is wear­ing a brown sweater under the red dress with tiny white pol­ka dots that she main­ly only wears for fam­i­ly occa­sions as the hem is long and the dress itself is  not par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive, the per­fect dress for fam­i­ly, as it makes her invis­i­ble.

It’s get­ting late, that sad part of the day before the gloam­ing. Light shines off the top and front of the bal­loon in a way that almost makes it look like a smi­ley face. Tina has an urge to punch it but knows that in leav­ing the bal­loon with her, some small fam­i­ly mem­ber, not know­ing any bet­ter, con­veyed trust.

Part of her wants to join the game, what­ev­er it is. She is parked near­by. She could shove the thing in her car, retrieve it when its own­er returns. She could just dri­ve off, with or with­out it. She has a strong desire to let it go, know­ing what such a thing is capa­ble of, remem­ber­ing her broth­er Joey when it was just the two of them, before her moth­er start­ed pop­ping out babies to what, make up for the loss? Bring Joey back?

She winds the string round and round two fin­gers until they turn pur­ple-red. When a nephew runs up to her breath­less, she hap­pi­ly hands the bal­loon over hold­ing her mouth in a tight-lipped smile to pre­vent her­self from issu­ing admo­ni­tions about the com­ing dark­ness, the run­ning, the bal­loon. She doesn’t want to be the old aunt, the not-fun aunt, always warn­ing her sib­lings’ chil­dren of dan­gers her broth­ers and sis­ters don’t even believe in.

But they weren’t there. It was her bal­loon. Moments before she had been rub­bing it all over her head, gen­er­at­ing sta­t­ic elec­tric­i­ty until her hair swirled, dan­de­lion-like around her head, mak­ing Joey laugh and laugh, with not enough time for him to catch his breath before they were called to the table for cake.  It hap­pened so fast, her moth­er always said, when she still talked about it. Nothing her par­ents did could dis­lodge it, not her mother’s back-pound­ing, nor the deep breaths her father blew into Joey,  first pinch­ing Joey’s nose shut while he blew and then plac­ing his own mouth, like a seal, atop Joey’s mouth and nose, until Tina thought Joey might blow up just like the bal­loon, which had got­ten too close to the flames before Joey opened his mouth, not get­ting a chance to make a wish before he turned blue.

~

Tiff Holland’s poet­ry and prose appear reg­u­lar­ly in lit­er­ary mag­a­zines and antholo­gies. Her work has recent­ly appeared in Memoir, Elm Leaves Journal,and Frigg. Tiff teach­es English at Windward Community College.