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.