Kids, Cats and Quick Exits


For Larry, choosing between Trixie and his balloons was the most wrenching decision he had ever faced. Trixie was close to perfection with her bouncy blond curls, soar in the sky smile and understanding heart. He’d do anything for her, anything that is but give up his balloons.

He had collected his first balloon (long since buried) years earlier, the day he bought the house. A sizeable basement room was now dedicated to them. They needed the entire room because Larry could not—and who but a heartless thug could—kill them. No matter how old and weak a balloon got, the thin pastel plastic stretched and bulging, he couldn’t pierce it.

Others did. When his former friend Tom discovered an elderly balloon from Fred’s retirement party hiding behind a chair, he squeezed it to death. And then, to Larry’s horror, he’d thrown the balloon in the garbage as if it were nothing.

Not Larry, even when they finally did die—like people their life expectancy had increased in recent years—Larry gave them a proper send off. After their last gasp, they were sorted by color or design so they could be with their own, and placed in a small metal box by his window.

Now he was faced with a choice: Trixie or his balloons. Struggle as he might, Larry couldn’t come up with any way to save his balloons and meet Trixie’s three points of contention: kids, cats and quick exits. First, Trixie wanted kids, and he wasn’t against it. If he had three hands he would sign up. But as it was when they went for a walk, his two hands were occupied: Trixie with one hand, his balloon with the other. Having lost his first love—a red helium balloon—he was terrified of losing another love—Trixie.

The cliché about the first love being the strongest was true. His was shiny red with a thin golden ribbon and so plump he could hardly get his arms around it. As soon as the balloon had been bestowed on him, Larry had lost interest in the birthday party: the other children swooping around playing airplane, the treat bags stuffed with plastic toys and gummy candies, the mothers clucking that it was time to leave. He’d raced outside, swinging his balloon, which in the breeze was as wild as he. It tugged to be free, to join the clouds. He hurried ahead of his mother who hesitated to shout thanks to Mrs. Bean and then called to him, “Larry, careful, hold on, hold on.”

As he turned towards her, his hand opened and whoosh his everything exploded into the air. “Mommy,” he cried in horror watching, his heart rising. “Mommy, get it.”

The small Larry jumped and stretched his thin arms as far as he could but the balloon was already flying high. He watched in horror as it shrunk smaller and smaller.

“Mommy,” he cried angrily, “Get my balloon.” His mother put her arm around his bony shoulder, “It’s gone, Larry.”

“I want it back,” he said stamping his feet on the icy sidewalk.

“It’s gone to play with the clouds,” she said.

Larry stared into the sky stretching his head so far back it threatened to snap off. “Come back, come back. I want you, Balloon,” he cried in his fierce tin voice but it refused to come back. Instead, it got tinier and tinier until it was the size of a marble and disappeared.

Years had passed since that terrible event but still whenever Larry left the house with his chosen balloon he held it tight and as he also loved Trixie, he held her tight too. Of course, she was too heavy to float away but he could hardly show more concern for his balloon than for his ladylove.

In the early days when he took Trixie’s hand as they left the house, she swung his arm and cried, “We’re like Parisian lovers walking along Rileyville streets hand in hand.” Recently, however, she sometimes tried to break loose in order to window shop or to dash across the street to talk with a friend.

But back to the problem of kids. Larry wasn’t against the idea of having them but if he and Trixie had a kid he’d want to hold his or her hand and that would mean giving up Trixie’s hand and if he had two kids or twins, well that would be impossible. They could never leave the house.

In a sense, he had his kids, there in the basement. But that was another problem: space. Trixie argued, “We wouldn’t have to move. The baby could have the basement room.” If so, where were his balloons supposed to go?

When Trixie wasn’t talking kids, she was talking cats. Another no-no. If they had a cat, and it got into the basement it might bang the balloons around or rip their lives from them with its sharp claws. No way, no animals.

He had tried to address Trixie’s third concern: slow exits. “You’re so poky leaving the house,” she complained. “I’m tired of pacing the pavement waiting for you rain or shine.”

His mother had sided with Trixie, suggesting he plan ahead. But how could he? He never knew what the day would be like. For example, his red shirt might look good with the yellow balloon in the dim light of the basement (he had tried to install better lights but they didn’t help). But then once he got outside, he could see that his outfit didn’t do the yellow balloon credit; somehow the light was too bright or too dull. Other times as soon as they got outside he noted the wind, and realized he had brought a balloon that was too large or shaped such that it would struggle in the breeze and the whole afternoon would be spent tugging and yanking and no one would enjoy that.

“Bloody twenty minutes yesterday and fifteen today,” Trixie said. “You can leave on time for work.”

Of course he could. Workdays he only had to choose a balloon to match his orange overalls—standard uniform at Buckley’s—and the balloon would be mostly indoors so he didn’t have to worry about strong winds.

So those were the issues: kids, cats and quick exits. He and Trixie had fought around and around this mulberry bush for four weeks until yesterday when Trixie threatened that if he didn’t budge by morning, she was gone. Her suitcase (tissue paper between the layers of clothes to avoid creases) placed by the door, spoke of her determination.

The previous night had been the worst of Larry’s life. He loved Trixie, with her perky nose and a laugh that would stop a van, but what would life be without his balloons? In the small hours, unable to sleep, he had visited the balloons a number of times. (He watched them in the dim nightlight, not putting on the overhead light which would disturb their rest.) As he opened their door, they rustled and shifted about, restless in their sleep just like Trixie often was. That’s something he’d miss if she left, her moving quietly beside him, the warmth of her soft haired arm across his chest and the curve of her back as she cuddled against him. But it was too late for second thoughts; it was morning. Trixie had seen his note and she was moving around upstairs. The basement door creaked opened.

“That’s it, Larry,” she shouted. “This is goodbye”

He was stung. He couldn’t bear to climb the stairs to see her off. He’d left a note to say he loved her but that just like the movie stars their differences were “irreconcilable.”

Standing with his balloons around him like a multicolored skirt—Larry peered out the grimy basement window. Trixie’s feet jogged down the front stairs and headed up the walk. She was wearing her favorite “cheer me up” red high heals and his breath caught as he watched the tiny heels trlip away. When she got to the sidewalk, she turned back—would she relent? No, she just shrugged.

Behind him, in loving support, his balloons clustered—all ages, all shapes, and all colors. Had it not been for their constancy, he couldn’t have faced Trixie’s departure.

He reached out his hand to caress his new silver Congratulations balloon, so cool to the touch. Over his shoulder he glimpsed his elderly Thanks balloon loyal and resplendent in gold and green.

Down the street Trixie tripped along, her shiny crimson shoes getting smaller and smaller just like that fateful red balloon had done those many years ago. Finally, all he could see were the heels and then nothing.

He’d always intended to make a contingency plan for his balloons in case of his death. Now that Trixie was gone, he’d move that to the top of his list.

~ Melodie Corrigall


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