Storyglossia Issue 42, February 2011.

What Fills a Balloon

by Ross McMeekin


Patricia crosses the lush green lawn, heels puncturing the turf. She squeezes her aching left shoulder. So many decisions: the funeral service, probate, house. All she wants now is to get out of the heavy clothes, pour a nice big glass of merlot, and watch television. She paws inside her purse for keys. She's used to Leo opening all of her doors. The dear.

A Honda waits at the curb. Joanie, the first of her cubs, making sure she gets inside all right. Patricia shoos her away. The sedan's tires grind against the curb as it leaves.

The smell of her house is so familiar that she only gets a whiff before she smells nothing. Heels off, coat and purse on the hanger. She walks the tan carpet to the kitchen, opens the fridge. Checks the date of the milk, out of habit. Thinks of how she should start buying thinner cartons now. She closes the fridge, grabs a mandarin orange from a mesh sack on the counter and heads to the living room.

She halts in the doorway. The burgundy leather davenport and matching easy chair both brim with his balloon art. The State Fair this weekend. Of course. Donald Ducks, Betty Boops, Bart Simpsons, Superwomen. Elephants, alligators, bright pink flamingos. His cell phone must be littered with messages. She will have to call them, let them know.

She imagines his empty booth. She'd accompanied him to the State Fair, once. It was boring. A waste of time. She never understood the draw. He'd made more than enough money at Boeing to keep them comfortable. Why balloons? Why not something they could have done together? Teach Sunday School. Bridge club. Hell, she would have settled for Bingo.

She swats one of the Donald Ducks. It arcs up, then cascades to the floor. How much of Leo's remaining time on planet earth did he spend on the balloon end of kids in awe of his fat cheeks, all cute and puffed out like Dizzy Gillespie? She twists a brown bear around in her hand, feeling the taut rubber against her fingers. It squeaks. She squeezes the balloon. Harder. Her hand shakes. The balloon pops.

His breath.

"Ah!" She waves her arms, tries to corral it back to her.

She nabs a blue elephant from the top of the pile, stumbles to the laundry room. Snatches a needle from her sewing kit. She sucks on the needle, tastes the metal, rolls it around on her tongue. Then she pinches one of the elephant's feet, near its ribbon valve, tied tight by Leo's fingers. How she hates the shaking. She takes a deep breath, slides the wet needle into the dark folds of blue rubber near the tie, then pulls it out. She holds the elephant leg to her ear, releases her thumb and forefinger. A small hiss. She holds it up to her nose. Is that the smell of the spaghetti from the night he passed? A hint of the cabernet savignon? She breathes deep, hard, trying not to think of when his breath will run out.

Copyright©2011 Ross McMeekin

Ross McMeekin's fiction has appeared recently in Monkeybicycle and Johnny America. He is a MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Seattle.