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The hot air balloons lie puckered and splayed across the lot like discarded contraception. Tufts of grass push through the hoary asphalt, and she’s confused by the thick underbelly of it all. Up she insists, lifting her arms. The clouds hurry toward safety in the mountains as we approach the crowd.
It rumbles in anticipation. No one wants shed skin and deflated colour. They want sky. They want acres of God devoured on a dry wind until they are fat on the conquer. They want divine ascension as they spit below and pick clean teeth with trees plucked along the way. Up, up, they insist, and without further ado, flames distend with a wrenching that cuts through the valley.
She hears the roars and cries in horror as the balloons begin to bugle. No one told her it would be this loud, or that she’d feel the heat flush across her face. That in all the beauty of weightless ambition there is a rash that seeps and a chorus of raucous cheers. She scrambles from my arms, slippery from the lotion we’d lathered on her an hour before on the off chance of sun.
Eyes wide, she backs from the crowd. We cross our hearts that she is safe and try to coax her with the soupy ice cream she abandoned in her haste. Each time we think she’ll be soothed, the flames spit into the echoing sky once more. She cannot be comforted and certainly will not be held. The crowd surges closer, closer, as she tries to warn away them and us.
We relent. We tuck our heads, lift her, and push through the masses. She is inconsolable, unable to tell if we are rushing to or from the noise. When there is finally enough distance, she careens backward, insisting down. She won’t hold our sagging hands in the parking lot, thinks we warn her against the wrong dangers. She thought it would be just her and us always, the holy trinity stark in a balmy field as bright splashes of miniature drift quietly by. We are too embarrassed to admit that we thought this as well.
We see them rise, balloons and baskets and men, as our dusty hatchback exits the lot. She refuses to look, has eyes only for the right window. Vultures circle there, steady and silent with their distant, concentric truths.
Amber Wozniak is, above all things, an eldest daughter. She obtained her English writing degree from Seton Hall University, and has been previously published in The Raw Art Review and The Keeping Room. All other works can be found at www.amberwozniak.com.