I’ve been here for more than a year. Just hanging on a hook. Packaged in a see-through plastic envelope — a “We’re #1” metallic gold hand, my index finger raised to the sky. Only $5.89.
I thought I would have been a chosen one last week for the Super Bowl, but no takers.
The Baby Girl and Baby Boy balloons have come and gone.
The Happy Birthday, Happy New Home, Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy Yappy balloons never stay on the hooks for long. I’m kidding about the Happy Yappy, but someone who has a Chihuahua might pick it to celebrate their ankle biter’s birthday before they pick me.
I don’t even want to think about the end of the year holidays when I’m surrounded by the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, and mulled wine mixing with the roses and carnations in Loretta’s Flower Shop.
I remember Opening Day. Loretta sauntered around the shop in her high-heeled shoes, arranging and rearranging plants on the shelves, in and out of the refrigerated storeroom full of fresh-cut flowers that takes up half of her tiny shop. A flat screen TV hangs on the wall opposite our balloon display. We’ve been watching TED talks all morning, now she switches to music videos. Bob Marley — we love this one. “No Woman, No Cry.” His backup singers are wearing dresses as bright as our prettiest flowers.
A man hurried in, and a strong wind grabbed the door for a second before he could force it shut.
“Good morning.” Loretta beamed.
The man vigorously rubbed his arms while stepping into the warmth of our shop. He was wearing a suit shirt and pants, socks, but no shoes.
“You’re a bit underdressed.”
“I thought I’d be at my desk until lunchtime, so I had my shoes off,” he said, scanning the shop briefly, his eyes settling for a nanosecond on Loretta’s cleavage in a low-neck red sweater and finally, her beautiful blue eyes.
“I’m. Paul McCarthy, with Harding, Bloomfield, and Craig.” He reached out to shake her hand. “We had to leave the office in a hurry.”
Loretta raised her hand to her mouth. “Oh, no. What happened? A fire?”
Paul laughed and explained. “Our very pregnant secretary came to work this morning, bragging that she’ll work ’til 5:00, then go home and have her baby in the bathtub.”
“But she didn’t make it,” Loretta said.
“Nope, she’s right inside the front door, between the full-wall fish tank and the reception counter. Sheila, our office manager, ordered everyone out except for the cleaning lady, who, last I saw, was behind Maria helping her push.”
Paul smiled. “Yeah, you could put it that way. So, as the firm’s most junior accountant, I’m also gopher, coffee, sandwiches . . . flowers.”
Loretta showed him the display of items for babies — ceramic booties, lambs in pink and blue. A little red wagon ceramic pot. “You’ll want a balloon, too.”
A few minutes later, Paul received a text. He smiled and read it to Loretta. “Baby Jesús is born.”
He has been in almost every week since then in his suit and shoes. On Valentine’s Day, her little shop was so busy that he stayed through his lunch break, filling heart-shaped balloons from the life-giving cylinder by her register. They were talking about tabletop juke boxes in restaurants and the songs their grandparents played on them when they went out for Sunday breakfasts. Then Paul did something so shocking. I couldn’t believe it. After filling up a balloon, instead of pinching it off, he took it to his lips and sucked the essence of life from it. He sang, his voice high and squeaky. “Balloon River, wider than the Nile, I’m crossing you with Lyle someday” . . . Loretta giggled. They danced. “We’re after the same FaceBook friend . . .” Paul sang. Loretta said, “You’re losing your squeaky voice.” “Then it’s safe to kiss you now,” he replied. He tossed the innocent balloon in the trash and they kissed.
After that horrendous event, I didn’t know how I felt about those two anymore. I hardly slept.
The pegboard around me has been restocked time and time again. Yet I am still here. #1, one of a kind, the only one. Children have left the shop, giggling and jostling balloons tied to their wrists with ribbons.
On the telly yesterday, I saw something remarkable. You see, I’ve learned a lot from TED Talks and You Tube — like Allan Savory’s lecture on how to green the deserts and reverse climate change, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s answer to “What is the meaning of life?” from a six and three-quarter year old boy, and James Veitch on how many little rubber ducks you can put in a small bathroom before your flatmates send nasty texts. (One hundred).
Loretta played a short clip yesterday of the Reno Hot Air Balloon Race. Eureka! That is my evolution. Those magnificent balloons are like no others.
When I finally leave this shop, I know I won’t last long. Three days before my life essence shusses away. So, I ask myself, is it better to stay here to learn all that I can from the telly and the people who come and go from the shop or to be chosen and taste, feel and smell the world outside Loretta’s Flower Shop?
Yesterday, a woman visited the shop. I thought she was hiding a big balloonie under her shirt, but she told Loretta while rubbing her tummy, “My baby is a week past her due date.” Her soldier husband will be home tomorrow from Afghanistan. She would like a dozen balloons to tie on the harness of their Golden Retriever to welcome him back. Loretta gave her a hug and told her happily, “It’s on the house.” She picked Congratulations! Baby Girl! Welcome Home!
PICK ME! PICK ME! I screamed. What more noble duty of a mylar balloon than to be a gift to a soldier who is coming home?
She did! At last freed from the plastic packaging, where my senses had been dulled for over a year, I reveled in the fragrances, the voices, sharp and overwhelming. Loretta’s soft hand removed me from my cocoon and held me to the life giver. An indescribable moment — helium tickled me, smoothed my creases and stretched me to my limit. I jostled with the other balloons tied in a bundle out the door and into Brenda’s nearby car.
As we reached the door of her little house, Jamie was there to greet us, dancing in circles, wagging her tail. Brenda showed the balloons to her. Their excitement was contagious. We bobbed around in the living room while Brenda and Jamie had their dinners and talked about their hero. After dinner, she took us into the baby’s room for the night.
In the morning, Joe was dropped off in front of the house. While he lifted his duffel bag from the trunk, Brenda and Jamie rushed out to greet him. All of us balloons, tied to Jamie’s camo-pink harness, bounced up and down with her jumping on her master. There were hugs and tears of joy.
Jamie went with her masters up the stairs to the house, and we obediently followed. I was the highest balloon and my ribbon was caught on the edge of the roof. Jamie stopped short for a moment. Joe came to help me, but it was too late. The ribbon broke, and I sailed away on a gentle breeze.
It lifted me above the rooftops, back downtown where I saw Loretta and Paul at the park bench outside her shop. He was down on one knee, opening a small box. She cried out, “yes”, they embraced. I drifted past the old Victorian homes, deer grazing in the yards. I spotted a balloon — no, it was a Wal Mart plastic bag — snagged in the thorns of a locust tree. A sense of Déjà vu filled me. Was that my past life?
I drifted above the city and out to sage-covered hills. I could see all of the city from here, the snow-capped Sierras, the lava rocks strewn across hills where wild horses roam.
My outstretched finger bumped into something. Once. Power lines. I wish I could have seen more Russell Brand videos. Twice. My middle finger, though it’s curled into a fist, is wickedly fondling fuses. Third time, unlucky. I burst into flame.
“Wow, mommy, look at that balloon. It’s the prettiest,” the little girl said, pointing at me. Here I am, the newest entry in the 2020 Great Reno Balloon Race, the largest free hot-air balloon event in the world. My envelope is covered with bright flowers encircling a gold “We’re #1” logo.