Ten-year-olds don't take naps, his dad said, but he had taken a nap anyway on the grass outside and now he was floating around in tinfoil like an alien, probably going to throw up in T-minus three, two, one. False alarm. His head was just sloshing back and forth. He was a water balloon with applesauce guts. He was an airplane, all wings and tilt. He couldn't see anything through the foil even though he pressed his head against it and pushed with his fingers till the grey went white and it wasn't really the best idea to pop it, probably, so he lay down.
Swimming in the ocean he'd wondered where or what he was. A ship. Now a jellyfish. Now a shark. Now an anchor. Now wind was batting him in waves so he turned over without thinking, up and down until his shoes came off. He wondered if they would float like astronauts' shoes. But they just fell and got the balloon all rubbery and wet and speckled with dirt clots. It smelled like the inside of a camping tent. He hated camping, he was probably the only kid in the world that hated it, but it was just mud and wet sleeping bags, his parents' stale and tired beer, the limp, licking fire that they couldn't get to start.
The foil above his head had started to shrink and shrivel, like the slightest turn of an apple when it goes brown. He didn't want to know how high up he was. Maybe his spaceship would dip before it spilled and fell, a cup leaking over an ocean, a cloud large with rain. He had thrown up a little bit and now he was trying to maneuver himself away from the barf as it leaked toward him, which took all his concentration, because liquids moved faster than solids and the balloon kept turning up and down so when he thought he was on the bottom of it he was on the top.
He'd never seen an air balloon die anything but a graceful, floating death, like an old person, disappearing from the inside out. But water balloons scattered like spilled paint. And here he was, all water. It hadn't occurred to him ever in his life that he was going to die, and he wondered if it felt like this, like the flu in a stinky tent. Like the half-second on top of the rollercoaster when you're still, and time is open and big in the hot sun.
He figured out that if he grabbed the foil and turned his face to it, and wedged his toes into a crack in the foil, he could hold his position for a few seconds and a few seconds more. But that hurt his hands so he started to climb, around and around. The whole time he felt every spinning drop of water in his body. He puked on his shirt and so he took his shirt off and threw it down with his shoes. Then he spit, and felt relieved. It was still hot, stupidly hot, like he was in a microwave. He wanted some water.
When would he start to fall? Maybe never. Maybe he'd just float. Corners of the balloon had crumpled, but he didn't look at them, and he shut his eyes to sleep. He'd wake up, hopefully, without puke on his face. He'd wake up in the air, alive. Arms loose as wings.
Published On: February 14, 2010
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