Friday, 29 May 2009

Just Married

And now for something completely different... a piece of semi-biographical creative writing from a few years ago. It's called Just Married, and it's about the story of a balloon's life. Yes, really. Have you ever found a helium balloon and wondered how far it had travelled to get there? Similarly, have you ever let one go and wondered where it ended up. Outer space? Unlikely. The following account gives a humorous insight into the thoughts and feelings of a not-so-simple rubber balloon.

Just Married

I tell you this story from my death bed. I am on my last legs, and have only a few moments left to live. My life has been a fulfilled one, and I pleasure in telling it to you.

My life began in a latex factory; I hear my ancestors were made from latex from a Malaysian rubber tree, so I might have been too. I always wanted to go home and see the forests from which almost my entire body was made.

The first thing I remember was emerging from the machine that made me and my fellows. I knew I was special, even from that early age, although for some bizarre reason, I had a fear of pins or anything sharp. I didn’t know at that time why I had such an inexplicable fear, but I was soon to find out. I was on the conveyor belt to the shaping room, and I saw, through a crack in the wall, the destroying room. I have no desire to ever see again what I saw that day. Balloons being jabbed and squeezed till they scream in agony with what humans call a “pop”. I can never understand why the word for a method of torture is exactly the same as that for a genre of music.

Anyway, back to my story, I emerged from the shaping room a brand new balloon, made from 45% recycled rubber and 55% Malaysian latex – I was informed through the grape-vine – so now I moved along to the printing room. Since I was naturally coloured, my choice of patterns was fairly limited, but I always hoped to go to a party or wedding. As luck would have it, I saw the words “Just Married” stuck to a machine I was heading to! Would I be destined to be filled with helium and help celebrate the union of two people? As the words and design were bonded to my newly set body, I felt that I could do anything, go anywhere.

And anywhere was where I went. I don’t know where I was sent, but when my four hour ride ended, I was unpackaged and connected to a helium canister. I cannot accurately describe the feeling of being pumped up with pure He, but if you imagine the feeling of take off in a plane then you’re half way there (so I’m told). The filling of my body with almost weightless gas was like the filling of your mind by endless bliss. And before you ask, no, my voice did not go all high-pitched and squeaky.

I was fastened and tied to a string with my buddies, and although they were gold rather than ivory in colour, we shared so much in common. We all desired to be wedding decorations, and we all longed to go back to where we came from. Being made of plastic, as you can tell, does not necessarily infer a lack of intelligence. My theory for the balloon race’s great intelligence is that we have inherited our I.Q. partly from our arbour parentage, and from the amalgamation of recycled rubber we have accumulated bits of the feelings and memories of our ancestral balloons, erasers, and other such rubber-related items. Personally, I believe I am composed mostly of old balloons, most of whom were led to their deaths by a sharp object, hence my incomprehensible fear of pins.

We were brought to the wedding hall, a rather exquisite looking ballroom decorated quite basically in the colours of ivory and gold. Our concerns were that we were the only latex-made commodities in the hall; we were surrounded by lifeless wood. As living trees they are our most respected life forms, but when converted to beams and floorboards, and varnished and painted, they lose all signs of life, rather like a stupid human. The plaster and metal do not help much to liven up the place, however much the humans try to cover it with lacquer, varnish, paint and paper, it will always remain as dead as death itself. The despair in the air juxtaposes the mood that will soon overcome this hall in just under four hours, one of happiness (and faux happiness) for the happy couple, and drunken dances on the disco dance floor to “an eclectic variety of 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and modern music,” according to the day-glo posters in the entrance to the hall, which I could just make out in my line of sight whenever the doors opened. The advertisement also read “Hired for weddings, patries, and funerals.” They could only mean “parties”, I assume.

I watched the rest of the party being set up, plates, knives, forks (panic attack!), glasses, napkins, and the rest, being put in place on the dozen or so tables. I was quickly starting to get bored of this situation, being tied to a block of wood shaped like a human seat. How I longed for a lift out the door, past the poorly-spelled pink posters to the outside world, where I would drift happily away. No doubt, the first guests would be arriving any minute now. Yes, the first family came through the double doors, a man and his wife, with three children. The youngest was having trouble standing on his feet, no, he wasn’t drunk; he was under two years old. The two twin girls went with their parents to the table marked with a number 12, furthest away from the bride and groom’s table, I guess they were only distantly, if at all, related to the couple, and had to travel far, getting here embarrassingly early.

I think my new found dream was about to come true. The little brat with no sense of balance was attracted to big, round, shiny objects, not necessarily only those made of rubber; I see he was fascinated by the father of the bride’s head, who was as bald as a bowling ball. I saw my ticket to freedom waddling towards me, every so often stopping to sit down on the dance floor, and to pick his nose. By the time the hall started filling up I was getting impatient, desperate for freedom and liberty. Here he came; he was waddling and toddling ever so slowly, hurry up! But, oh no, the mother comes to his rescue. Cue screaming child over the sounds of the B-52s “Love shack”, and my dreams shattered, for a little while anyway. A nerdy-looking man with glasses and a blue pinstripe suit untied one of my companions and was going to hand it to a small female child who was tugging at his trouser leg, saying in a spoilt-sounding voice “I want that balloon, no, not that one, that one!” As the girl screamed the final words of her tantrum, she stamped on her father’s foot and he let go of my companion for the day. I could hear her cries of joy as she drifted upwards, until a 6’6” gangly-looking man in a black suit and red tie plucked her from the sky and tied her crudely to the chair. “Give me my balloon!” the girl screamed once again. The girl’s father untied me from the block of wood, and the girl subsequently screamed gleefully, although in an unnaturally high-pitched frequency, which made her already nervous father let go of me. I was on my way up, and there were no tall people in sight. I was on my way up, and I could see an open window. I was on my way up, and I could still hear my companion’s wailing.

I was on my way up, but I got trapped, stuck on the ceiling. I was getting queasy from the view. I saw the girl’s father shouting towards the tall guy, who was grabbing a chair and putting it directly beneath me. Was I to be returned to my original post? If I was capable of independent movement, I would direct myself to the window for my great escape. But alas, my entire body is made of rubber, and I have no muscles with which to move. I was grabbed, and given to the girl. The girl tied my string around her belt, and I was destined to be forever in her company.

The families began to leave the hall as the music died down, less people “danced”, and my adoptive family, consisting of Mr. Nerd, his wife, who looked like a taller version of her daughter, but with blonde hair, and of course, my foster-parent. I finally saw the outside world as they left the hall and walked to their car. I disliked the atmosphere of the car even more than that of the hall. It smelled strongly of smoke, and quite frankly, their taste in music was ridiculously absurd, as proven by their tape of country-western songs. Thankfully the journey was short.

At home, the girl untied my string and left me to float to her ceiling. I had to watch her sleeping all night, until the following morning, a Sunday if I recall, she went out to play and took me with her. All I saw of her garden at the time was a tree, a wonderful living tree, although not for long.

I was off! She let go of me and started singing, her voice fading quieter and quieter as I got higher and higher. I was over the suburban streets and houses, seeing many trees. I was so high I could no longer make out individual trees or houses, they all blurred into one. I was gaining velocity due to the wind pushing me forwards and upwards. I was getting light-headed, I was wondering if my helium supply would run out any time soon. But the sense of worry was soon ignored. I was ecstatic. I was free! I passed a river or two, and a huge botanical garden, filled with very tall trees of all types. I was filled with awe; I probably saw a Malaysian rubber tree, albeit a tiny little dot from my position in the firmament. I was floating all day, gaining new heights. I almost collided with a flock of starlings; I was worried since their beaks looked so sharp!

It was getting dark, almost nightfall. I could sense that I wasn’t getting any higher, but still remaining at the same altitude. Aeroplanes looked bigger than before, but it was colder up here. I had images of flying humans, either with wings attached, or filled with helium like myself, which amused me; I doubt they’d survive, judging by the behaviour I witnessed the night before. At last it was dark, and I could no longer see my view, but I felt like the luckiest balloon ever to have lived. Most are destined to die a horrible death, but not me.

I drifted for days, over fields and forests, cities and cemeteries, plains and peaks. I must have floated across almost the entire country. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that I seemed to be dropping in altitude. I often got wet as the summer rains plummeted from the clouds now above me. During one big storm, and I mean big, I fell quite a way down until I was at eye-level with the trees of parks and gardens. Yes, we have an eye, you just can’t see it. The storm subsided, and the weather heated up again to almost melting temperatures. I was soon dry, and I slowly descended and descended, my senescent body being unable to compete with gravity. I had a good life, who could have wished to be set free and fly across such varied landscapes. The last few days were memorable; I landed in a vegetable patch, mostly full of mint. I ended up smelling like a chewing gum wrapper. The next morning, I was greeted by a human, but I was blind by then and couldn’t describe them to you. They brought me into a warm building, and I was tied to a lampshade. Here I stay, I have been here almost a week, but now I feel, yes, could it be? I feel myself being untied. I’m taken to the next room, and my vision has come back! Oh the colours and shapes I had missed! The human who was standing above me has her foot raised in the air and her knee bent. What is this, this seems like a quaint human tradition I hadn’t encountered before. Maybe they’re honouring my bravery? No, oh what’s this pressure? I’ve been turned over; oh my eye feels like it’s about to pop out. Oh no, POP!

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