The Weather Balloon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

The Weather Balloon


Jon and I were trapped in the elasticity of time, between the dread of returning to school and the endlessness of summer. We were doing what we liked to call nothing. This was not the existential nothing of Sartre; this was the kind of nothing that was filled with everything. This was the nothing of a couple of 9-year-old boys, not empty at all, not the null set, but a kind of nothing that was just in time, and just out of it too. A stretched nothing, that existed along a continuum until it was virtually indistinguishable from everything. We were masters of it, our days were full of it, and we always answered truthfully when our mothers asked, “what did you do today?” if we said “nothing.” 

It was one of those days when we were filling our baskets with small ideas of what to do, contemplating where it might lead if we did what we imagined. Leaning into the wind of our imagination, we put our arms out like air brakes extending from the revolving whirl of our own thoughts. We slowed just enough to find ourselves holding a couple of copies of Boys’ Life. Jon wasn’t in Scouts ‘cause his mom didn’t make him go, but I was, ‘cause my mom did. Jon’s mom didn’t make him do much. I think it may have been because Jon was the last of four boys and she was tired. She was always saying how tired she was, and you could tell by looking at her, she wasn’t lying. Anyway, because I was a Scout, I got Boys’ Life, so we were spending a slow, nothing kind of afternoon, wrestling some time from the endless day by looking at old issues and imagining what we might do with X-ray glasses, or some other cool stuff. It was like looking through the J.C. Penney’s Christmas catalog. but in the heat of the summer. 

I think we knew a lot about boys’ life the reality, even if we couldn’t or maybe wouldn’t tell you, but what we didn’t know about Boys’ Life, the magazine, was that the farther back in the magazine you went, the less trustworthy Boys’ Life became. In the Scout motto it says that a Scout is trustworthy, but maybe the sponsorship money made that a little less imperative as far as the ads went. In the back there were X-ray Glasses, Sea Monkeys, Giant Weather Balloons and the Charles Atlas ads that showed you first as incredibly skinny, getting sand kicked in your face; then only a few weeks later, if you followed his program, you’d be going back to the beach and settling that bully's hash, followed by strolling off with the girl on your arm. Jon and I weren’t quite ready for Charles Atlas,because girls were still…well, you know. 

 I don’t really think Boys’ Life lied to us, as much as appealed to the fantastic that some astute adult knew lived in boys our age. Our imaginations were in overdrive, all jittery and glowing, and I think they knew that all it would take was to present a possibility.  After all, what might be possible if you raised sea monkeys from seed? Could you raise an army, or could they turn out like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz? We didn’t know, and I think that was the hook. We could be influenced by things we didn’t know, and because we were all about possibilities, we thought the outcome could be impossibly possible. 

So, there we were looking in the back pages of the magazine when Jon and I looked at each other. Clearly, we were on the same physic wave length. I could almost tell he was seeing the same thing I was. We might have been sharing a thought bubble like in the comics. We were visualizing floating high above the neighborhood hanging from a Giant Weather Balloon.

In the cartoons they always float.  If you hold onto the string you’re lifted into the stratosphere until some wise guy with a pea shooter pops the balloon and you land on a girder being lifted by a crane, so you don’t fall. The ad for the Giant Weather Balloon prompted this vision as strongly as a hypnotist might have prompted a vision of us as chickens, and at that moment I think even a lousy hypnotist could have suggested we were chickens and we would have begun to cluck. We just looked at each other and knew, we needed that Giant Weather Balloon. 

The very next moment our thought bubble burst, and we were not saved by a rising girder. We crashed hard into the reality that when you’re nine, going on ten, you don’t just go to your wallet and pull out money for a Giant Weather Balloon. We knew this was going to take effort and planning, so we each immediately went to our parents to beg for the money. I don’t remember how much it cost, but any amount of money, plus shipping and handling, was out of reach, and we soon found begging didn’t work. We had to regroup, and we had to do it fast before the dream got stale and died. Jon and I had raised money in the past with a few clever ploys. Taking plastic flowers off of the scrap pile at the nearby cemetery and selling them to the old ladies in the neighborhood was a good one, but we feared the market might be saturated. We also sold “pretty rocks” with limited success. We didn’t know it then, but selling pretty rocks had worked well for DeBeers, and though we didn’t exactly have a cartel, we were able to sell a few pretty rocks for a nickel each. Bottle refunds didn’t exist yet, but we could collect old newspapers for money, so we started gathering newspapers and selling pretty rocks to fund our dream.

What I remember is that it took a couple of weeks to put together the cash we needed, and I’m pretty sure our moms ended up helping out. This may have been the longest-term project of my life to that point, but it would all be worth it in the end. We sent our order in the mail, because that’s how you did it back then, keenly aware that not only would it take time for our order to be received, but that there was a note in the ad that said, “Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.”

 When it finally came, we couldn’t believe how small the box was. It did say “giant” didn’t it? We didn’t open it right away because I think we both wanted to savor the moment.  It had been about two months in the making, and finally it was here. We were at my house when it arrived, I guess because that was where we told ‘em to ship it, but for some reason we thought it would be better to open it at Jon’s. His house was only two doors over, so we were there in minute.

We sat on the front porch and carefully opened the small box that contained our big dream. There was no packaging, just a limp, whitish rubber balloon. It was larger than any un-inflated balloon I’d ever seen, but it didn’t seem possible that it could grow to the promised six-foot diameter. By now we were heavily invested in cash and time, so we had to believe it would grow as promised, and we would stop at nothing to fulfill our dream.  

Both our faces were red by the time it was blown up.  The stem had gotten a little slobbery, but it wasn’t like we were kissing or something, so we could ignore a little slobber. I don’t know how we knew when to stop, but it was becoming like a dare to keep filling it. One more breath, another, one more; you could hear the skin groaning like the bolts on a rusty hull of a sagging scow against the force of the waves. 

We were exhaling our dreams into this ever-growing ball, stretching against the resistance that all dreams are subject to. In the profound nothingness of the day we had had the vision; a seed was planted that was now carrying us across the frontier of possibilities. Each exhale pounded down one more barrier and pushed the horizon wider and wider. Four feet, five feet, six feet, even more.  Everything we imagined was now compressed into this skin of sheer white. Jon and I slowed our efforts as the expansion seemed to reach the limit, until we looked at each other with a knowing look and tied the stem closed. 

This orb was now filled with our combined exhales, each tied to our inhales. The very balance of life was captured in this sphere of light, with the oxygen we inhaled applying pressure on the outer skin, and less than a millimeter away our exhaled CO2 was resisting the crushing and persistent weight that demands balance. 

Our excitement was almost too much as we walked our prize into the front yard. The wind was as light as the balloon, and conditions for launch seemed perfect. With a count of three, together we threw the balloon as high into the air as we could, not really knowing what we should expect. I can’t speak for Jon, but for me time slowed down as the balloon rose into the warm late summer air. The scene was slowing to the kind of frame rate that nature shows use to allow a person to see a lizard’s tongue shoot out and catch a fly. Sound had retreated; sight was the only sense informing me of the events unfolding. In an infinite slice of time the balloon reached its apex and began to descend as slowly as it had risen. Suddenly, the sound caught up. There was a deafening BOOM, as all of the hopes of two young boys raced and tumbled over each other to escape the confines of that unnatural sphere. The rubber skin shredded, leaving irregular chunks torn into fragments that warbled to the ground. 

We looked more at the space where the Giant Weather Balloon should have been than at the parts that were left behind.  Then we looked at each other, and howled with laughter and basked in the unbelievable way our adventure had reached its conclusion. 

Years later I tell this story without explanation. I just account for the events and always end with the word BOOM. I know something escaped that day, but it isn’t really gone. A young boy’s dreams and a world of possibilities had been held captive for just a few moments and had been tossed up into the universe to find their way. Navigators understand that to know where you are, you must also know when you are; these two pieces of information are inextricably linked.  Jon and I may be much older now and that balloon may have been just a blip on the radar, but our shared experience put a pin in the chart that was mapped so long ago, and because we know where, and when it happened, we can find our way back to a world where anything is possible, anytime we want.







Submitted: November 29, 2019

© Copyright 2021 David Dale. All rights reserved.

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