Up and Away by Gabrielle Hovendon
Dating the balloonist was such fun at first. He floated up in the air and caught sunshine in his teeth; he descended and kissed rays of light into my lips. His hair smelled of rain—no, his hair smelled of fire—no, his hair smelled of wind, and my pillow was laced with zephyrs, dust devils, mistrals, siroccos.
The rides to the restaurant were out of this world.
He wooed me with new vocabulary the way other men woo with expensive wines: Chardonnay eschewed for anemometer, rawinsonde, katabatic. Each one presented in a delicate casing of speech, a jeweled butterfly under glass.
Cloudhopper, dacron, aerostat, Roziere.
I have always been attracted to men of great passions.
In July, the balloonist took me skywards in a concoction of rattan and green silk, five hundred feet and rising over a valley spread like an open book. We were a crash course in nothingness, a scrap of confetti hung in a sky of stifling silence. I moved to hold the balloonist’s hand, but it was clasped on a valve line; I stood to meet his eyes, but they were locked on a far horizon. If I had sought his heartbeat, I would have found it a hundred yards out and drifting.
If the cruel claw of gravity had torn the balloon and me asunder, which would have he have careened after?
After that, something shifted. The names he brought into our bedroom grew strange, toxic. He carried them on his tongue, a cichlid incubating a mouthful of eggs, and they infested our lovemaking: Montgolfiere, Coriolis, occluded mesocyclone. He shouted Ballast, away! when we shed our clothes; the smells of propane and neoprene stalked him through the streets like stray cats.
One evening at dinner, the maître d’ informed us that our balloon was double-parked. I blushed into the bouillabaisse, but my balloonist wasn’t listening. He was holding forth on the early aeronauts, pontificating again about the sheep named Montauciel. Me, invisible as one of his southwesters, chinooks, levanters in the seat across from him.
So I took a pin from my dress and touched it to my fingertip, released a warm breeze of blood down my hand. I watched the balloonist’s eyes lurch and spin in his head, following my trajectory as I whizzed out of sight.
A native of Northern New York, Gabrielle Hovendon will be joining the incoming class of MFA candidates at Bowling Green State University this fall. Her day jobs have included journalism, retail pharmacy, substitute teaching, and catering, and her fiction has previously appeared in The Legendary, Eric’s Hysterics, Newport Review, North Country Writers Contest, Writer Advice E-Zine and Ampersand.