by Gisella Gianina

(My fingers unfurled like a blossoming flower, and up to the night the balloons flew.)

When I was younger I remember walking side by side with my dad, the air pink-colored and smelling of fairy floss. It was a beautiful day in May, and dad had decided it’s nice to go out once in a while. Sometimes our home felt too suffocating for him. It turned out losing one of its inhabitants didn’t equal more space to breathe.

Dad was really warm – albeit quieter – that day, like the first hints of sunlight after a heavy rain. He listened to my ramblings with solicitous eyes, never interrupting. There’s a perpetual smile on his lips. We ate ice cream on a bridge overlooking the sea, watching the sun melt, and he didn’t bring up mom at all. I did the same.

Before concluding our little trip, I tugged on the hem of his sweater and pointed to a grandpa selling helium balloons, the colors vivid and otherworldly against the darkening sky. Dad chuckled and complied. The red one was especially enticing, but the yellow, blue, pink, and orange ones were also hard to resist. Dad told me one was more than enough, but I wanted all five of them.

He ended up buying all.

I was grinning from ear to ear as we walked off the bridge. It was dark and I wasn’t watching my step, so really, it’s inevitable that I stumbled and fell. My fingers unfurled like a blossoming flower, and up to the night the balloons flew.

Pain from the wound on my knee and the realization that my balloons had escaped from me called the waterworks to life. I cried and cried, and subconsciously started calling for mom.

Suddenly there were soft fingers on my cheek, warm and comforting, even when they wiped my tears away shakily. Dad’s eyes shone in a way that could only be described as bittersweet, as he whispered that she had chosen not to be here anymore. He kissed my wound over and over again, until my tears stopped falling altogether. He then apologized that he had managed to save only one, and passed the string to me. I looked up to see the jaunty red balloon, and grabbed it tight.

(On the way back, I asked my dad if he knew where the balloons went. Dad seemed to be deep in thought for a while, before he finally said that he didn’t know. He added that I should stop thinking about it, because balloons, no matter how fascinating, were never meant to be held down anyway. They’d escape the moment your attention slipped a tiny bit. I recall him say that he should prepare his heart when the red balloon too, leaves him. I remember both his voice and gaze being far, far away. Floating away with the balloons, nowhere in sight.)

Still all the way home, not once did my grip loosen.