Fiction Fridays 8: “Balloon Wisdom”

Fiction Fridays on www.bettysbattleground.com

It’s Friday! I’ve got something special for you.

It’s been another sickly week for me. That’s another side effect of PTSD, by the way. Well parenting two toddlers who go to daycare also, but I have a pretty healthy diet and immune system and all that; my body should be more capable of healing itself BUT because of my actively triggered PTSD, it is under such constant stress that I am getting really, really sick. Doesn’t help that my PTSD nightmares have returned with a vengeance due to all this court BS. Sleep is imperative to healing.

See? PTSD has very real side-effects.

Anyway, I finally went into the doctor and got antibiotics so I’ll be doing better. As you’re reading this though, I am probably sitting in a Family Court Services interview growing cold while I talk about my abuse with a stranger.

So here’s your surprise: I am posting an unfinished story that I have written, which I really, really love. It doesn’t have it’s ending yet, so that aspect may be a little frustrating, but I’ll give it to you packaged in a way that seems at least somewhat conclusive.

I have been saving this story to finish, edit, and send to be published elsewhere, but now, today, I am giving it you..at least this much…free! All because I was too sick to write fiction this week. Really…I wrote a ton of blog posts; The Shade’s Children book review and the post about leaving my abuser that I posted here this week, plus a guest post for another blog that’s slated to go up next week, and another post as a test for a paid position. So, see, I can function while sick and triggered! But fiction is really hard for me.

Sadly, I did not get any responses to the Fiction Fridays 7 prompt. YOU GUYS NEED TO START SUBMITTING! I WANT to feature YOU! I want to help you get new viewers and grow your audience! But you have to submit your writing so I can showcase it. I’ve got a great prompt this week. Hopefully it will get your creativity flowing so I can share your work with the world!

It’s a Friday post so please, as always, comment on the fiction content, and not just the stuff I wrote in the intro. If you want to give me your well wishes about my sickness or interview that is very sweet and kind of you, but can you please also say a few words about my story? Even if it’s critical feedback..I love constructive-critical feedback as much as compliments because it helps me grow my writing. 

Anyway, that being said, the eighth original story on Betty’s Battleground. “Balloon Wisdom…”

Fiction Fridays 8: "Balloon Wisdom" on bettysbattleground.com

Balloon Wisdom

Elizabeth Brico

Balloon Wisdom, a short story by Elizabeth Brico on bettysbattleground.com

Sammy liked the sauce, but the noodles were too mushy.  He sucked off the sauce and pushed the noodle out of his mouth with his tongue.  It plopped back onto his plate with a wet smack.  Sammy liked the wet smack.

“Sammy,” said Mama.  This was Mama’s scolding voice.  The syllables were soft, but the word peaked at the end, like the foam when Mama made angel cake.

Sammy would rather eat angel cake than mushy noodles.

Mama lifted the fork to Sammy’s mouth.  A noodle flopped at the end of it.

“Don’t spit it out,” Mama said in her scolding voice.

Sammy didn’t want the noodles if he couldn’t spit them back out.  He slapped away the fork.

Mama sighed.  “What do you want then?”

There was a crease in her forehead.  That meant that she was a.) worried or b.) angry.  Sammy didn’t want Mama to be worried or angry, but he didn’t want the noodles either.

“What do you want Sammy?” Mama asked again.

Sammy wanted the balloon from his birthday.  He looked at it, but Mama didn’t turn her head.  She was looking at the plate.  She speared a noodle and put it in her mouth.  She chewed slowly and too much.  She reminded Sammy of the goat from the petting zoo, who had not stopped eating the whole time.

“It’s soft,” Mama said about the noodle, “it’s good.”  Mama liked the noodles mushy.

Sammy hit the table.

“Ba,” he said.  It wasn’t enough.  “Ba-ah.”

“What are you trying to say, Sweetie?”  Mama always called Sammy ‘Sweetie’ when he said something, even if she couldn’t understand him.

“Ba-ah,” he said again, staring at the balloon.  “Ba-ah.”  He couldn’t get the word out.  Sammy grabbed the plate and threw it.  It fell on Mama’s lap.  That was an accident.  Mama’s face turned red.

“Sammy,” Mama said in her loud voice.

Sammy didn’t like Mama’s loud voice.  He put his hands over his ears.

“You’re in big trouble.  Big trouble.”  She walked out of the kitchen, but before she left, she turned and said, “Stay there.”  She pointed at the balloon.  “The balloon is watching you.”

The balloon was round and red.  It was shiny.  It said ‘Happy Birthday Sammy’ on one side, which Sammy knew because Mama had told him.  On the other side it had a picture of a red car.  The red car had a face.  The face was smiling.  The side with the red car was pointed toward him now.  It was watching him.

That night Sammy went to bed feeling hungry.  Mama had not made anything else to eat.  She said if he didn’t want his noodles he could go to bed hungry, so he did.

The balloon was in his room.  When Mama let him up from the table he had grabbed its string and taken it with him.  It had watched him take a bath and brush his teeth (“good job,” Mama had said) and put on his PJs all on his own except for the one sleeve that his arm always got stuck in, and now it would watch him sleep.

Sammy liked the balloon.  He trusted the balloon.  The expression on its face never changed or tried to confuse him.  It never got loud.  It never tried to make him do anything he didn’t want to.  It was a good friend, his best friend.

Sammy heard a rustling sound.  In the soft blue glow of his nightlight he saw the balloon moving toward him.  It scraped the ceiling as it moved, and the red ribbon wiggled, just a little bit.

“Ba-ah?” asked Sammy.

BALLOON: Yes, Sammy, I am Balloon.

Sammy scrambled upright.

SAMMY: You can understand me?

BALLOON: Of course.

Sammy shook his head back and forth two times.

SAMMY: Mama can’t understand me.  Teacher can’t understand me.  Nobody can understand me.

BALLOON: I understand you.

Balloon looked down at Sam from its place on the ceiling.  Its expression did not change.  The blue nightlight reflected off the places where its shiny skin crinkled and peaked.

SAMMY: You do understand me.

BALLOON: Yes.  Sammy?  You didn’t have any dinner.  Are you hungry?

Sammy’s stomach felt like an empty bowl.

SAMMY: I’m very hungry.

BALLOON: Then let’s go to the kitchen and get some food.

Sammy flapped his hands.

SAMMY: Mama will get mad.

BALLOON: You mother won’t know.  I promise.  Here, take my ribbon.  We’ll go together and no one will know anything besides you and I.

Sammy trusted Balloon.  He grabbed the ribbon and followed Balloon to the kitchen.

There were so many good things to eat.  At first Sammy was scared.  If he opened the refrigerator door, Mama would hear and she would be angry.

BALLOON:  What’s wrong Sammy?

SAMMY: I want the cheese but the refrigerator door creaks.

BALLOON: That’s okay Sammy.  It won’t creak tonight.  Try it.

Sammy opened the refrigerator door.  It didn’t make a sound.  He found the block of yellow cheese and took a big bite.

SAMMY: Want some?

Sammy wasn’t supposed to open his mouth when there was food in it, but he knew Balloon would not mind.

BALLOON: No thank you.  I’m not hungry.  I just want to watch you eat.

Sammy took some more big bites of the cheese.  It was good.  He ate it until he was not hungry any more.  There was only a small square of yellow cheese left in all that plastic.  Sammy looked at it.  He felt the worry tickles in his chest.

SAMMY: Won’t Mama notice I ate it?

BALLOON: You worry too much.  Sammy?  If you’re thirsty, there’s beer in the fridge.

Sammy took a beer can from the refrigerator.  He snapped it open, same as a soda.

SAMMY: Are you sure this is okay?

BALLOON: Go ahead.  I won’t tell.

Sammy took a sip of the beer.  The bubbles tickled and prickled his tongue and throat, just like soda, but it tasted the way Mama’s armpits smelled when she was too tired to take a bath.

SAMMY: Gross.  I don’t like it.

BALLOON: Take another sip.  It gets better.

Sammy took another sip.  He still didn’t like it, but he wanted to please Balloon so he kept drinking it.  Soon he began to feel warm, and the warmer he felt, the better the beer tasted.  Sammy smiled, really big.  He didn’t know why, exactly.  He just wanted to smile.

BALLOON: How do you feel?

SAMMY: Good!

He jumped up, but when he came back down his legs wobbled.  The room looked different too.  Shifty and jagged, like after when he spun in circles a bunch.

SAMMY: I’m dizzy.

BALLOON: That’s okay Sammy.  Sit down.

Sammy sat on the floor.  The ceiling spun a lazy rotation, like the planetarium from his field trip, only there were no stars this time, just the occasional swish of car lights.

Mama came into the kitchen.  Sammy froze.  She wore a stained pink robe.  The top swung open showing one of her breasts.  It flopped as she walked.  Sammy began to laugh, loudly.  He didn’t want to.  He didn’t want to be seen, but he couldn’t help it.

Mama walked to the refrigerator and leaned in.  Sammy looked at Balloon.

SAMMY: Do you make me invisible?

BALLOON: You’re always invisible.

It was true, Sammy realized.

Balloon gave Mama the last piece of cheese.  She popped it into her mouth and looked back into the fridge.  Balloon helped her reach the rest of the beers.  Sammy watched through heavy eyes as she opened each and downed them, one by one.

When she was done she leaned back against the counter.  Her head lolled to the side, then down onto her chest.  Her eyes were halfway closed.

“Is that you Sammy?”

Sammy looked up at Balloon.  Balloon watched him without changing its expression.

BALLOON: Don’t worry Sammy.  Everything will be okay.

Sammy looked at Mama.  The room was slow to catch up.

Mama smiled crookedly at Sammy.  She giggled, a squeaky sing-songy sound Sammy had never heard come out of her before.  She grabbed the breast that was hanging out of her robe.

“Do you want to suck on my titty Sammy?  Do you want to suck the beer right out?”  She laughed again, this time out of her nose, snort-like and snotty.  Then she stumbled out of the kitchen back down the hallway toward her bedroom.  As she was leaving, her robe fell all the way open and Sammy saw her furry place.  He felt gross inside, yucky.  He didn’t want to see Mama’s furry place.  He didn’t want to see any of that.

Sammy would not look at Balloon.  He didn’t want to see its eyes.  Even though its expression did not ever change, he felt there would be something new in its eyes.  Something he had just not noticed before.

BALLOON: What’s wrong Sammy?

SAMMY: Why did you show me that?

BALLOON: You need to know these things about your life.

SAMMY: What things?

But Sammy knew.

BALLOON: The things adults don’t tell children.  The things you otherwise would never know.

SAMMY: But won’t I be an adult someday?

BALLOON: No, Sammy, you will not.

Sammy began to snivel.

BALLOON: Don’t be a baby about it, Sammy.  This is your life and you must live it as it has been lain out for you.  Do you think I never become sad that I am only a balloon?  That my helium is slowly leaking?  I feel it every day, the depletion, the loss of floater function.  And one day not so long from now all of my helium will be gone and I will be nothing but a crumpled, non-floating mass of shiny plastic.  Do you think I never wished for more?  But I have learned that such wishing is useless, and crying even more so.  I am very old already, Sammy, many days old.  You must listen to my wisdom.  You were born defective and invisible, Sammy, and you must simply live with that.

Sammy’s head was beginning to feel achey, and soft like the neighbor’s pumpkin after Halloween that he had been able to put his hand through.  The room would not stay still and so much sadness was coursing through Sammy’s tiny body.  Even after everything he had seen, he wanted Mama now, Mama who would hold him and stroke his hair and not tell him such horrible things, even if they were true.  He began to sob loudly.  Loudly enough, he hoped, to bring Mama to him.

As if able to read his mind, Balloon floated over to him and dangled its string across his fuzzy down of hair.

BALLOON: She won’t hear you.  She’s drunk.  She won’t be waking up for a long time.  Don’t worry about going to school tomorrow.

Sammy rubbed his eyes, hard, to stop the tears.  Balloon watched him.

BALLOON: Come on Sammy.  It’s best you go to bed now.

Sammy took hold of Balloon’s string.  It was hard to walk, His legs wobbled and the floor and walls rocked like when he rode the ferry, but Balloon helped him along.  Together they made it to his bed.  Sammy fell asleep hugging Balloon to his chest while Balloon whispered lullabies in a language Sammy did not know; a language of slowly exhaling helium and rustling plastic.

The End

Thanks for reading! If you’re unsure how to leave feedback, a compliment sandwich is a good way to go. If you’re a seasoned feedback provider, go ahead and dig in as you will. But if you need some help, a compliment sandwich is a nice way to ease into giving your honest feedback. It’s simple, and looks like this:

-Give a compliment about the story. Try to make it specific, not just “good story, I liked it;” that kind of thing is a nice ego boost, but not super helpful
-Now, give your critical feedback. The more constructive the better; try to add suggestions along with your criticism. Don’t insult or judge; “this sucks” is mean-spirited and pretty useless.
-Finally, give another compliment! Again, try to avoid “I liked it,” but something specific about the story as a whole would work here, like “you have a great command of language; great vocabulary,” or whatnot.

We use this format in writing workshops so remember it for the future!

Here’s your Fiction Fridays 8 contest prompt. Please enter! I WANT to feature you! The only person in your way is YOU!

Enter your response to #getfeatured on bettysbattleground.comThis prompt is an experiment in form-splicing. Select two of your favorite forms. The more distinct and separate, the better. For me it was playwrighting and short form magical realism. For you it could be poetry and essay. Or screenplay and blog post, whatever you like! Now explore two perspectives that are different from yours by splicing these two forms together. Use the form splice to highlight the perspectives you are showcasing. In my story, I explored the perspective of a young autistic child, based very loosely on my son Robin, and the perspective of the arm of society that sees autistic people as lesser-than-neurotypicals, which I explored with the balloon character.

I love this story. I love this prompt, and I am really intrigued to see what you, my readers, come up with. Please enter. My audience is growing every day. You WILL get new views for your work by being feature! Hoorah!

To enter your 300-1000 word response to the prompt, “like” the Betty’s Battleground Facebook page, which you can also find by copying this link into your browser: http://www.facebook.com/bettysbattleground; then find the Fiction Fridays 8 post. Don’t worry, I’ll pin it to the top to make it easy on you! Now, just drop your entry into the comments! Be sure to look out for me on Messenger after 9PM next Thursday. That’s right! I’m giving you 12 extra hours this week so NO EXCUSES! It’s time to #getfeatured!

That’s all for today! Please take a moment to share this on your favorite social media platform(s). I am working hard to grow my blog and find my genuine audience. Who knows? Maybe your share will reach the aspiring writer who really NEEDS those few hundred new viewers! 30 seconds out of your day will totally make mine.

 Til next time!

18 thoughts on “Fiction Fridays 8: “Balloon Wisdom”

  1. What a heartbreaking story! Don’t we all wish as children that we had someone who truly understood us, who could almost read our minds and hearts to know how to make everything better? Balloon is like that person.

  2. I enjoyed reading your story. It is sad that the balloon seems to be the only one that understands and comforts the child. Hope you can sleep better and feel better soon!

    • Thank you <3 I'm like uggh you know you're sick when your doctor gives you antibiotics and your reactions is "woohoo!"

  3. I am an aspiring writer myself and I find the hard part is painting a clear picture while holding interest. You definitely have the imagery and detail down. I honestly can’t think of a critic, especially since I’m not confident in my writing, but I did like the role of the balloon in the story and it’s perspective that the other characters could not/don’t have.

    • Thanks! So much! That’s a great compliment from a fellow writer. Try the prompt. getting featured feels great 😉

    • Thank you Christopher. Please enter the contest; I’d love to feature your writing next Friday! I love this week’s prompt, don’t you? Form splicing always has such interesting results. It’s always worth a trrrry-yyyy 😉

  4. That was very interesting and really brought back bits of my childhood so much that it hurt. I unlike the other readers found myself disliking the balloon. Why did he have to expose the ugly parts of life to Sammy? I think that shows how much I want to hide from my own ugly parts of when I was a kid. Great writing.

    • Hi Christy, I’m sorry for the negative feelings this story brought up. Fiction can do that; I always feel that when fiction brings those feelings forward though it can be healthy? Maybe? Something I love about writing is that it really is an act of collaboration; a story is never complete until it’s read and interpreted by the reader…which means it’s never complete as long as it keeps being read. But anyway, each reader gives a story a different meaning regardless of what the writer intended (which is why I would sometimes get really annoyed with lit teachers who tried to say that a certain, often dead, author “meant”whatever…anyway…) ALL THAT BEING SAID you got MY meaning more than many of the other readers. I did not write the Balloon as a kind character. It’s interesting that so many people read it that way, but I like that at least one person read the story I intended to write, so thank you 🙂

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