Friday, June 22, 2012

The Original "Postcards"

Here is the short version of the (now infamous?) Postcards From BalloonLand.

I've moved on (a long way) from such stories (1990, 1993) but this did well

Final 12 in Cosmo's SS of the Year 1993
£500 Second Place in Raconteur V 1995
Raw Fiction Canada 1996
The Large Print Literary Reader 1997
Buzzwords Date Unknown

and then

Joanne Benson

in Coming Up For Air (c) 1995 (still available at Amazon)

in The Ring of Elements 2008 (still available at Amazon)

in People's Friend Dec 2003

as an eBook Postcards From BalloonLand 2012

Anyway, here's the story, "young work" by me, but mine.


Postcards from BalloonLand

There are things we should say, things we should not.
And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.

Dear Dawn.
We’re in DisneyLand! Dad promised us that if it was the last thing he ever did we were going to go to America and go to Florida and go to Orlando and go to Disney and stop in the Contemporary Resort. It’s very hot. The grass is funny. There are hundreds of dead good things in the shops.
                  Love Rachel.

Hi Robert!
    The Frog wants to go to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow and do all the girlie rides. Dad says we have to wait until Friday to go to EPCOT. The Contemporary Resort Hotel is brilliant! There’s a monorail goes right through the building! It took nine hours to get here. We saw Concorde! Dad had a headache when we landed. Mam said it was because of the flight. Gotta go. Bet you wish you were here!
         Love Ben.

Dear Millie,
    I hope you and Dad are well. The flight was far better than I expected. There was so much for me to do that I forgot to be frightened! Peter was very tired, Rachel led him round everywhere by the hand. They bought me perfume. I told Peter off for spending but he just laughed and said, ‘What’s money?’ The kids played Scrabble most of the flight. Peter fell asleep in my lap.
                  Your loving daughter, Margaret.

He was Peter. Soft red curly hair, blue, bright eyes, thirty-three; married to Margaret, father to Benjamin, to Rachel and to three-year old Tobias. He read their postcards again. Rachel’s card was a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger in front of a blue-grey castle. The holiday was costing a fortune but he knew he had never spent money more wisely. Before they left, he told Margaret that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and not to worry about the expense. It was all taken care of, he said. The look on the kids’ faces when he told them was sheer joy.

    Peter watched Toby pressing his face to a toy-shop window in the hotel concourse. There was a time when he might have been impatient, but not now, not any more. Nothing mattered any more. He was on holiday. He wanted to wear a silly hat and look gormless.

    Tonight, he would make up another story for the kids and sit on that huge hotel bed with their spiky arms and legs hooked into him. He would whisper little messages to Margaret and later they would make love, very, very slowly, the kids a mangled heap on the other bed.

    He looked down at Rachel.
    ‘Dad. Can we have balloons? Like those?’
    They were large, bright, helium filled silver balls, stretching towards the sky on soft string. They bought three. Margaret tied them, one each, to small wrists. Immediately, Toby began to pick at his.
    ‘Don’t!’ Margaret said, ‘you’ll lose it!’
    ‘Free it, don’t you mean?’ Peter said softly.
    She looked at him. He looked dreamy and lost.

    They went for drinks, found a cafĂ©. They were outside and a small bird appeared on their table, picking between their drinks, pecking at crumbs. ‘It’s pretty!’ Rachel said.

Toby was the first to lose his balloon. He burst into tears. Margaret sat down and held him. Behind her, Rachel let her balloon go, looked up, then cried like her brother.

    Peter pulled his girl into him. He felt giddy, but he swept her up and wrapped her in his comfort, strutting and spinning around, her gold head pressed into his hot neck. 

    ‘Hey, Sweetheart,’ he said, the world still turning. ‘There’s a good brave girl. Fancy you knowing about BalloonLand.’
    Rachel sniffed.
    ‘I did, diddun I? Tell you?’
    She shook her head. Well, no wonder! They didn’t know about BalloonLand! ‘Didn’t I ever tell you about BalloonLand?’
    He called them together and they sat on the grass.
    ‘I told you, Ben, yes? Last year?’

    Ben shook his head.
    ‘Well, I never!’ Peter said. Then to the ground he said, ‘They don’t know about BalloonLand. Well I never!’ He leaned back, his hands clasped behind his head, sun in his face. The kids were leaning forward. ‘Well, I never!’ he said and closed his eyes.
    Toby squeaked at him, ‘Tell, tell!’
    ‘Tell us, Daddy,’ Rachel said.
    ‘Oh, Dad!’ Ben said.
    He opened one eye. ‘I think you’d better,’ Margaret said.
    He sat up.

    ‘When balloons are born, when they’re born, they are flat and sad and don’t know what to do. If people don’t fill them up, blow them up, they never get to feel big or bouncy or pretty or anything.’

    He had them.

    ‘You know when you see balloons in their packets?’
    Toby was nodding, his eyes wide.
    ‘You know how flat they are... And they don’t smell nice and they’re all dusty?
    ‘Well, they want to be blown up. That’s what balloons are for.
    ‘People were invented to let balloons be blown up.
    ‘But there’s a problem, there’s a big problem when a balloon gets bigger...
    ‘When a balloon is flat, nothing happens. They are just waiting there, waiting to be blown up. So they can do things. So they can go flying in the sky.
    ‘People know balloons are very special things.
    ‘That’s why we have them at birthday parties and at Christmas.
    ‘People want to keep their balloons. They want to keep being happy.        ‘They think that if they keep their balloon it will stay a happy time and everyone will keep on having a lovely time. But!’
    Toby nodded again.
    ‘But balloons were made to fly. They want to go back to BalloonLand.
    ‘You know at a party?’
    ‘You know at a party, how the balloons go up and stick on the ceiling?
    They were all nodding.
    ‘Well, they are trying to go home.
    ‘You see... ‘ He pulled them to him, the warmth of his family an ache in his gut. ‘You see, balloons are like very special birds. They can’t sing but they make people sing sometimes. So they come alive for birthdays, but then, after, they want to go.
    ‘You know if you keep a balloon?
    ‘If you keep a balloon, what happens? It goes all droopy and wrinkly and it gets sad. If you keep a balloon for a very long time, all its balloon-ness leaks out and it sort of goes to sleep again.’
    Toby looked faintly worried.
    ‘But if you let a balloon GO! If you let a balloon GO! It goes UP in the sky, straight off to BalloonLand. And if a balloon gets to BalloonLand it NEVER goes down and it’s happy and bouncy and can fly for EVER. BalloonLand is full right up of every single balloon that you could ever imagine. Red ones, yellow ones, blue ones, fat ones, wiggly ones...
    ‘So just think. Right now, in BalloonLand there’s - ’
    ‘My balloon!’ said Toby.
    ‘And mine!’ Rachel said.

It was later when Benjamin undid his bonds and released his balloon. They couldn’t complain and Ben looked supremely satisfied. After lunch, Margaret bought three more balloons and diligently fixed them to three wrists. Just as diligently, the cords were loosened and the balloons released. Peter groaned, his eyes rolling but the kids were already clamouring for more. Margaret thought it funny. 

    ‘Six dollars! How you gonna get out of that one, maestro?’

    He was a little tired. He sat down and called them to him again. He need to explain, explain about balloon jams. ‘Hey kids, come here!’ he said.

    ‘When balloons get to BalloonLand; if there are lots arriving at the same time, they have to wait outside. And they might go down while they are waiting. That’s why we keep them on strings for a while. So we can let them go every now and then. To stop the jams.’

    He looked to his wife, aching. Was that all right? Margaret smiled. She told them how, tomorrow, they could keep their balloons all day and then they could set them free, in the evening, after the balloon rush-hour. She was still smiling, the sun coming through her hair, so Peter continued and told the kids that the jams were because BalloonLand only had one way in. The BalloonLand bosses wanted to make another way in but balloons didn’t know how to build entrances.

    ‘So really, they could do with some grown up humans to do the building for them. But it’s very hard for humans to get back from BalloonLand so they have to wait for volunteers.’

    As they walked back towards the exits at the end of the day, a balloon sailed diagonally past and over them. Somewhere distant was a crying child but their children were jubilant.

    Margaret looked at Peter. ‘You old sod!’ she whispered. ‘I love you!’

    Peter was soundly asleep when they arrived back at the resort. Margaret woke him and he walked like a zombie into the hotel. The next morning, she had trouble waking him but he eventually stirred and followed her down to breakfast. The kids were asking about balloons so he said he would ring up and get a traffic report. He left them, used the phone and came back, nodding to Margaret, then telling the kids that Balloonway One was chokker-block with balloons. Apparently, he said, there’d been a lot of parties in Australia the night before and they were still dealing with a back-log from the Olympics. He whispered that they could probably manage a few balloons late that afternoon.

They stayed another week, used the Jacuzzi every morning, lazily swam in the hotel pool as the evenings drew in. Then their fortnight suddenly was over and Nanna and Grancha Bill were coming to Orlando to take the children back to Grancher’s farm. When they met, the two women embraced. Bill shook Peter’s hand before pulling him close and hugging him silently.

    The grand-parents and the children flew back the following night. Peter tried hard to keep the mood light as they prepared to board their 747. Earlier, they had let five balloons off to a count of one-two-three and cheered as they sailed into space. Margaret had chosen to dress them all in Mickey Mouse clothing and little Toby was complete with a black big-eared cap. When it was actually time to go, they hugged, first as a family, then Peter alone held each child in turn, smelling them, feeling the breaths, sensing their heartbeats. After holding Benjamin, he stood back and held his hand seriously, like a man. He made a face at them all as their Nanna led them away.
Margaret drove the car south to Miami while Peter slept. They had booked into a wonderful hotel at the head of the Keys and the following day, they walked hand-in-hand on quiet printless sand. They were caught in a sudden fat rainstorm but chose to enjoy it, laughing, their heads back, savouring its warmth.

    They drove on that afternoon, drifting towards Key West. They stopped at a little harbour where Margaret ate from an incredible seafood buffet. Peter had no appetite but they sipped wine together and talked quietly. That night, they were asleep at six, Peter cradled in her neck, her gentle hands stroking his head. The next day they did nothing but lay together on top of the sheets, a copper fan phudding above them.

    At their destination, they ate in romantic restaurants and drank in rough bars. In the evenings, they drifted along to the pier to watch the sunset. They stopped to buy books. Peter chose three, stopped, then replaced two. Every night she held him. They were closer than they’d every been.

He had made all sorts of arrangements, all sorts of plans. Once he had had so many dreams. On their last day in the Keys, for Margaret he had found a watercolour of balloons over Paris and from a staggered shop-keeper he bought a complete supply of postcards, all of balloons. While Margaret drove north, Peter wrote carefully on card after card. Each message was different, each card dated oddly. As they arrived back on the mainland, he was tired and his writing was less fluid. They stopped in Miami. Peter was asleep again so Margaret arranged the check-in.

    They flew to the clinic next day. While their plane drifted in to land, he explained again how she should use the cards. The children would receive one every birthday, one at Christmas, one on the day their father was born. He told her that Ben, Rachel and Toby should stay children as long as possible. He was going away but they would know how to contact him.

    Someone had to help build the new entrance at the other end of Balloonway One. If he volunteered, they could send him messages any time they wanted. He had arranged to be at check-in the first Friday of every month.

     They could write to him care of BalloonLand.           

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