The Balloonists

He grew up on short streets that ended in yield signs or dead ends. Lighters were fascinating. Sometimes his older brother burned things in the backyard.

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In his room the shades are pulled down so that the windows glow pearly like projections on blank screens. The springs of a folded bed, the sharp cymbals of his drum set, the mallets and bars of the vibraphone all make a sharp nest around his bed. His blankets smell of dust and sweat. There is a mat of sheet music, books, and underwear on the floor. It is sprinkled with sand spilled from the jar that John West brought back from Bermuda in third grade.

He touches my hair and says, “If we were my parents, we would be getting married now, do you know that?”

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“Sonata,” he says, “means ‘sounding together.’ It is an argument in which one theme is presented in opposition to another and they struggle until one wins, in the resolution. It is a beautiful form, it has endured into this century.”

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I’m trying to explain something to him and he cuts off my last word to say, “Let’s go in.” So I slam the car door and he sighs. Sitting at the bar in the diner, with our legs dangling off the stools, we can’t look at each other and we can’t look at the truckers, the teenagers in booths, or up at the waitress. His cup of coffee sits in front of him and he can’t pick it up. I finger my place mat and can’t say anything. I move to get up, but he catches my arm, still not looking at me, and says, “We came all the way here, now let’s enjoy it.”

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There is a woman who has a little table full of alarm clocks in front of the building where I work. She stands there with a vacant face while people walk by and one of the alarms goes off endlessly.

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On my way down the fire escape in the rain I see a boy flop down on his bed. Through the curtains I see only his stomach and arms, which are still for a second until his hand reaches for his guitar, drawing it over his chest.

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My grandmother signs the letter with both their names. In it she admits that she doesn’t know if her husband is happy.

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I come home to a silent house and fill the sink with water. The pigeons above the window are clucking. I let the dishes slip under the bubbles and I close my eyes. I listen to the perfect, whole, round sounds of glass against porcelain under water.

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