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"Balloon Party" in winter issue of NUNUM

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Balloon Party

Bob Thurber

After her release from the hospital my sister moved from her small, cramped apartment into an even smaller one. I hadn’t visited her in the ICU, or helped her move, but we’d stayed in touch by phone, so I stopped by her new place on her birthday. Three fights up I found her sitting on the floor of a converted attic, beneath two bulbous skylights, surrounded by balloons. No furniture, but plenty of balloons. They were everywhere, all colors. Tubes, ovals, spheres.

“You do all these,” I said.

“Every one.”

She was smiling, though it wasn’t one of her finer efforts.

“How long that take you?”

“A couple hours.”

“Your lungs must hurt.”

She breathed in and out while rubbing her jaw. “My neck muscles are cramping.”

“I’m not surprised.”

She opened and closed her mouth, stretching yawns and making puckered faces. I bumped through the balloons. “How many you got?”

She looked around. “I lost count.”

I kicked a few but they didn’t go far.

“What’re the doctor saying?”

She waved a hand in front of her nose.

“Doctors,” she said, wrinkling her eyes and frowning.

“Good news? Bad news?”

From her bag of balloons she pinched a deflated pink and dangled it like a little worm. “My surgeon told me to have a super terrific birthday.” She stretched the pink balloon like a rubber band. “So I’m following doctor’s instructions. Welcome to the party.” She bumped a few balloons into the air.

“How’s your neck feeling,” I asked.

“Sore. But I can go a while longer.”

I rubbed a couple of balloons together and made them squeak. “Want some help?”

“No need.” She pinched the deflated pink balloon to her lips. “I’m almost out.” She breathed in slow and deep. “Like everything else in this life.”

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