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Balloons
Jenni Brooks

We find them on the banister. We go downstairs when our mum goes to bed. We wait until she’s snoring, and shush the stairs as we tiptoe down. They creak anyway. They titter, but when we turn around, that wasn’t them; our sister’d gone and grabbed one. The tightest one, about to pop; Happy Birthday on its tummy. She rubs it on our head till our hair stands up. We hold our mouth to catch the giggles, and go in the cupboard to get strawberry laces. We hold them in our cheeks, and put the chair under the table, and feel our tongue get hot and thick with sludge as we run back up the stairs. 

 

We find them in the classroom. That smelly one at the back of E Block. Sex ed. Period four. We can’t be fucking arsed. Our teacher’s rearranged the desks, thrown the blown-up ones in the middle. And that’s not all you’ve blown today, init, Miss? We nudge each other, cracking up. She ignores us, cradling hers. One each, we pick them up. Their air holes aren’t tied when we finger them. We throw them up and catch them, but they don’t go whizzing around. We look at Miss; she’s squeezing hers. Her face screwing up, turning pink. She groans and pushes, holding it up. We see the ping pong ball’s head coming out. 

 

We find them in our cubicle. The one next to the nurses’ station. Left over from when another woman came, turned into a mother, then left. We see it before the squeezing starts again. When it’s back, we bite our pillow. We try not to explode on the floor, still glistening from the mop. As we pant, our partner grabs the strings. Do you think they left them for us? Cause it’s us, whose stomachs look like one, and who’ll have to wring out whoever’s inside. We slap it away, press our heads on the sheets, waters chafing our thighs. And we wonder how far we can ram it down their throat without it popping, cause we can’t stand the noise. 

We find them in the village hall car park. Postpartum bloated and soft. Coated in hair, dead skin, and grit that’s flown off shoes. We’re there for a friend’s kid’s birthday. We can’t remember which one. We gave up and left before they cut the cake, even though our partner switched their shift around. We would have danced with them. We don’t have the strength to haul them from the puddle their strings are dangling in and drink helium from their lips. We remember how light we felt, when air would wheeze from bouncy castles. We’d hug their deflated pillars, and ask our mothers why their stomachs have rolls when they’re sitting down. 

 

We find them outside the ward, after we help our partner from their chair. We feel their arm through their coat as they lean on us, and see where their hair’s snowed on their collar. We clump the wisps in our hand, and the door opens. Mylar charging into us. We look down and see the boy. He thrusts the strings in our partner’s hand, and presses his face in his mama’s thigh. When we get to the car, we realise we didn’t hand them back. We don’t have time to go back to the ward, before the cyclizine starts wearing off. We start the engine and tell our partner there’s sick bags in the glove compartment. We read, Get Well Soon, on the foil. Our partner’s bouncing them on their knee like they used to with our son.  

 

We find them at the back of the sofa. Well, the nurse does, after she’s hoovered. A packet of them, half-full. She puts them on the table. We can’t place where they’ve come from. We rack our brain as she heats up the soup. Maybe a birthday. A Christmas. We can’t remember our last one. The nurse puts the bib down our front and holds the spoon to our lips. We wiggle our feet through the blanket and turn our head. You’re as bad as my kids, she says. When she signs out, we think of her kids. And us as kids, and our mother. The balloons she’d tie to the bannister. Us and our sister sneaking down. We reach out for the packet and put our nose in it, smelling it’s rubbery smell. 

 

 

Jenni Brooks' short fiction and poetry has been published in The Paul Cave Prize Anthology, Streetcake Magazine and others. Her spoken-word film 'Women and Autism’, won the Best Professional Short Film, in the National Autistic Society’s Autism Uncut Awards, hosted at BAFTA. She is currently working on her first short story collection, and a novel, Teggies, which was shortlisted for The Book Edit Writer's Prize.

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