I'm driving on a stretch of highway I know well. I've been down this road many times, seen every landmark, every building, even all the trees, and rock formations. I'm tired of driving. I want to stop, to let go of the wheel. Then I spot something I have not seen before.
I slow down to see what it is, but the driver behind me immediately beeps the horn. I slow down even more to teach him a lesson. A white truck speeds by very close to my car, 2nd Amendment stickers plastered on its rear windshield and bumper. Surely trying to intimidate me, and it works, a little. I'm not afraid anymore. It's time.
I get off the interstate. I want to check out the round object in the distance. I make a U-turn under the highway. I drive past two intersections and make a left turn, come out from beneath the underpass and drive a couple of miles down the dirt road. Then I see it, beckoning me. I go towards it.
The blue New Mexico sky dotted with white fluffy clouds. The sky drops to meet a luscious green field that goes on for miles. I see the shapes of mountains. I lower my window and put my hand out. The cool breeze hits the palm of my hand, and I take a deep breath letting the sensation travel up my arm and into my heart. What a marvelous feeling, so long gone.
As I get closer, the giant form begins to take shape. Blue, green, pink, and yellow zig-zagging lines appear in the center of the field. Under the explosion of colors, a brown and white gondola, tiny compared to the massive balloon above it.
I accelerate to reach the spot where there's a sign nailed to a wood post holding a flimsy wire fence. Air Balloon Rides $250 painted in large white letters. I have the money in my purse and no better purpose for it. Today is the day.
I get off the car and walk towards the waiting aircraft, its basket tethered by a thin rope to a stake in the ground. It reminds me of the story of the circus elephant who grows up tied to a small post and stays there all its life because it doesn't know it can leave. The basket is empty, waiting for someone to fill the space. I look around, and there's no one. After so many months of people around me, poking, checking, needling, moving, pinching, I'm all alone.
I step closer to see if there's someone inside the basket. I peek in, no one. I will get in to see how it feels. It won't hurt any. I drop my purse inside the basket. I look around to see if anyone is watching. I go on my tippy toes and then reach one leg to the edge of the basket. I push and get halfway there—one leg in, the other dangling on the outside. I shouldn't be doing this. It's a bad idea, but I do it anyway. Inside the basket, I notice it is much bigger than I thought. My head is barely peeking out the railing. My body has shrunk, and I'm half the size I used to be. But my feet are firmly planted on the basket. I feel my weight. The field around me is a deeper, more vibrant green than how it looked from the road. The blue expanse more welcoming, embracing me and urging me on. The mountains in focus. I look up through the mouth of the balloon and into its guts. Vast emptiness. What would it be like to go up? Would I dare? Why not?
I look at all the labeled levers. Piece of cake compared to what I've been through. Such a tiny rope holding the giant down. I'm not an elephant. I cut the cord loose, expecting lights, beeps, sirens, loud voices, code blue. There's no one. This is my balloon, my chance. I pull the crank and turn on the burner. The roar startles me. I'm afraid. The balloon is in motion. My now jelly legs tremble. I hang on to the railing. Slowly, slowly I'm one, two, three feet from the ground. Then I see a man in the distance, running towards the balloon, waving his arms, screaming, but I'm too far up to hear. I'm off. It never occurred to me to consider how I would land when I grew tired of looking down at the world. What had I done? But it was too late, and I was at peace, at peace at last. #FlashFictionFeb