Two cute helium balloons locked to each other in a handcuff. My husband’s office team has a collective creative mind. It’s their gift to us — the newly married couple. At home, they are let free. “Awfully cute, aren’t they,” I whisper to my husband, lying in bed that night. The light air from the fan has them constantly dancing. Like a couple at a jazz night after a drink or two. Deeply in love. “For a third person, would we seem like them…?” Never mind.
A week passes, I decide to remove the handcuff. After my husband goes to work, I open the window screen, enough to let the daylight in, and begin to work on an article. If only they could look elsewhere. I bite my pencil, and think: the woman has too much rouge on her cheeks, and the man’s lapels look funny. I hear the key turn, my husband is home. Travel plans. We are off to Upstate New York for five days, I tell my parents over phone. The balloons listen in.
A month passes. The woman looks weaker than the man. Saggy and stooping. The husband suggests disposing them. I decide to let them naturally die. Slowly. So they stay, listening to our late night conversations and watching us at our most vulnerable selves – asleep. The woman gets shifted to the closet. There are wrinkles on her face and her wedding dress looks like sloppy Origami work. And the man. He looks like a pervert old guy now. Or worse. A guy on a noose.
Two months pass. As I choose a sweater, from the corner of the closet, the balloons look at me solemnly. That night, many rounds of drinks, laughter and food later; my husband and I sway back into our room. Like a couple at a jazz night. Deep slumber. I wake up while it’s still dark, and see the funny lapels. At the foot of our bed. Dancing a light dance. “Gosh, awfully creepy, isn’t it,” I whisper to my husband, after he ties it to a hanger in the closet, and comes back to bed.
I animatedly narrate the story to my friends, borrowing anecdotes from horror shows that feature possessed dolls and stuffed toys. “Killing humans to get their souls!!!” I dramatize, and hang up. What follows is silence and a sense of fear. “They are greedy to live,” I tell my husband, who, all packed for a week’s trip for work, waves it off with a laugh. Alone with the balloons; I start sleeping in the guest bedroom. Inside my head, they float from the closet of our bedroom to the foot of my bed. And the one with rouge chokes me to death. I wake up.
It’s a clear day, I go to put out the trash, and check our mailbox. In the corridor, I stick myself to the wall to let a man and his pet pass. My heartbeat goes a notch up and tiny sweat beads form above my lips. I am scared of a puppy, I sigh. I am weak. I bleat like a sheep. And with that, I quicken my steps. Inside the house, I drag the balloons from where they lie in peace, probably talking about their halcyon days as full-blown balloons touching every ceiling while they could. They look disturbed, a little shocked.
The trailing string of one gets stuck on a door stopper, a resistance which almost gives me a stroke. Scissors. I take the biggest one, and cut a nice piece out of the head of the man. And then the woman. The air fizzes out. The smell of balloon death. Wrapped into a ball, they try unfurling in the depth of the trash can. They can’t. Hours pass, as I, the new bold me, stand in my bedroom and paint a woman playing the piano, on a canvas. I tell my husband nonchalantly that the balloons are finally buried under a few beer bottles. He replies, “Now, I hope you don’t hear music from our bedroom in the night.”