Grounded by Aparna Reddi

I held a balloon in one hand and reached for Sela’s with the other. Our fingers locked, my heart flew. I let helium seep from the balloon and sucked it in. My voice came out squeaky, unrecognizable, like it belonged to someone else. “I love you,” it said.

Sela’s lips, puckered around her own balloon, relaxed. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t move her hand away from mine either. I counted to five in my head. Still nothing. I swallowed hard, tasting residual chemicals from the balloon’s gut.

I took in more helium, it dizzied me. My head swelled and my body turned ribbon-thin, arms curling in spirals. My clothes slid off and my varsity ring clanked on the ground. I floated skyward, away from Sela.

I tipped my head downward, glimpsing fragments of my transparent face. Sela’s green-streaked hair shined below me, brighter than the latex balloons next to her on the stoop. She squinted and pointed. “Behind you!” she said.

I rocked my head back and saw the approaching power line. By the time I turned, I was inches from one of its protruding nodes. I closed my eyes, anticipating the pop, but the wind somersaulted me a few feet to the right. Birds scattered and I took their place on the wire. Stuck, I bobbed my head from one side of the line to the other. My feet were knotted around it. The wind laughed, playing tetherball with my head.

“Hold tight, I’m coming up!” said Sela’s distant voice.

The thin skin on my face burned fast in the sun. Or maybe the burn was something else. Maybe balloons were better conduits of electricity than both birds and wire. Maybe I’d be electrocuted.

I heard Sela’s voice, closer than before. “I’m almost there.” Her head, the color of sunlight shining through leaves, floated towards me. Lord, was she pretty.

I felt a rush of power travel down the wire, headed right for me and tried to untie my feet, but my corkscrew arms were useless. “I’m going to be electrocuted.”

The heat of Sela’s breath caressed my cheek. “You’re fine. It’s the foil balloons that cause surges with their metallic surfaces.”

Sela’s lips bounced against mine. Our ribbons tangled. She whispered into my ear and the charge of her words jolted my heart. First it contracted, and then it steadied.

Aparna Reddi lives in San Francisco where she sometimes writes fiction, poetry, and songs. Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak and J Journal.

Lead image“Lost” *with edits* (via Flickr user Orin Zebest)