by Bob Kirk, Becketwood Member
Heather and her husband had been drifting apart for some time and it was not helpful to leave him behind on a hot air balloon ride. But ever since she was a little girl she had dreamed of flying away in a rainbow colored balloon and a husband afraid of heights was not going to stand in her way once the balloons started to assemble in a field behind their vacation condo.
The field of partially inflated balloons looked like a pod of brightly colored beached whales. Her balloon was already inflated into a spiraling rainbow above a quaint wicker basket. Heather climbed in as quickly as possible and found she had to share it with two large fuel tanks, several fire extinguishers, first aid kits, life jackets, rope, and a pilot with a musky odor. Immediately the lines loosened and Heather could feel her spirits rise. Leaving the ground behind, her level of consciousness soared. Her husband seemed so far away she imagined she was waving goodbye to a distant memory.
The balloon ascended gracefully and her inner rhythms matched the rocking of the basket and the roar of the burners. The ascent field looked quite small, the whales no more than pan fish. She couldn’t find their rented condo; the lake dominated everything and explained the life jackets. Heather could feel her life expand as if the ties to her past were being undone. She found herself becoming aroused, a feeling she had not had for some time.
The pop of a cork brought her back and the pilot offered her a glass of champagne to celebrate their flight. Heather saw he was a cowboy: tall, broad shouldered, tanned, with boots, belt buckle, and hat. She imagined the musk was from his horse. He controlled the balloon with an offhand confidence, and his quiet voice contrasted with the roar of the burners. Heather felt she could fly away with him and wondered how his mustache would feel if they kissed.
The pilot sensed where Heather was headed. He explained the balloon was at the mercy of the air currents and strong winds could easily take them where they didn’t want to go; piloting a balloon meant finding the right air currents at the right time. To return to the landing field, he explained, he needed to drop close to the water to pick up a returning breeze. Heather’s mood dropped with the balloon but she knew it was probably for the best.
Photo by Manik Rathee
Heather spent the next year trying to relive her balloon ride. She couldn’t pass an elevator without taking it to the top floor. She went up mountains on ski lifts. She spent hours bouncing on her neighbor’s trampoline. She couldn’t sit still at her bridge club. Her longing for another balloon ride only grew with time.
A year later, when they returned to their condo, the hot air balloon festival was in full swing and she booked as many rides as she could afford with the musky smelling cowboy. After each ride she helped store the basket and roll up the balloon. When the driver of the van didn’t show, Heather became the chase driver and part of the balloon crew. At the festival’s end, Cowboy invited her to join him on the hot air balloon circuit and Heather decided to cut her ties to her marriage.
Heather loved everything about ballooning from inflation to deflation. All summer long they went to festivals in one ski resort after another. Each new venue gave her a new high. She was ecstatic when her balloon rose over the mountains. Going up at night in the moonlight with her Cowboy was the most romantic thing she had ever done. Even driving the chase van was thrilling to Heather. It was hard work but whenever she felt deflated, a balloon ride would fill her with renewed enthusiasm.
Her cowboy was a skilled pilot and was able to fly his balloon wherever he wanted. He was an expert in reading the sky and finding just the right wind. Watching soaring buzzards allowed him to avoid strong thermals while looking for turning winds. The other pilots were plainly impressed with his skills.
Between festivals they stayed in a barn with his horse. Heather found she had to compete with the horse for his attention; when he wasn’t caring for it he was riding it. Heather was left to repair and mend the balloon equipment.
But Cowboy was unhappy with the size of his balloon and was forever trying to find a way to trade up to a larger one. Heather cautioned him there weren’t enough paying passengers to justify a larger balloon. Her cowboy still kept saving his money, paying Heather only in balloon rides. That was enough at first. But the scrimping and savings on food and lodging started to wear thin. When he flattened their account to buy a supersized balloon and basket, leaving no money for food for a week, Heather complained, “You could put your horse in that basket and there still would be room for the few paying passengers we get.” Her cowboy gave Heather a funny look.
He started going off by himself in the new balloon, claiming he needed to learn how to handle it. One morning Heather found her cowboy lifting off with his horse in the basket. Heather yelled the horse was breaking the wicker but Cowboy went off anyway, and she barely avoided being hit by a turd from the excited horse.
She was disgusted. Instead of chasing the balloon Heather headed back to her ex, explaining she had been addicted to the highs of ballooning—but she was over it and wanted settle down. For his part he had missed her terribly and had watched too much television. Together they realized how much they had together, and they still cared for each other. They agreed to build a new life from the ground up.