by Darrin Moir

When I was four, I lost a balloon to the sky. It had been bumping against my head and tickling my face in the backseat the whole ride home. Maybe it was the static electricity, but I felt a strong connection between us.

Once home, I got distracted by some ants in the driveway weighed down with crumbs ten times their size. I looked back and the balloon was already falling above the treetops. My dad looked at me with disappointment, pointing up. My heart, the size of a small bird, just learning how to fall in love, was tied to that balloon. I reached toward the sky and screamed from deep in my belly, stomping the ground for not holding on tighter.

"It doesn't come back," Dad said, "No matter how much you yell and kick and scream."

He comforted me with a few words, grew tired of my whining and told me to let it go.

It was just a balloon.

Scared that other things might fall up, I threw myself at his feet. He fought to keep me from clinging to his leg, telling me to walk like a big boy, but I held on tight.

Later, I realized that he wouldn't have fallen into the sky like the balloon. I had been acting childish. He was wearing shoes, and he must have known that tying shoes to our feet was really about tying ourselves down so we don't fall up.

Once I made the connection, it explained everything.

Why it was so important to get all the looping and bunny-ears snug and double-knotted.

"You're going to fall and hurt yourself," my parent said.

So I made sure Mom and Dad always tied their shoes on tight. I furnished their pockets with fistfuls of stones. Just in case.

Eventually I got another balloon. I kept it in the hallway closet, freaking out whenever I found it near the entryway, having slipped out as someone grabbed their coat or their shoes, inching closer to the doorway of the great blue abyss.

Mom and Dad laughed at my reaction. It didn't make sense, especially when they screamed at each other about dirty dishes and unanswered phone calls.

One day they screamed so hard the walls started to cave, and they used up the air in the house so that it was hard to breathe. I hunkered down in the kitchen carefully tuned for my name.

There was a final word.

A door slammed.

Heavy breathing.

When I came out of my hiding place amongst the Tupperware, my mom was in the entryway, staring hatefully out the window toward the sky, her shoulders were rising and falling with the hissing noise that she was making through her clenched teeth.

My father's shoes stood neatly by the door.

BIO: Darrin Moir attends Northern Michigan University and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with his wife and three children. He divides most of his time between teaching freshman composition, painting houses or canvases, finishing graduate school, and writing short stories.