The Red Balloon

Margaret awoke on a spring morning, a morning that would prove to be a most memorable one.

“Good morning, Monroe. Hello Sam,” she said, grabbing her cane from her bedside. Her cats followed her into the kitchen and jumped on the counter as she started a pot of tea. “Oh my, you two must be soo hungry! Let me get your breakfast.”

As she reached into the cupboard, she noticed something peculiar outside the kitchen window. It wasn’t the sun—even though this was the first sunny day in weeks—nor was it the blue jay perched in the bird house or the squirrels running across her fence. No, it was something else, something that obliged Margaret to put on her sweater and go out into the backyard.

She stood in front of her magnolia tree, confirming what she’d seen through the window—a red balloon stuck amidst the pink flowers. “On your way up to balloon heaven, I see,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll set you free.” She grabbed the balloon by the ribbon and untangled it from the branches. “I’m sorry that my Maggie has halted your journey.” As she was about to release the balloon, she noticed a shadow of something inside. A tiny piece of folded paper.

Her curiosity enveloped her. Oh dear, she thought as she examined it in the sun. What shall I do? This could be somebody’s wish they wanted to send to heaven. I dare not interfere.

Margaret thought about it for a while, but she had always been a nosey person, and something was telling her to pop the balloon and look at the paper. “Let me take you inside, Mr. Balloon.”

The moment she touched the balloon by the skin, she felt a sensation of icy water run through her fingers and legs. The chronic ache in her ankles and fingers disappeared; her hip pain was gone. Somehow, she suddenly felt as if 50 years had been taken from her age.

She dropped her cane and waltzed into the house, smiling from ear to ear, dancing in rhythmic patterns, holding the balloon as if it were her dance partner.

“I go out walkin’ after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just like the way we used to do…”

She was singing aloud. Monroe and Sam monitored her from afar, unsure what to think. Margaret side-stepped into the kitchen and opened the junk drawer as if it was part of her dance routine.

“I walk for miles along the highway
Well, that’s just my way…”

She grabbed a thumb tack and popped the balloon. Monroe and Sam scattered, never to be seen again. Her singing trailed off as she watched the folded paper fall to the floor. She noticed the note looked fragile, faded to a pale yellow. She unfolded it carefully, now certain it was intended for her. It read:

It’s time, my love.

At first Margaret didn’t know what to think, but then she smiled and burst into tears. Her beloved Frank had sent her a message. She placed the note on the counter and grabbed a tissue, but noticed the note starting to shrivel. “No!” she cried. “Frank?” She reached for it, but it was too late. The note was gone, turned to dust.

She sat down and stared out at her tree, thinking of the day they had planted it together. They’d just bought their house and were ready to start a family. Then Frank left the world and never had the chance to see it grow and blossom. Every time she looked at it, she thought about that perfect day and how much she missed him.

Her thoughts drifted deeper and deeper, until her dear Frank walked through the door, looking the same as the day he left.

And he smiled and held out his hand.

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