Slow Leaks

Slow Leaks
Brian Leingang

Two balloons escaped during the baby shower tear-down.
The kids, running around and claiming pink balloons
of different shades tied to the large Magnolia tree,
had begged for them to be tied to their wrists.
One slid off when a knot came loose,
the other slipped between fingers during a handoff,
like water running backwards into a faucet.
They shot up into the air.

“Into space?”
asked the kid from next door, the lonely boy—always
sent outside to play, his eyes keen for a visit
from his neighbor’s grandchildren.
He came over as soon as the guests left,
slipping through the bushes like ribbon
pulled through fingers.
“Maybe,” I say. “Most likely though, they will come back down.”
“Where?” he asks. I reply that I don’t know,
“What goes up, must come down,” I say.
He says they’ll get popped by a meteor, and chases another child.

Later in the week, a friend tells us that they will hold
a memorial for his suddenly deceased father-in-law.
He had died flying his plane into an electrical tower.
At the memorial, they will take to the sky with balloons.
They will have their phone numbers and email addresses attached,
to see how far they go and solve a mystery.

How long does it take for a balloon to come down?
Do they pop from birds, planes, or meteors?
Does the helium slowly leak out of a loosely tied knot
until all that is left is some wrinkled old rubber
belying its puff-checked birth, squealing in life from the nozzle
that can lead to such a short life: beloved, forgotten, and mourned?

It’s the air, I realize.
The outside pressure decreasing as it sails up,
the internal life expanding to maintain equilibrium
until that skin gives up. A tiny tear is all it takes
to send it tumbling down, its job not done,
its purpose not fully realized until found.

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