Weightless, cloud, Ride
Don’t look down Marge, just don’t look down, she told herself as the men began to work on the ropes. Her hands gripped the railing, her knuckles white. I’m a television reporter. I can do this. One of the team standing nearby saw her face and called out.
“Hey lady, you look like you seen a ghost already!” He laughed loudly, beer belly jiggling. Marge didn’t answer the man. He tried again. “Hey, you don’t gotta do this you know, you want me to tell them to hold on?” He asked, rope in one hand, drink in the other. A few tight jerks of her head told him no.
“You sure?” A voice came over her shoulder, a grandpa hippie freaking guy that had said he was the captain. What had she been thinking? “You’re not going to try to jump out or anything are you?” Marge shook her head no, she could not find her voice. The captain patted her shoulder and waved at the guys on the ropes. “That’s okay boys, let her rip!”
Let her rip? That’s how you choose to put it? I’m going up hundreds of feet in the air in nothing more than wicker basket tied on to a balloon and we’re going to ‘let her rip?’ Shoot me now. There was about 10 seconds left before they finished untying those ropes and if she intended to say anything or get out of the basket she had to do it now! Life, I choose life!
Marge stood, rooted to the spot as the ropes came undone. She could hear a child crying somewhere near, a dog barking. She could see a bunch of guys standing around a truck, drinking coffee and laughing about something.
The basket went left a little and then back, as the ropes came undone and those corners of the basket tried to rise. Quickly the men on the ground untied the remaining ropes and Marge held on as tight as she could. Suddenly weightless, they rose. The moment that the basket started its ascent time had ceased to exist. The world disappeared and there was nothing but upward movement – a blur in her field of vision. For a split second there was no day or night, no up or down, no air. No air?
Marge realized that she’d been holding her breath. She sucked in a great lungful. All she could do was stare, eyes and mouth wide open. I didn’t feed the cat. I should have left a note so someone would let him out when I don’t come back. Not only am I killing myself, I’m killing Doodlebug too!
They rose even with the treetops, hovering over the field. Several other teams were nearby, in various stages of inflation and ascent with their equipment. As they began to float away Marge looked up and saw fire streaming from the big burner, heating the propane that kept them aloft. The outside of the balloon was kind of pretty with its vivid colors. She didn’t know how it worked but obviously it did.
“You thought you were going to die didn’t you?” The captain stepped beside her and tipped his hat. Sound finally escaped her lips and came out sounding strangled.
“I was once afraid of heights too,” he said. “I know what you’re feeling. I think you can let go of the side now. We can fly without you holding us up.”
Marge took one hand then the other off the side and flexed them. They were cramped and cold. She realized she wasn’t holding on to anything and grabbed the side again with one hand. The captain laughed. “Okay okay, compromise.”
“Sh-shouldn’t you be flying this thing?” She asked. The captain smiled and pointed at two of the others in the basket with them. There were six people in all, including her and the captain.
“My son and grandson are the pilots today. I taught them everything I know,” he said proudly. The son smiled and held up his radio. He stayed in constant contact with a chase car following behind them on the ground.
“I see.” Marge shivered.
“It’s chilly!” Said the only other woman on board. The early morning air was damp.
“Yes ma’am, it‘s chilly some mornings. If you’re cold I can give you a blanket to wrap up in,” he gave one to the woman and offered one to Marge.
She shook her head no, a little less panicked now. She risked a look out of the basket, at the passing countryside. They really were floating, the ride smooth. Okay, so maybe I’m not going to die right now this minute. She risked a look down and quickly brought her gaze back up, nope, not going there yet! Okay, so maybe the captain wasn’t a hippie freaking dude. Old, for sure, old like her dad, but maybe he wasn’t on a day pass from the nursing home just yet. He smiled and she smiled back a little.
“That’s the spirit!” He smiled and spread his arms. “All the world is yours today!” They were gliding…past brown fields, crops long since taken in for the year. The captain pointed out the many rock walls they went past. They were carefully constructed and followed curving property lines, intersecting each other in some places, falling down in others. They saw it all in…slow motion and it was lovely.
Marge looked out over the side again. There was a field of cows. Was it…Abbot’s Dairy? It was, she could see the logo on the side of the barn. Well, this was kind of cool.
“There’s Abbot’s Dairy.” She said, as though this guy would know who that was.
“Is that where you get your milk?” The captain asked. Marge nodded, already looking for the river she knew to be coming up. There it was!
“Hey there’s the Merrimack River!”
“Want to ride the river for a while?”
Marge nodded. The captain gave his son some directions and they changed altitude, following a breeze over the water. It was October in New Hampshire, and the fall foliage was in full blaze. There was a layer of fog riding the river below them in places, obscuring the riverbanks and some of the trees. The captain’s son brought them down to treetop level and they floated by, the basket swishing into and out of the fog which eddied and swirled behind them. Marge closed her eyes and felt the mist brush against her face. She was flying in a cloud. There was no sound, save that of the water. They were riding with the breeze, so there was no wind. Every so often the silence was broken by the gas burner. I wonder what the birds think of us up here.
Moments later as they rose out of the fog, Marge saw that the golden sun had lit the entire countryside before them. Her breath caught in her throat and she was sure that her heart stopped beating for a second. It was gorgeous. The bright red sugar maples looked like candied apples dotting the hills among the many orange, yellow and green leaves. “Wow.” Said the other couple that had come along for the ride. “It’s incredible.”
“You‘re right about that,” said the captain. “Now you folks can see why we do this.”
After a while Marge got up the courage to let go of the basket and step to the other side. That was a strange feeling, but she did it. The captain pointed to the fairgrounds ahead and told everyone they would land there. It’s over already? It’s only been an hour!
When they reached the fairgrounds the ground team waited below to catch and secure them. It didn’t take long. Noises intruded on her senses again, livestock in the show pens, kids screaming on the rides. Carnival music. The show tractors nearby were getting into place for their pulling contests, big engines gunning so loud that it hurt the ears and vibrated from the ground through the bleachers right up into your teeth when you watched them. It was wild but suddenly she felt like going to see them!
“I see someone liked the trip.” Mr. beer belly was looking pretty harmless now.
“I did!” She replied, and meant it. “It was awesome!” Marge shook the captains hand and started to leave, only to turn around a minute later. The television station had sent a car to follow the ground crew and she would ride back with them. She went to the captain and had to ask, “When can I come back again?”