My Life As A Green Balloon, short story by Richard Allen at

My Life As A Green Balloon

I could hear the rumbling of trams, the sirens of the emergency vehicles, the rattling of lorries and the swish of cars. I could even hear the voices of people, borne upwards in the breeze – the deeper voices of the larger ones, the high squeaks and screams of the smaller ones. I wondered how long I might remain where I was. Though I had not descended into the tree with much force, I seemed to be firmly wedged. Perhaps if the continuing slight escape of air persisted long enough, I would be blown free by a gust of air? However, for now, I was content to be where I was. I felt safer than anywhere else I had been for as long as I could recall. Moreover, once I had got used to the hubbub around me, I realised that it was not directly beneath me and I could allow it to move away into the background of my thoughts. Below me, it remained still and, shaded by the trees and the huge whiteish-grey building, quite dark. Among the grass and small bushes there seemed to be many stone squares, like paving stones but larger and longer, often upright, set out in a regular pattern. I noticed with a frisson of fear that several cats were making their way amongst them. But none appeared to be inclined to climb any of the trees. One or two people appeared, several of whom put food on the ground for the cats. That struck me as a good thing: there would be no reason for the cats to climb any of the trees in search of sustenance. After some time, I began to perceive that the wind had freshened and I could see drops of rain falling between the trees, though their leaves appeared to prevent any rain falling on me. Some of the people raised large round plastic cloths above their heads, others sheltered under the trees. Indeed, a couple of large people with two smaller ones stood beneath me for a while. Unfortunately, one of the smaller ones noticed me and the two of them began to throw objects in my direction. From what I could see, they appeared to be the same as the small, rounded and somewhat knobbly objects that were attached to the branches surrounding me. I was uncertain if one of these things hit me whether I would be damaged or feel pain, but it rapidly transpired that they could not reach me. To my pleasure, one bounced off a branch and fell to earth, hitting one of the children on the head. It squealed and whimpered. So perhaps had I been struck, I might well have been hurt. I fear I experienced pleasure at someone else’s pain. There was probably a word for it – but nothing permeated my consciousness. I remained in the tree for several days and nights. Indeed, I became quite accustomed to the life, the rhythm of night and day, the different noises, the birds coming and going. Though it might lack the incidents of my earlier life, I was perfectly content to avoid the dangers of that existence. Whether this was where I was supposed to be, I knew not. But it suited me fine. From time to time, I asked myself whether this was what the remainder of my life would be like. I realised that infinitesimally slowly, the breath was seeping out from my body. But there was nothing I could do about it. So far, it did not appear to have affected my comprehension of the world around me or my ability to cogitate. But I had to acknowledge that my understanding no longer appeared to be progressing. Was this the plateau, after which my ability to comprehend the world would begin to decline? Where might that lead? To a troubling lack of understanding? A gathering fear of the unknown? The appearance and sudden disappearance of random thoughts and perceptions? Or a gradual subsidence into utter incomprehension and then nothingness?
As ever, I was not master of my own fate. Though I might be gently subsiding, at least I appeared to be secure from the sudden shock of a pointed object or the heavy force of the wheel of a vehicle or the harsh tread of a foot. Even the birds seemed to have accepted me. No longer did they approach me quizzically and point their beaks at me – fortunately without touching me. Instead, they ignored me. It appeared that I had become part of their world, high up in the trees and sky. An unimportant part, that is true. But whenever I had seemed to be an object of the interest of others, that seemed to have maximised the risks to my continued existence. Being ignored and of no importance seemed infinitely preferable. Perhaps that was the most important thing I had learnt during my short existence – that being the object of others’ attention was more worrying, dangerous and less fulfilling than being myself, out of the limelight, in solitude, among those who took little or no interest in me. I had discovered long ago that there was no possibility of communicating with my own kind. While we could sense the world around us and apparently absorb information about its nature through our skins, we were completely unable to make our thoughts understood by anyone else. Of course, that did not just comprise my own kind, but every other animate object which I had encountered. I felt this was a shame, as I would wished to have known whether my own kind felt and thought like me, what their experiences were, whether being inflated more or less, or perhaps at different rates, had changed their ability to perceive and understand. But I would never know. Though we might be jumbled together at the commencement of our existence and perhaps even gathered together after we had been inflated, we remained solitary beings. And being a solitary being, solitude suited me fine. Except, the realisation began to dawn on me that as I subsided ever so gently, I was gradually becoming less secure in the branches where I was presently ensconced. Sooner or later, I would have shrunk sufficiently for a breeze to blow me away into the air and whither, who could tell? I wondered whether I would feel as much in my element in the air as I had when I had flown so high previously? I felt slightly heavier, my skin marginally thicker. Perhaps I was becoming less at risk from sharp objects? But at the expense of being unable to float, seemingly effortlessly, in the breeze? And again, I asked myself what effect this might have on my ability to perceive and reflect? But the process took several more days. By the second of these days, I realised I was free from the constraint of the branches, but as there was but a light breeze or none, I remained where I was. I had become accustomed to this existence and though it might seem dull to some, felt all the sweeter as the awareness grew on me that it was shortly to end. If the alternatives are more exciting and interesting, but with a significant risk of one’s existence being terminated, there is much to be said for a dull, quiet life. I suspected that once I left my perch in this tree, my life was likely to return to its previous perilous state. This tree was the closest thing to a home that I could expect and departing from it would be a wrench. And – no truer word than wrench! Several days later, a wild storm approached, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain – accompanied by a swift breeze. For a while the wind blew from a direction which pushed me back against my friendly branches, but after an hour or so, it switched direction and flipped me away from the branch. Then it suddenly stopped for a moment and the rain bore me almost directly downwards until I reached ground, almost at the foot of the tree which I had regarded as home. The ground was a mixture of paths made of pebbles, around stone and concrete objects of mostly regular shapes, surrounded mostly by grass. From time to time, a gust of wind whisked me a few feet upwards into the air and a couple of times I bumped into one of the stone shapes. But mostly I was pressed down by the force of the rain. Though it felt strange at first, after a while I got used to it and found it almost refreshing, but occasionally it felt sharp or even ticklish.

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