Telling the story of a little red balloon

It was a perfect summer night in the hills of West Virginia. Graduation was always a sellout at the stadium in this one red light town. A tradition for years, the class would release balloons with tags that included their name and their dreams for the future.

This time of year was always tough for Bill because a drunk driver killed his wife and daughter on Dead Man’s Curve. They were coming home from graduation. That was ten years ago but this night every year brought that same old aching hurt to Bill’s heart.

He could hear the horn blowing from his back porch. Bill was sitting on the back porch between Little Bill, a fat tabby cat, and Big Bill, a white lab. He had that old familiar Jack Daniel in his hands. On this day, they walked right up to the steps and disappeared. Most nights he slept in his rocking chair.

When he woke this particular morning, there tugging from a low hanging limb was a little red balloon. He cursed it. A morning breeze pulled it loose and it flew right over to the porch. Bill was scared. Was he still drunk? He grabbed it by the string and read the attached note. “I’m Mary and I want to be an electrical engineer”. He thought he knew this Mary. Mary Allen lived with her mom in a placed they called “the holler”. Bill had a thought but it was forgotten with the next drink.

A year passed. He opened the paper and the headline read, “Local Girl Caught Selling Drugs”. It was that same Mary. She received probation since it was a first offense. Bill, between his drunken stupors, had an idea. He had saved the balloon for no reason except he used to be a good electrician. Under the cloak of darkness, he eased up on the front porch of Mary’s house and tied the balloon and note on her doorknob. Bill attached his own note stating, “I will pay for your dream to come true”. Afterwards, he contacted Mary and her mom and they were elated that he would help young Mary achieve her dream.

What was driving Bill? He even slowed his drinking. Deep down, he knew the driving force. It was those two on the other side — it had to be. Almost a year passed. Mary had a 4.0 average, which excited Bill and her mom. Then, on the last month of school, she slid back into her old ways. Heroin has its way and is a tough monkey to get off your back.

When Bill and Mary’s mom found her, they brought her home — against her will, fueled by shame and mixed with drugs. Bill would not be deterred. Here comes those two ghosts again. He knew about drugs. After all, he was an old drunk.

He took a hard sell to his old local and convinced the president to allow Mary to enter the apprentice program. “Mary, this may be our last shot. I know you won’t let your mom down”. There had to be other forces at work. The first day of the program, a jet-black pickup drove up, shiny as though it just came out of the showroom. Out stepped a curly headed nineteen-year-old kid. Those eyes — there are no coincidences. They date, they marry, and Bill gave the bride away. A year later, Bill and her mom stood for the baptism of a beautiful red head, green-eyed baby girl.

Now Bill could do what he did best — drink. He just could not shake it. Many were the nights he parked near Dead Man’s Curve with a fifth of Jack Daniels and a pistol on the seat. Many were the nights he sat on the back porch with Big Bill and Little Bill. He’d place that gun to his temple and cry.

The years rolled on by. That little baby was ready to graduate. “Can you make it Uncle Bill? I want so much for you to be there”. She was just a kid and she never knew or asked about that awful accident. “I’ll be there, but no tie”, he teased.

Bill had not been inside the stadium in all those years. He should not have promised so quickly. “Maybe Jack Daniels will help”. He just could not make it. Dead Man’s Curve was within listening distance. He could hear the stadium loud speakers. Bill heard Amy’s name announced. She was named after his daughter. Then he heard the announcement “release the balloons”. You could see every single star in the clear West Virginia sky.

As fate would have it, a tiny red balloon caught a sudden summer breeze. That balloon was captured by a nearby limb just as Bill took a long drink from his fifth of Jack Daniels. He screamed out his car window — “Fly, fly away!” Another breeze came along, as if by command, and freed that captive tiny red balloon.

Bill took another deep slug of whiskey. Following the balloon until it could not be seen; he picked up his pistol and laid the hammer down. A note was found on the seat of his car. “Amy, I’m leaving everything I own to you and your mom. Take care of Little Bill and Big Bill. Sometimes there’s a mountain a man just cannot climb. I’m gonna catch me a ride on a little red balloon”.

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