A balloon on the water in early evening, red bobbing on grey, fragile in spite of its fullness. Was there a child crying somewhere who had held onto it all day, proud at a picnic or party, mouth open in disbelief as a stray gust of wind tugged at it, pulling it up into the sky and skimming it out onto the water?
‘My balloon,’ he would have cried. ‘My red balloon.’
Did it come instead from one of the houses on the hill, dressing up a balcony, standing with its other red brothers and sisters beside a sign that said “Welcome to our new home”; proud and celebratory until the wind once again took it – mischievous, looking for a little bit of trouble – spiralling it down and down like a staircase until it reached the water?
Perhaps the real story is that it came from a boat. A boat with sails sweetened by sunshine, a boat holding two people gripped by happiness, held tight by love. They have been drinking champagne. There is a ring, roses and balloons. The ring gleams in the early autumn light, still bright in spite of colder days.
There is a woman, smiling. Her joy reaching out in glimmers across the water. The man who gave the ring and the promise of happy days is asleep. The woman sits, her eyes rising and falling with the waves, contemplating the future. She holds a rose, letting if fall amongst the waves, a gift to the gods of the sea, a hope her happiness will be as sweet as she wishes.
Whimsically, encouraged by the wind and the laughter of the children still playing beneath the fig trees, the woman throws one of her balloons – a red one – out onto the water. For a moment she worries it will burst, fearful for birds and fish, that they are scared of it; that they choke on it. But the balloon dances before steadying itself, ruby in the waning light, unthreatening, noticeable as a grinning face.
The woman and the man leave the bay in their boat; together perhaps forever. The balloon remains, alone now but unworried as it waits – speckled by the lights from the bridge – to join in the games of mermaids.