The weather was surprisingly bright and warm for November, the day Jeffrey flew Kermit into the heart of the sun.
Things had not being going well for Jeffrey. His teeth tasted bad in the mornings with the brown fur of cigarettes. His E string was perennially slipping out of tune. And, as ever, there was something about a girl. This time it was one with gappy teeth and an ill-fitting husky voice. She rode an old Raleigh bicycle that caused mayhem on the sidewalks, and she wasn’t in love with him.
Jeffrey took this job because he was broke, two months behind on rent and relegated to a diet of reheated noodles and trash bag bagels. In truth though, he wasn’t so keen on kids, or Macy’s either. He’d expected to feel some nostalgic charm to being in the midst of the parade he’d seen so often on television, but in truth, all he felt was irritation. He hung on to the rope tighter, making sure Kermit’s shoulder stayed tethered as they manoeuvred him down Broadway.
The crowds pulsed and chattered, excited families with talk of rent controlled apartments and pigs in blankets. It was so fucking warm. When he woke at 8, the sunshine had been piercing and brisk, but now the city was drenched in a thick mugginess. 500 000 ovens simultaneously preheating. It was making him cranky, sick of people. He was ready to take the side of those inflatables, with their ludicrous scale and lumbering ways.
Jeffrey had been reading Aristotle, and he was sad for the balloons. Rocks fall to the ground because they are trying to return to the earth. Old dogs come home to die. The balloons wanted to orientate skywards, but they were tied to the ground and dragged street to street. The tall buildings didn’t help either, complicating the world with new vertical horizons. The balloons trundled down Broadway like huge drugged moths, veering in all the wrong directions. Heading downtown, not upwards. Not to the sky.
It was ok though. Jeffrey had a plan: he would set them free. He rolled his fingers round the lump in his pocket, grinning at the vision of it. It had been surprisingly easy, just 60% potassium nitrate and 40% sugar, melted around a Visco Safety Fuse. Enough for a moment of fug and confusion, and screams. And escape, upwards. Goodbye.
A single spark, and everything dissolved.
And it was impossible to tell who had shouted first, the hysteria and choking, and smoke, oh God.
And what’s happening, what are they doing?
Not this, please, not now.
The crowd shot apart in panic, like mercury dropped on linoleum. That orderly formation of twenty three ropes scrambled and shrieked and ran. Only Jeffrey was left, clutching tighter and securing himself. Now it was just him and Kermit, and the desire to fly. Kermit turned his head to the sun, his jaw wallowing open in delight. Turned away from the ground and began to float into the air.
The green mass shifted and a fat child in a puffy jacket looked up at him, clutching a small flag. With its oddly round arms, it almost looked inflated too. Jeffrey wanted to reach out, grab the hand and let it fly with them. He offered his open palm and the kid waddled forward, pointing.
Before he could make contact, Kermit jerked upwards. Jeffrey thought of his sister yanking his hair and grinned. The ropes tangled in the updraft and blew towards him, he grappled madly, gaining a fisthold. The momentum carried and he swung forwards, colliding in the sagging neon vinyl of Kermit’s ruff. In a second they were above the heads and clearing the smoke. Heading for the sky.
There was almost a riot, until the crowd looked up. And the smoke cleared, and there was Kermit, sailing upwards. This wasn’t Al Qaeda; this was cartoons. And that one guy who hadn’t let go, he didn’t look scared at all. He looked happy. Blissful, in fact. Almost heroic.
It wasn’t as quiet as he expected, up there in the sky. The air gasped through his ears and he could still hear the muted screams from down on the streets, though they were softening now, to mutters and confusion. But Jesus, it was beautiful. He adjusted his balance, pulling himself further onto Kermit’s shoulder, and stared down at the tangle of city beneath him. Except it wasn’t as he expected, a mess of crowds and dirt and the wretched stench of people. Up here he could see that everything was geometric and measured, the streets straight and orderly. He felt a great rush of calm wash over him. Even the park was a perfect rectangle. All those MTA maps, and he had never really noticed it before.
They flew southwards, heading for Staten Island and open water. The skyscrapers stared up at them. The hollow of Ground Zero gaped upwards like the gummy cavity of a missing tooth. He couldn’t smell a thing. Up here, away from its inhabitants, the city was beautiful.
The helicopter buzzed closer, and there was a man with a megaphone shouting that it was ok, everything was going to be fine. Jeffrey wasn’t sure. He knew if he let himself be saved they would never let the balloon go, they would bring it back to earth to be gawked at and photographed. Deflated. He couldn’t let that happen. Balloons navigate to the sky. Flesh returns to the earth.
Jeffrey stared straight into the sun, and it pulsed hotly back. If he glared hard enough, he could already see Kermit’s flesh melting in a grotesque rubber parody. A cartoon Icarus. Eyes wide, he yanked his body to the side and let the ropes whiplash out of his fists. Kermit was free to sail to the sun. Jeffrey was falling.
Jeffrey looked up at the sun and smiled.
“Thanks,” he said.
They hurtled away from one another like repelling elements, and everything turned white, then black, then green. And quiet.
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