Johnny America


The Pa­rade


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.

Filed under Fiction on March 10th, 2008

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Reader Comments

Jum wrote:

urge.… for grenouille.…
Nice job

Alex wrote:

Nice one. I feel queasy, think­ing of rid­ing Ker­mit far above the city. Ugh. Dark and glee­ful. I love it.

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