Sky High

I'm travelling by foot, pacing long streets with short strides and the city is quiet. It's a fairly standard sort of summer day, blazing sunlight only just managing to creep in through the edges of my sunglasses, not a cloud in the sky. The asphalt is hot under my steps, I can feel it if I stay standing still too long and let the soles of my shoes absorb the heat.

It's uncomfortable, to say the least, but the water bottle I'm clasping like a lifeline has already lost its fridge-freshness. The last of the condensation dripped dry half an hour ago, and the edge of the cap digs into my fingers no matter how many times I shift it.

There's a park a few metres away, and what looks to be a fast-food cart; normally, I don't frequent them but today I'm pulling closer, already scanning the blackboard for the coldest thing I can find and the surrounding area for the best-shadowed spot. The first comes in the form of a can of Diet Coke, so cold in my hand that I flinch away from it when the vendor slides it over the counter to me. It almost hurts to hold, but I carry it and an ice cream over to the tallest tree, awkwardly shuffle things so my shirt-sleeves are folded back, drop my things to the far end of the bench and sit, relishing the cool and relative darkness.

Watching the world through my sunglasses is calming, the tint affecting my perception of the colours around me until I'm not always certain what colour I'm seeing. At least, the shade of it is skewed, and occasionally I lower the glasses, peer briefly over the rim to see the colour better and then lean back, slide them on.

In the space to my right, there's a heap of fabric and what appears to be a basket, but I'm too disinclined to move from my shaded spot to investigate. Two men cut through the path in front of me, one carrying a backpack and the other talking on his phone. I shift to watch, my only concession to moving right now, and angle myself until I'm fully propped up on the bench, my belongings kicked to the ground so there's space for me to fold my legs up.

They slip through the gate and one begins tending to the fabric while the other watches, phone still clamped to his ear.

The pile of fabric begins to inflate, rising coherently into something taller, taking shape as I wish I had a phone or camera with me to film it. I don't count the minutes, but in a shorter timespan than I expected it's in what I assume to be its correct shape, evidently ready for something.

A woman's heels click over the pavement and she looks thoroughly out of place, dressed in a business-dress and full makeup - everyone else around us is wearing jeans, shorts, and loose light tops. Her phone is at her ear, but the bits of conversation I do manage to make out are less business and more an effort to be guided, someone navigating her to a destination.

The field is grass. She'll lose her balance as soon as she steps off the concrete, and as I'm looking on she does teeter over the field. Her posture has become ramrod stiff, her steps smaller and far more tentative than I saw when she was cutting a path over sharp concrete and uneven cobblestones.

The first man I saw lets the balloon rise into the air, and now my full attention is on it as it inches upwards. I can't track what is happening now, it's too high up but my attention is broken by a distant rumble. There's thunder in the distance, and the darker weather sweeps the entire park. My attention drifts earthward, and I focus on the ground to see it darken, watch as the asphalt stops sparkling and the grass seems to wilt at the lack of light.

Rain is in the air now, I can feel the chill and gather my things to me - there's no telling how bad a storm this will be - making no motion to leave though, halted in my forgetfulness if it's better to flee a storm or stay put. In the end staying put decides me, and I race over to the rotunda that's only ten or so paces away. There's high shelter all around it, solid walls in place and a plain wooden bench that reassures me. From this angle I still have a decent view of the hot air balloon, and I keep an eye on it even despite knowing I have no hope of what's happening there.

The rain arrives, pelting noisily on the aluminium roof of the rotunda and I wait for something to happen. It seems suddenly the balloon has deflated, drifting to the ground and toppling the basket to the ground while the first man works to keep the fabric from entangling the people below.

The scene is out of focus at first, but quickly comes into something cohesive as I blink - one blink, and the fabric is collapsed. A second, and the basket is out of harms' way from the weather. A third, and the second man is embracing the woman. They're standing half-in, half-out of the basket, and rain is beating down on them. They look oblivious to the world around them - she pays no mind to the fact that her expensive shoes are getting soaked in mud, nor does he worry about the fact that they're still standing immediately below what looks like several dozen pounds of fabric.

I shift myself away, rifle through my backpack for my long-forgotten sketchbook and a pack of pencils.

It's the sort of scene that should be remembered.

Flash Fiction July, 31