That day, the day before the worst day, she’d bought me balloons. Against the warm, orange sun, dipping behind shadow-black mountains, they stained fragments of the sky above me deep green, peach, and maroon. The translucent rubber looked almost frosty, like church-windows tugging against my small, pudgy fingers. I remember asking for ice cream or something cold, maybe shaved-ice. With a sincere and practiced motherly smile, her face half-shadowed, she told me that we’d missed our chance and that it was too late now. But, she continued, it was okay because we’d had been out having more than our share of fun.
The sun slipped beyond the horizon as we’d gotten home and she tucked me into bed, my ballons huddled in the dark, floating together by my closet, all black. In the morning, between my father’s crying, the red waling of ambulances, the shuffling of feet and papers, and the feel of cheap, ribbed waiting chairs, I learned the word ‘apnea’ for the first time. And visiting her in her silent hospital room, I learned the meaning behind a word I’d thought, up until then, was obvious: ‘dead-weight.’
For days, every morning and evening I untied the balloons at their base and slowly let out the air. I pictured her at the park and listened to her exhale.