Richard Leise


What Robert fails to understand is that June still feels. That June still (and acutely) thinks. This is because June has (just like a junkie) developed tolerance. And so June feels her reason—no, June sees her reason—and what June sees is a yellow balloon. June sees the string tied to her yellow balloon and she watches her hold loosen and her hold loosen further still and while June thinks to, while June wants to act so as to gain a better grip she sees her hand do nothing, she watches the string rise from deep within her fist to slide against her index finger until June sees not so much the end of the string as the space of sky between the bottom of the string and the top of her hand. And while it isn’t exactly then, June soon realizes that she can no more hold on to her balloon than she can conceive a child.

At first, June manages. In the beginning, June doesn’t feel that badly. For a time she even feels a little bit better. In letting go she is, of course, no longer holding on. This creates, at least physically, less tension. June feels more at ease. Completely unnecessary.

More than this, though, she enjoys a psychic sort of peace. Between her body and her consciousness there is a vacuum, a warm pool of existence. June can wade into this lagoon and float upon her back, her body buoyant, her mind absent thought, registering only this present pleasantness, this corporeal release.

And the balloon—bright as it is—and its string—long as it is—remains always visible, the balloon seems forever in reach. And so her reason, like a childhood pet, June walks. Sometimes down a city street. Other times carefully, as if a young girl, selecting the best, the largest rocks rising from the water and crossing the creek until she finds herself following her reason across a set of train tracks and through a copse of aspen where the trees have been thinned to outline a clearing. Here, the sun is blanked by the browning elevation of a great oak. Here, there is a forgotten home whose front porch collapsed beneath the weight of the season’s buoyant grapevine, about the only thing living and doing so just to strangle that which supported it; lent it life; the woody vines spiraling tight as a fist to form like so many suffocating crowns something like a simile; its leaves desiccated and withered and mottled black by daybreak’s blanket blaze; all of it twisted; most of it dead; that which survived slinking, creeping along the deadpan as if to escape itself; to form some new, better self; tendrils and claspers reaching out like the desperate hands of so many drowning men towards the blackened agony of a petrified birch. An awful tree almost limbless, its roots rising from a sinkhole and the length of its trunk leans toward the earth at some shadow’s impossible angle and all of it burnt like a used matchstick.

It’s here where June’s yellow balloon slowly ascends.

It’s here, where, gently girded by the passing breeze, June watches her reason rise until completely out of reach, the yellow balloon, its long string dangling, tangled within a tapered branch, needle-thin.

And—look—the balloon is still there. The balloon—watch—is slowly losing air.

But no, the balloon will not pop.

And so this distance, this space between June’s body and conscious awareness? The water has cooled, it is no longer possible for June to float.

Instead, she sinks.

And while June does not fear darkness (or death) the sensation is overwhelming. And June scrambles to surface despite knowing this means existence. That she will survive. Frigid. Wet. And gasping for breath.

And so she lives. A body, eyeing its reason as, tethered, it rocks and sways and slowly loses not so much its shape (or form) as its force, its pressure.

Robert rises. He slows at the foot of her bed, he says, “I’m going to stretch my legs. Can I bring you back some water?”

And June looks at him, she shakes her head.

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About the Author

Richard writes and teaches outside Ithaca, NY. A fellow from Old Dominion University’s MFA program, his fiction and poetry are featured in numerous publications. At work on his second novel, he has a novella, Being Dead (OffBeat Reads), and a unique literary work, Johannes & Merritt (Dark Lake Publishing), coming out this spring. His love story, “Jennifer,” will be available from DreamPunk Press later this year. Follow him on Twitter @coy_harlingen.