Balloon Animals

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Creative Nonfiction

Balloon Animals
I remember my mother’s older friend would pour vodka straight while I worked on jigsaw puzzles. I’d match each unique piece to form an old town during winter; the lamps illuminated the horse drawn carriages past Victorian homes where families sat by the windows. My mother and her friend both worked in a nursing home and bitched about the elderly patients they took care of.

I remember my mother’s thickset friend but I can’t remember her name. I’d catch fireflies outside while they drank inside, all of us filling our mason jars. Trapped in close quarters, the bugs flickered and mated like meteor showers. I was forgetful and didn’t punch air holes.

I remember my mother’s reassuring friend who rented the converted garage off Route 528 and how often we checked in that summer. Her apartment of secondhand smoke and sink of leftover food clinging to the dishes. I’d watch My Girl on VHS while they drank; the bees stinging Macaulay Culkin to death. My mother and I lived with my grandmother after she left Dad.

I remember getting home one night and my mother crossing my grandmother in the living room to go upstairs to bed. My grandmother asked me if my mother was drinking again. I looked for my body pillow that was adorned with cartoon zoo animals: lions, giraffes, zebras, and monkeys separated throughout the jungle. It felt soft and impeded my nightmare — the one where my mother and grandmother let go of the rope restraining the hot air balloon. I would float over cities I never knew while my mother and grandmother waved goodbye.

I remember my mother and grandmother screaming at each other but I couldn’t remember where I placed my pillow. I had the largest bedroom in the house and my mother had something comparable to a closet. She could sleep or stand up or walk out. My mother pulled my arm out of the house and my body tagged along. She forced me in the car and locked the hand-me-down Chevy she accepted in high school when she was pregnant.

I remember my grandmother pleading with my mother not to leave — not to drive — as she grabbed the door handle to get us out. The sound of my grandmother shrieking rang throughout the cul-de-sac as the car dragged her down the gravel driveway before she let go. The lines on the road didn’t appear straight. My mother searched for a hotel as she muttered to herself. That bed — that night — without my pillow felt like sandpaper. I could see the top of every building constructed in communities I dreamt up. Glaring down and drifting over picturesque families.

I don’t remember ever seeing my mom’s friend again. My grandmother’s knees bled devotion when we returned the next day. My mother and I recovered in my grandmother’s house as guests. Our pillows like mints awakening our senses into the real world.

Photo used under CC.

About The Author


Corey Miller lives with his wife in a tiny house they built near Cleveland. He is an award-winning Brewmaster who enjoys a good lager. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, X-R-A-Y, Barren, Cleaver, Bending Genres, Hobart, Cease Cows, and elsewhere. When not working or writing, Corey likes to take the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter @IronBrewer.