I watched as the child’s balloon broke from its wispy tether and, while dodging flailing hands amid gasps of despair, floated up, up. Bobbing back and forth with the swirling breeze and swooping martins she knew a relief that was no doubt abundant and satisfying.
The broken fetter flitted about like a wagging tail. She was almost mocking in her nodding approval of the happy escape - riding the wave of air as graceful as if she was designed for that very purpose.
The change in scenery now achieved was an explicitly greater reward than the security and predictability of being tied to the evergreen Bugabee stroller - with cup holders and all-terrain wheels.
As she drifted she observed gray-haired regulars playing chess on worn maple and ebony boards. One pair appeared to be at blows over a cocky “check-mate”. She caught the nervous eye of a teenage boy clumsily failing to land a peck on a young girl’s cheek. He was glowing red; she giggled, clearly glad at his effort. Through a haphazard waterfall of dying leaves she spied crying children with scraped knees being comforted by mothers, little girls barefoot dancing in twirling yellow dresses, a kite caught in the outstretched arms of an innocent poplar, and vendors selling all manner of wares – ice cream, hot dogs, and “the world’s greatest soft pretzel”, with spicy mustard. For once, the world was bright and loud and moving and alive.
Yes, if freedom wasn't free, she wondered, it was at least free-ing and much more interesting. But this new found freedom was not won without risk as she was about to discover.
For the scene had drawn the attention of a group of what had become endearingly known as the “rough and tumbles” – local boys from the poor neighborhoods with mussed up hair, dirty faces, and torn trouser pockets - playing football (but really more just fighting and wrestling, than actually engaging in a sport). And within seconds, she was faced with a battle royal. The gravel, IBC bottle caps, gumballs, and chunks of bark cannoned by the lot in mischievous glee bore one unifying goal: ground. that. balloon.
One by one flying rounds whistled by, most were so far off as to be hilarious, but several came close. Then with a satisfying “Ker-thunk!” one especially large, dense gumball did hit its mark, but alas, it only bruised her and spun her around. So with her determination intact, the now slightly battered balloon continued her erratic ascent. “Still free, still free“, she thought.
“Wurth, or Mauer, or Strasburg could have got ‘er” some boys snorted under their breath. But the rag tag bunch stood and watched in quiet defeat.
Slowly, young and old alike were drawn away from their games of catch, scuffed-up Frisbees, hiding-and-seeking, and ice cream-covered arms. All were distantly mesmerized by the sight of her as if they wished to be somehow alighted upon her to parts unknown. To an ascending adventure.
By now her view was likely the envy of the entire park. For what but a bird, airline pilot, or a skyscraper window-washer can ever boast of a view at such a height. It was now hers to feast upon and boast.
As she disappeared into the fading blue-orange abyss, my neck began to twinge and cramp while the late afternoon activity settled back in and we were all subdued by another distraction. And then she was no more.
I took off my shoes and enjoyed grass between my toes as I went to retrieve my tangled kite.
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