I’ve been doing some writing exercises this weekend; here’s a short story I created from four random prompts*. It’s called:
I loved the way she said “balloon”. She said it as if she were blowing bubbles. “Balloon. Balloon! Ballooooon!!” Reaching out towards those bright bobbing blobs of colour, wanting to grasp them. If we bought her one, and we always did, we had to tie it to the pushchair so that it wouldn’t float away when her fat little fist inevitably let go of the string. She would be left bereft, pointing as her treasure wavered away above our heads and crying “Balloon! Balloon!” as though we could magically pull it back down for her. Once home the treasure had to be tied to the leg of her high chair so that it could bob above her head where she could see it. As we passed we’d push it down gently and then let it go to bounce up again, making her laugh “Again! Again!” In a few days the helium would have leaked out and it would be dragging on the floor, wrinkled and sad, a shiny foil shadow of its former self.
“There you go, making up lies again”. That’s what they told me. They told me I never had a daughter, I’d never had a wife, we’d never taken her to the fair or bought her balloons or laughed when she cried “Balloon. Balloon!” All lies, all falsehoods, alternative facts created by a brain which had jumped the tracks and started to make its own reality. So how come it seems so real, I asked them. How come I can remember her saying it, “Balloon! Balloon!!”? I can see the pushchair, with its blue flowered cushions and plastic rain hood, and I can see her high-chair with the apple green seat and the white plastic tray and the green straps to fasten her in and keep her safe. I can see her black shiny hair and little fat fist grasping the balloon string. I can remember how it felt to push that balloon down to make it bounce up and make her laugh. I can see the beige and brown lino on our kitchen floor. And although I can’t see my wife, I can remember meeting her, walking up to the bar and she was standing behind the counter, giving him this coke float kind of smile. I can see him leaning on the bar, smiling back, and waggling his lager glass for her to give him another pint. And I can remember thinking “Enjoy it while you can, my friend, because she’ll be smiling that smile for me before too long”.
But apparently that’s all lies. Well, not all of it. There was a Japanese student who worked behind the bar in my local in Aberystwyth, and she did have a boyfriend who used to hang out at the bar and make up to her when she was working. My brother said that’s true, and that she’s still there, still working in the pub, although now she only works lunchtimes because she needs to be home in the evenings to look after her kids. Her son and daughter. Her daughter who is my daughter too. I know. I KNOW. But I’m not her dad, apparently. I’m not the man who fathered her and was there when she was born and cuddled her and sang songs to her and took her to the fair and bought her balloons, because apparently Hatsue didn’t marry me, she married the bloke who was chatting her up that first evening and he’s the father of her daughter and the man who bought her balloons. That’s the truth. They keep telling me. So why can I remember how that little girl’s hair smelt, and how soft her skin was when she snuggled into my neck when I took her upstairs to bed?
I can’t remember Hatsue, though. I looked at the pictures of her on the internet and she looks like a stranger, or someone I knew slightly once a long time ago. They tell me that’s because that’s what she is, but I think it’s because I’ve blanked her. I’ve wiped her from my mind, because I love my daughter so much. I can still remember her scream, the way she shrieked the day her mother slapped her face. The sound of the slap on her soft skin, the shock on her face, the appalled look of betrayal, the distress, the tears. The tears on my beautiful girl’s beautiful cheeks. That’s when I decided to wipe Hatsue out. To take her out of the picture. To bring up my daughter alone, just us, so that no one would ever hit her again just because she cried for a balloon. To take her away where she’d be safe, where it would just be her and me, where she could have all the balloons she wanted, and I would always push them down and let them go to make her laugh. I just took the pushchair and wheeled it away, and by the time Hatsue noticed we’d gone we were lost in the crowd. And even they agree with me, that that actually happened. Just us, the two of us, my daughter and me. That’s real.
* If you’re interested the prompts were:
First line: “I loved the way she said “balloon”. She said it as if she were blowing bubbles.”, Non-sequitur (introduced after five minutes’ writing): “There you go, making up lies again”. That’s what they told me., second Non-sequitur (after a further five minutes) “She was standing behind the counter, giving him this coke float kind of smile.”, Last straw (after a further five minutes): “the day her mother slapped her face”, and then a further five minutes to finish.