Red Balloning

I don’t know where to start, but I love him and so I slice off an ear. There is nothing more true to ecstasy, all those starry, starry nights than an ear wrapped in tissue paper, tucked in a box, and sent through the US mail.

If it fits, it ships. He’ll receive it in exactly three to five days.

Balance comes from the ears, but also from something deeper because I was often unbalanced before I met him and I’m unbalanced now, but also very, very balanced. So balanced it’s like I’m standing straight on a trampoline with a tray of red wine while everyone else flies off in chaotic directions. It’s like I’m in a flat land with flat people and everyone is talking in whispers and I’m there too, flat, beautifully flat, but also very colorful, like a peacock.

What I’m saying is my sense of balance hasn’t changed since I lost my ear. I only have a bandage now and a lot of hats to cover my deficiency, if you prefer to call it that.

He received my ear and he says it’s nice, but can I maybe not do it again. He’s concerned about infections and public opinion, but I tell him not to worry. I never consider what other people think and I have enough hydrogen peroxide to sanitize a thousand missing ears.

I take my balance and imbalance and sit by my living room window, watching the neighbors as they walk by my apartment building on their way back from the grocery store. It is late October and the leaves are changing and the sun is low in the sky, casting my neighbors in an orange haze. They are lovely in their complexity and I wonder about the way their soft skin winds itself around their bodies, enclosing organs, minds, a whole lifetime of experiences. It gives me shivers and I think of him, the way he surveyed my body one night, my head down to my legs and told me to be careful when I was driving. You have to take care of yourself, he said, you’re too important. And in that moment I knew that I was, that I was a body, mind, and more.

I spread my hand across the windowsill. I stick my tongue out and examine my reflection in the window. These are superficial choices I know: the hand I use to hold him or the tongue I use to kiss, to taste-test the food I so lovingly prepare for him. Which will he appreciate most when he opens his mailbox fresh from work and tired? Which will reveal the ever-expanding part of me that glows for him?

I send him the tip of my tongue as a sign of eyes-closed kisses, the soft exploration of one mouth by another, and as a gesture of my selflessness. I can always get by with one hand, but I have no back-up tongues. For him, I send my one and only.

I go to the mall with my best friend. Even though I love them and all their glorious saltiness, we pass by the soft pretzel booth. We pass the cookies and the sandwiches and she gives me a sidelong glance, strangely drawn to my tongue-less mouth, but too polite to stare. But she can only be polite for so long. We’ve known each other since third grade and she’s not timid. She takes me to the pretzel booth and I politely decline while she buys herself a pretzel, tears it apart, and shoves it in her mouth right in front of me.

“Where’s your tongue?” she asks. “What did you do with it?”

“I mailed it,” I say. “And just the tip.” My words come out garbled, but I have nothing to be ashamed of.

“Of course, you did. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you needed your tongue?”

I say nothing. Her questions are logical and my answers are not. I’m not stupid. I know I needed my tongue, but I also knew my tongue was a small gesture in a grand scheme. It was nothing, really.

“This is what they do in some South American countries,” she informs me, chewing with her mouth open. This is not her most lady-like moment. “They kidnap people who might have money, demand ransom, and then mail the families the victims’ tongues and other body parts to prove they’re serious.” She continues to chew. There’s a fleck of pretzel on her lip. “Is that what you’re going for here?”

To my surprise, she has almost said it perfectly. “Yes,” I attempt to say. “That’s exactly what I’m doing, minus the ransom. I think of it as a gift.”

“You couldn’t just send flowers?” She shakes her head.

I know what she’s getting at. There are so many people who self-destruct for the sake of another, but this feels different. I am not so much self-destructing as I am expanding, pushing my body as far as it will go until it can hold both him and me, a cocoon of air and organs and packing supplies.

“No,” I say. “Flowers simply aren’t good enough.”

Afterwards, I drive home slowly, angry drivers behind me, and I admire the sky, the clouds, the sun, the trees. It is all so very, very bright and I am so lucky. And the more I give, the luckier I feel. I touch my hand to my forehead, consider my options.

An eye like a marble. An orb of bluish green. I send one and keep one. Although I know it’s not possible, I hope that when he looks into my eye he can see all that I see, the way the world has become impossibly sunny and I am forced to squint because whatever I do, I don’t want to look away.

I try to send a kidney, but the post office won’t let me. “It fits,” I say, placing my neatly wrapped package in their one-size-fits-all box. It is soft and wet and I have to move carefully for the sake of the kidney and my stitches, but I am determined.

“It’s perishable,” the woman at the counter says. “Among other things.”

I want to explain that I’ve been sending perishable items all along, but it turns out that’s part of the problem. My flat-rate boxes have been oozing unsightly liquids, emitting unseemly smells. “But that’s natural,” I say. “You know how nature works.”

From the look she gives me, she does not know how nature works and doesn’t especially want to know.

“The mail is delivered in the rain and the snow and sleet and hail,” I plead. “Surely, you can handle a little oozy box.”

“No,” she says. “We do not want to handle your oozy box.”

There’s no way around it and I walk back outside, kidney held against my chest. The other customers in line gawk at me, some trying to see what I’m holding, some barely concealing their disdain at a repressive postal system that won’t let a well-meaning patron mail her package when her item clearly fits. The whole world understands how I’ve been wronged.

Out on the step, I call him on my cellphone. I explain how I tried to mail a box and it was going to be such a nice surprise for him, but the post office wouldn’t let me.

“It’s okay,” he says. “You need your kidney anyway. How else are you going to filter out all those toxins?”

“What toxins?” I ask. “I don’t have a toxic bone in my body.” And it’s true; I feel like everything ugly and mean has been filtered away, leaving a shimmering me.

He laughs at my answer and that’s enough. Somehow, some way, I’ll get that kidney to him, but for now I have his voice in my ear, guiding me on my walk home. Once there, I separate the tips of my toes from my feet, little pellets of appreciation, wrap them in a napkin, and place them in my jacket pocket where I won’t lose them. Another gift, I think. Another gift for another time.

The days are growing crisp with impending winter. I go for long walks, my jacket wrapped snugly around me. Soon it will be snowing; I can see it in the clouds, their gray downiness in the distance, slowly approaching, but I don’t mind. Like everything else in my life, winter is burned gold around the edges by a light I can’t see, but can certainly feel.

I received a package in the mail the other day. A kidney carefully folded in bubble wrap and placed in Tupperware, not oozing. A kidney to replace my kidney. His kidney. I sensed solidarity in his gesture, solidarity against an unjust postal system and a generally hostile world. It felt good to have someone on my side, although I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I am entering a new phase of my life and he is in the middle and around the edges and I’m not ashamed at all because I feel full and billowy. I could empty myself of everything: lungs, intestines, pancreas, heart, and there would always be more to give. I am like a starfish. I feel like I am capable of regenerating forever.

I pass by a party store and spot a collection of cherry red balloons. My body is a collection of impulses and I pass through the door, bells clanging, and buy all those balloons. I carry them down the street, helium hearts begging to be set free, and people turn to look. They smile despite the coming snow and the cold.

I take them to the park, my red entourage, and when I’m sure no one is looking, I spill the toes out of my pocket and tie one to the end of each balloon. I hold the balloons for a moment, admiring the way they stand out against the sky, wishing I could give more, wishing I could attach the piece of my brain that is responsible for all this swirling, golden joy, but that would require major surgery and I simply can’t afford it. I point the balloons in his general direction and set them free, watching as they tiptoe across the sky, a cloud of red ballooning as far as the eye can see, a scarlet wing that catches everything and holds it close.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked