We pull our memories behind us in balloons. Some shiny and full, others soft with blurred edges. I never thought I could lose one. You don’t when you’re young, although I knew it was possible. I once watched a woman in the cereal aisle, her hair greying as her toddler howled. A balloon slipped from her hand as she wrestled him off the floor. It glided past me and I glimpsed within it her teenage self, skinny-dipping with a long-haired boy, her smile reflecting the stars. Then it wafted out the doors.
At uni, I learnt you could use a balloon for a buzz. I first tried it as a dare, and to impress the boy with the poet’s eyes. That time I used my own. I sucked in the memory of talking in front of the school assembly, coughing as the panic hit the back of my throat. That was a bad trip: I had palpitations for days. It took six months before I dabbled again. It wasn’t my own that time, a friend of a friend supplied me. I was young, drunk and too naive to question the provenance. I snorted it. Bubbles rose in my chest and a heat spread between my thighs. The smell of lynx and strawberry lip balm was intoxicating, the taste of salted popcorn on my tongue. I rode on the high of that young love for a week.
I have used on and off since then, but I cut back when I read about that woman on the bus. A desperate man had tried to pop the birth of her first child. Thankfully, his hands shook so much he missed. Later, my neighbour was burgled. I watched the authorities lead her away, unable to recognise her own family. The bastards had taken everything.
Right now I’m clean. If I do need a hit I only use my replaceable memories, although they lack that certain kick. I have had occasional slip-ups. After my granddad’s funeral, I locked myself away, inhaling our day at the beach: the cold jolt of ice cream on my fresh front tooth, and the smell of his Trebor mints. Of course, there was that bender after the divorce: that was when I knew it had to stop. When our daughter asked me how I met her father, and all I could give her was a tangle of strings.
Iona Rule lives in the Scottish highlands and finds her best story ideas come to her when she is driving between calls in her day job as a vet. She has been shortlisted in Fractured Lit Ghost, Fable and Fairytale Prize. Her work has been published in a number of places including the NFFD 2021 anthology, Popshot, Perhappened and The Phare.
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