Monday morning with hair like stale candyfloss. Contact lenses stinging my eyes the way Lego surprises underfoot. There’s a tumble dryer rumbling at the back of my head, all lumpy and unrelenting, and something’s sucked all the moisture from my skin. Nobody likes Monday mornings but they aren’t usually this bad. I feel like I slept standing up. In a hurricane.
I drift into the syrupy crawl of the fast lane and spot a bright red balloon up ahead, swinging from the central reservation by a three-foot string. The way the balloon moves, that cute little parabola of joy, it could almost be waving.
I smile and wave back.
Yesterday afternoon we celebrated Daisy’s fourth birthday amidst the screaming mayhem of a local soft play. There were helium balloons there, too, in all the colours of a pre-school pencil set. I told the other mums that parenthood was getting easier. After three years of up-and-down nights, Daisy was sleeping through. She wasn’t teething anymore and we’d conquered potty training. To see Daisy chasing her friends up the foamy steps to the slide was to witness a moment of life perfected.
A moment that ended when Daisy slipped. She tumbled down the slide head first, rolling onto her back and flailing her little limbs in panic. John, my husband, caught her at the bottom but by then she’d bitten her lip and her face was snotty, bloody mess. He handed her to me, saying, “Shout if you need a hand,” before retreating to join the huddle of dads by the back wall.
I cuddled my little princess until her sobs subsided. The weekend had been so tiring, I felt like crying too. Washing the bedding ready for John’s family to stay. Scraping our guests’ various dietary requirements from the plates. Icing the cake and populating the party bags. And John, watching the football with his family, saying “Shout if you need a hand.”
There were plenty of times I wanted to shout but I managed to keep smiling until the last of our guests had left. Then I may have said a thing or two.
On the motorway, I flick my eyes to the mirror and see the red balloon bobbing in the breeze, straining for freedom. The way it moves, that lonely little parabola of despair, it could almost be signalling for help. But no one’s going to set it free. Bit by bit the helium will seep out until the balloon settles down amongst the weeds to die.
I return my attention to the road ahead and tell myself to keep going. It’s Monday morning and I have the whole week in front of me.
Christopher Stanley lives on a hill in England with three sons who share the same birthday but aren’t triplets. He’s been published in Jellyfish Review, The Molotov Cocktail and Firefly Magazine as well as the 2015 and 2016 National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. He can be found on Twitter @allthosestrings