The Blue Balloons
by Adriana Alarco de Zadra
“The Blue Balloons” began in this issue.
A month later he came out of his confinement. It was still dark at night, but in the reception of the Blue Balloons, illuminated with artificial lights, the mirrors reflected a blushing, smiling, satisfied young man. He couldn’t remember exactly who he was, nor his name, nor his past. Nobody came to pick him up so maybe they had forgotten the exiting date. Therefore, at the gate he was given a city map showing where he had to direct himself.
He wandered through the town looking for the Essential Blue Shelter for guests with lack of memory, as the directions showed. It would soon be dawn and the city seemed deserted. Only a few people walked worriedly through the streets asking one another about members of their family who had disappeared. Some of the characters he approached wore long robes that extended down to their toes and had their faces covered. They ran away feverishly without responding his questions, for fear of being looked at. Their eyes flashed scared behind the veils covering their wrinkled, heated, mortified faces and then the people escaped through narrow passages. They were not young and healthy. At the moment he didn’t want to worry about sick or old people. He had all his life before him and didn’t wish to waste it!
Finally, along with other forgetful youngsters whom he appealed for directions, he arrived to the right place indicated in the map received at the Blue Balloons; remembering he could read when the sign appeared at the entrance: “ESSENTIAL BLUE SHELTER: Sun bathing forbidden.” The place was administrated by an old man whom he reckoned he had met before.
“I told you not to go inside. You were a healthy man. Now you have your brain rusted.”
“I don’t get it,” answered Anthony.
“The oxygen of the Blue Balloons has rusted my cells, and they are deteriorating. Yours also.” The old man filled in the blanks in the Entrance Sheet with his number assigned as identification.
“You’re wrong. I’ve gone on vacation. The only trouble is that I don’t remember my address. My mother must be waiting for me so I won’t miss school. They told me I could sleep here until I regain my memory and remember were I live.”
“You’re a married man. For all I know, your wife had made the treatment to celebrate the beginning of the New Century and she became young. You must be careful, because most people, like me, rust in the treatment; the skin becomes dried up and old as soon as you go out in the sun. It is inevitable.”
“I can’t believe that...” he was reminded of the strange characters covered up in mantles he had seen on the street a few moments ago. Actually, it was written in the instructions. He realized he couldn’t remember much. Besides, was he married? To whom? Which new century was the old man talking about? 18th Century? 23rd Century? He couldn’t remember.
“Don’t worry,” the old man said. “Maybe you’ll recover some of your memory. I made the treatment when it was only an experiment, and I wasn’t old. But even if at first I followed the rules thoroughly, I got negligent, forgot to follow instructions and went out at daylight. As you can see, my skin has all dried up for this reason. At least I’m only dehydrated and wrinkled. Some get their brains rusted. I hope it’s not your case because, in the meantime, those who administrate the Blue Balloons get all the money and then nobody remembers were their money went. Nobody cares about forgetful or wrinkled people. Everybody wants to be young.”
Again, Anthony thought the decrepit old man was nonsensical. He had just arrived from his vacation which happened to elapse while traveling in a huge sphere in the outer limits of the Earth. In space? His memory was failing him again. Surely his mother would arrive soon and pick him up so that he wouldn’t miss classes. Classes? What on earth was he studying? Was he in high school? Even if he couldn’t remember at the moment, it soon would come back to him.
Several youngsters were in the same dormitory. Some had arrived during the evening, others in the past days, but they were all very silent and reviewed the newspapers in search of a night job. It was clearly written in the instructions that it was not permitted to go out during the daytime, under the sun rays, but he couldn’t remember the reason. Through the windows he saw the fireworks illuminating the sky in their outburst, but was much to tired to go out and ask what the occasion for the festivities was.
He went to the bathroom and looked at the mirror. He was a good-looking young man. Someplace in this world was the girl of his dreams. “I’ll find her,” he thought. “If this crazy old man doesn’t bring me bad luck and my mother comes soon to take me out of this place. My mother?”
He didn’t remember her very well but that was of no importance. His mother surely would recognize him as soon as she put her eyes on him. He tumbled in bed to rest after the long and weary voyage in space he had just finished. Had it been his first trip? Or his second...? He slept deeply.
Startling, he opened his eyes and saw the girl of his dreams. She was walking in the dormitory looking for a place she couldn’t find. She was not over twenty, redheaded, adorable. Was he still dreaming? He stood up.
“Hello, what are you looking for? Where are you going?”
“I’m lost. My mother is in the Blue Balloons, and I went out to celebrate the end of the Century. I can’t find my house. That’s why they brought me here, to the Shelter for forgetful guests.”
He looked at her in rapture. She was the girl he had always dreamed of. Of course he would ask her out on a date. “What’s your name?”
“Lupe María, or María Guadalupe, I’m not so sure. And you?”
“I believe my name is Mathew or Anthony, but I’m not sure either.” He thought that the amnesia had him confused. He looked up in this pockets to find his identification card but couldn’t find it. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll soon remember.”
“Are you alone?” She looked at him with approval. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Not really. Why do you ask? Are you the jealous type?”
“That’s not rare. Of course somebody should have come to pick me up, and I believe I’ve changed a lot during my vacation.”
“I happens all the time. Look, it’s daybreak.” The lovely girl pulled up the dark curtains and looked outside the window.
“The sign says we can’t go out under the sun’s rays, but I don’t really remember if this rule is for everybody or only for a few people.”
“Oh, come on, we’re young and nobody can forbid us anything. We have all our life in front of us!” She was delighted to have found the Shelter, finally, and of meeting such a nice boy, but oh! so unsure of himself. He had a familiar face, but even if she tried, she couldn’t remember if she had met him before. Truly, life couldn’t deny them anything, and rules were meant to be broken. She indicated her straw hat with a red bow.
“Shall we go out for a walk?”
“My mother must be searching for me all around town. I mean, I’ m lost also and don’t remember were my home is.” Anthony doubted if it really was a good idea because he remembered the old man’s remarks.
“Of course not! Nobody does. We’ll come back soon.” The girl took a pair of sun glasses shaped as a heart and looked at him smiling. “Sooner or later, my mother will arrive here to take me back home, even if she must be at the Blue Balloons at the moment. If we’re lost, we all arrive here.”
“And if it’s dangerous?”
“Don’t believe that crazy old man at the door! Besides, he’s fallen asleep!”
“I don’t know whom to ask. I ‘m not acquainted with anyone around this place.”
“Since you’re alone, let’s go for a walk. It’s a wonderful, sunny day and the gardens are full of beautiful flowers. I don’t remember either if I can take sun baths or not, but I don’t care.” She handed him another pair of sunglasses from her purse and offered him a wide-brimmed hat from a rack. “Let’s cover ourselves; anyway, no one can compel us to obey.”
“I’ve forgotten whether I have something important to do. Maybe... I shouldn’t walk under the rain.”
“Don’t you worry, it’s not raining. Can’t you see it’s a beautiful day? Furthermore, if you don’t remember something it’s surely because it’s not important. Come, let’s go.” The girl observed the street through the window behind the dark glass. “I don’t see much of a crowd. There’s only worn-out people outside, because all the younger ones are resting from the End of the Century’s festivities. Besides, you know well that most stores and offices open at night nowadays.”
Without another thought at the prohibition sign or the instructions received, they took each other’s hand and opened the door. The wonderful sun streamed swiftly into the room and shone above them while they walked towards the city. It warmed the quiet, nearly deserted streets. A few people strolled drowsily through sidewalks and gardens, and at the middle of the square, water jets glittered from a fountain.
Now they were not afraid to become lost, nor to forget, nor to walk under the sun’s rays, because they were together. They looked at each other under their hats, through the sunglasses, happy to have met; and both had the same thought: they were lucky to have finally found the love they had always dreamed of.
Copyright © 2004 by Adriana Alarco de Zadra
Author’s note: “Los Globos Azules” is scheduled to be published soon in the Argentinian webzine Axxón.