No One Can Afford Helium

by Elise R. Hopkins


There's something intensely human about batting balloons into the air

with an elbow or a toe, the palm of the hand. The children dance beneath them

in the living room and the hall. The floor is lava. Balloons must soar,

not fall, not be lost to the cat hair and dust bunnies under the piano.


It's the same in college, twenty-somethings piled on the couch

at so and so's twenty first, dodging beer bottles and margaritas

to nudge a balloon higher into the air, looking up at latex

as it bounces over them, simple and round and light.


Then someone picks up another balloon off the floor, tosses it

into the air, then another, until there are six of them in the mix

and no one can keep track of what's coming toward them.

There's a frantic moment of flailing at the air and diving at the carpet

and then it's over, balloons drifting under the coffee table or down the hall,

scattered between wine coolers and high heels, bright, shattered bits of dreams

beneath the black light, tumbling, then still.


There is shifting on the couches. People get drinks or venture into the heat

outside to smoke cigarettes and disturb the neighbors, but there is always

someone, a girl covered in glow sticks, maybe, or a boy with a faint smile

who hasn't spoken all night, who will pluck one of the balloons from the carpet

and toss it into the air, bat it between his hands, finger, palm, toe,

until someone comes to join.