A Story by Matthew Baker
Their grandfather made Edmund unlace his hobnailed boots where they stood near the lake and the yellow balloon with its wicker basket tethered to the dock.
With his boots off, mud came squishing through the weave of his socks. Ugsome clouds hung above the leafless trees. Edmund got into the balloon’s basket bootless.
Edmund’s brother, a whilom friend and now enemy, was hunched over the rot of a whitefish in the sand, pinking it with a tool from their grandfather’s toolbox. He was muttering a curse on Edmund. He was not a boy for swimming.
Their grandfather handed Edmund the canteens of lemonade and the sack of square cookies they would take with them on their outing into the clouds. Edmund’s brother was not coming. Edmund and his brother and their grandfather’s stomach had each grown larger since their outing the summer before, and their grandfather had said that the balloon could not carry the weight of the three of them any longer. Their grandfather had chosen Edmund as his second. Edmund’s brother would stay at the cottage with their aunts and their chores.
Their zaftig aunt stood on the porch, scraping charred gristle from the grill, watching Edmund in the balloon, her yellow dress ashy at her hips where she had wiped her hands. Their svelte aunt stood in the thicket behind the cottage in a dress patterned with raspberries, picking blackberries and raspberries and gathering the comminglings in a striped bowl under her arm, watching Edmund in the balloon.
Their grandfather took the tool from Edmund’s brother and adjusted the burners spurting fire into the balloon’s skirt and gave the tool back to Edmund’s brother, who was still ignoring Edmund in the balloon and instead considering the fish in the sand. Goodbye, Pieter, their grandfather said to Edmund’s brother, rumpling his hair. Tomorrow’s outing will be yours.
Edmund wished his brother would become his whilom enemy and now friend, that he would cheer as Edmund floated away with their grandfather and would shout at Edmund the secret word that they used to tell each other that through-and-through they were each other’s man. But Edmund’s brother scowled in a fashion that said that if he could not have today’s outing, he would have nothing to do with tomorrow’s. The balloon’s basket heaved as their grandfather came into it in his muddy socks and took metal binoculars from a pocket of his jacket and handed them to Edmund, who began using them to consider an enlarged version of his whilom friend.