An Outing After Supper

Yet even as Edmund did, their grandfather untethered the balloon and flung shut the basket and hauled the burners’ lines. Then the balloon went wobbling from the dock, over the oarless rowboat scuttled at the lake’s bottom, knocking along the lake’s shore through the branches of the leafless trees, whose twigs nicked at Edmund’s arms where they hung over the basket with their shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows. Then Edmund grew tired of waiting for his brother’s moping to become cheering and instead chose to perform a cruelty upon his brother—Edmund hooted at him down below, where he was still squatting in the sand!

At this his brother leapt up and shouted and threw his tool, which splashed into the lake, and his brother was running now, his pantlegs rolled to his knees and his bare arms pumping, running after the balloon. Their grandfather, who was winding knobs on the balloon’s burners, was unaware that Edmund’s brother, though grounded, was following them—was hurtling between the leafless trees, pattering across foam as a wave would slide onto shore and then pattering across mud as the wave would slide away again, hurdling wooden docks and overturned beach chairs—unaware until Edmund said, Look, Pieter, and then as the wind came scooping spray from the caps of the waves and whisking the balloon away from the shore and across the lake, their grandfather looked over the basket’s edge and saw as Edmund’s brother tried to follow the balloon across the water by running down a stranger’s sunbleached dock and then flinging himself from the dock’s tip into the lake, splashing about and shouting at them, this swimless boy. Their grandfather shouted, Pieter, you idiot, and Edmund wrenched at their grandfather’s jacket and said Take us down, take us down, but their grandfather grimaced at Edmund in a fashion that said that their balloon could not sink back to the lake soon enough for Edmund and their grandfather to help Edmund’s drowning brother, and all they could do was watch or not watch. And so then it was Edmund the Watcher, and their grandfather the Shouter and the Coverer of Eyes.

Then from the leafless trees their zaftig aunt in her yellow dress came splashing into the water after Edmund’s brother, their svelte aunt in her dress patterned with raspberries wringing her hands back on shore. Their zaftig aunt hauled Edmund’s brother onto the dock, where a puddle spread with him at its center, and their svelte aunt knocked the water from his lungs, and still the balloon was floating on away. And Edmund shouted their secret word at his brother to tell him that Edmund was still his man, through and through, but from where Edmund was now, getting tugged into the ugsome clouds, Edmund knew that to his brother their secret word would sound just like any other.

Matthew Baker is the primary English translator of the interlinked novel The Numberless (www.thenumberless.com) and the randomized novella Kaleidoscope (www.kaleidoscopeof.com). He has an MFA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the founding editor of Nashville Review and where he now holds the program’s Postgraduate Fiction Fellowship.