Red Balloon

In my Creative Writing course space, we were asked to pick a photograph from the Zoe Strauss exhibition going on at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and write a paragraph responding to it. This is mine.

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     The funeral had been lovely. The intricately painted ceramic urn, ugly in its existence, sat mocking my grief atop the alter. My daughter, then six, led the procession of little girls in the sad black velvet of mourning as they tossed carnations- first left, then right. My sister’s voice poured a song from the balcony, Psalm 23, her favorite. My father, stoic, sat front and center, the only catholic in this protestant farce. I took a breath, tried to remember why I was here.

My mother was dead.

My mother was dead.

My mother was dead.

This hadn’t yet transitioned in my mind from information received to information processed and accepted. In my mind she was still in her hospital bed, shriveled and sighing, waiting for the end of her life.

After the service I drove to my parents’ house in a haze. People were coming, I knew that, and it was my responsibility to prepare the obligatory finger-food. Who has the stomach to eat after a funeral?

It had gotten dark. My mother had asked that her service be held in the evening, and I had vehemently defended her final request. Making the right onto Assisi Way, toward the house that held the memories of my childhood, I thought about my father. I had always  believed that he would protect me from the world’s hurt. His name was Francis, my Saint Francis of Assisi Way. I stopped my car, so as to let the tears come and clear, and that’s when it happened: out of the darkness came a red balloon. It drifted across the bulky pewter hood of my Tahoe and, as it twisted ever-so-gracefully in the wind, on its side I could read in white printed letters: You Are Loved. It lingered for only a moment, dipped gently, and floated back into the dark.

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