The melancholy of endings out of my mind, I follow Renate up the path toward our colorful steed as her hips sway with each step, her sarong accentuating her curves. Yes, this must surely be the wind that moves through his undershirt. He is a kite, a balloon.”
― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Image Source: US Balloon Team
THE SAD CAFÉ
The Balloon Ride
A Collaboration by Holly Rene Hunter and Hyperion Sturm
By Holly Rene Hunter
The night is wet
drops of rain glisten
on the slick sidewalks.
In my hurry, I dodge
the dark puddles that
Glisten in the misty glow
of amber street lamps
There is a trace of rosy
blood where I have bitten
my lip but my eyes brim
with life and nonsensical love
When we meet, we smile
and kiss silvery lashes
The taste of blood rose on
For the moment, we forget
You want too much and
I will take whatever you give.
Renate watches David gaze out the window of her London flat at St. Thomas Hospital. The hundreds of years St. Thomas has given aid to the sick do not remove Renate’s nemesis as her purpose in life. Her warm breath on his neck and her legs across his lap tighten his hold around her shoulders, bringing her nearer, enveloping his awareness with what she so freely gives. She feels a warm desire that peaks into a frightful need as lips begin the communication of their renewed love for each other.
The Chipped blood-red of Renate’s toenails and her hands show the wear of constant cleansing. She doesn’t care. Her hair is clean and her body soft and fragrant, the way David likes her. She falls, or David pushes her down on the couch. It doesn’t matter how she ended up with him smothering her under his weight. It only matters that he is there with her.
Renate glances through the haze of the Hospital grounds. She decides not to think about anything but David as he settles into her soul finding his place in the void she holds for him. She is 38 now, but David makes her feel 21.
“I can see Paris again. David whispers in the morning. I can’t escape it and don’t want to. You conjure such romantic images, and yes, with a touch of old school noir. My favorite,” He says.
They load the BMW and take the chunnel to France, following the Seine River to Paris, beautiful Paris where it all began. Once settled into their room above their beloved Sad Cafe, it is time to catch the live band downstairs to celebrate another year of their lives shared in a mystery with no need for a solution.
“David, we must stop meeting on the streets of Paris hanging out at the Sad Cafe; we do love people-watching though,” Renate shifts and turns her head toward the window of the cafe to give David a glance at her neck and shoulder.
“It’s true. Sitting and watching people stroll by and reading a story from their face and how they lift or slump their shoulders is like a library of humanity.” David replies, his eyes fixed on her. The magic of her appeal never fades in the years they have carried on their love affair. David believes Renate grows more radiant and beautiful with every year that passes.
“Since we’re still up, would you like a decaf cappuccino or perhaps a sample of the Green Fairy to tickle the muse?” David asks.
“The Green Fairy will do nicely. I hope they won’t have to ask us to leave. I hate that.”
“Cheers, my love! Here’s to Paris nights under a full moon. They won’t ask us to leave if we don’t mind relocating to one of the upstairs party rooms where all the regulars stay after closing time. I find the after-hours crowd lively and entertaining. Shall we join the creative members of the Paris avant-garde?” David asks, his eyes twinkle as he awaits Renate’s approval.
“You know I wouldn’t miss that. I’m always willing to relocate upstairs and get acquainted with the regulars,” Renate replies, facing back to David, and searching his face for clues. She feels the butterflies in her stomach rise as she imagines the late-night hours in the city of lights under an approving moon.
“You are an adventuress at heart, Renate. Among the regulars, we will learn the best places in Paris that are unhurried, and off the main path, rich in the Paris culture of music, the arts, and my favorite, the cuisine, and fine drinks. Do you have your pearl inlay flask? I bet we can acquire a fine vanilla-infused brandy to fill it. What a harmony that would be.” David’s face beamed with delight with a touch of blush from the drink and dance.
“It would be lovely to go off the beaten path in Paris, David. During waking hours, join me for a ride in a hot air balloon over Paris; this will only come to fruition after one too many drinks at the Pigalle bar or a bit of courage from my pearl inlay flask.” Renate leads David in a subtle way to her desire for a romantic adventure.
“You read my mind through yearning glances when we passed the Pegasus Balloon field off the rue Antoine Bourdelle. Can you imagine it is like the gods and goddesses of the Bronze Age looking down at pastoral lands at sunrise and judging it worthy? To see the farmlands painted in golden light through a lens offered from your pearl flask of dreams is a beguiling I would throw myself into without the burden of thought. Yes. We must do this.”
“It’s a surreal dream floating above the city at sunrise. Below, the world is just awakening. The patchwork wheat fields and forests far below come alive with Lilliputian creatures. We can’t hear a sound in our bubble drifting just below the clouds. We should never descend but let the flames carry us to distant enchanting destinations. We must,” Renate insists with the melody of a song in her voice.
“We can bring a light pack to carry us in comfort wherever we might go. I checked, and in the quiet stillness of autumn, the prevailing breeze leaving Paris will take us over England and Scotland where we can turn west over the islands and float down by the west coast of Ireland,” David mused in dreamy tones.
“We’ll see the Norwegian Sea to the east and the Atlantic to the west as we leave the highlands of Scotland to the Outer Hebrides islands. Of course, if you prefer, we could head north over the Orkney Islands and land in the Shetland Islands, a place of quaint country life and small fishing villages along the craggy shores,” David continued, his eyes fixed as if in a trance.
“So many would dream of finding the courage we dare to possess, but none shall see the world as we have seen it; slow, gentle, beautiful ancient lands of our ancestors in fall splendor. Pack light, we can go to local markets and cafés for our immediate needs. Should I bring a hammock?” David finishes his soliloquy and glances with mischief in his eyes.
“It sounds so wonderful, Babe. I can hardly wait to see the world through the eyes of the green fairy high above the world. I think we should catch a Caribbean breeze and spend a while in Aruba and the Virgin Islands, then on to the south Pacific, take in the archipelago of Tonga, and on to Samoa, Renate answers, her excitement growing. Who knows where the breezes will take us, Maui? Bring a Hammock by all means.”
“My study of the wind charts show me you have a remarkable intuition for a balloon ride that need not set close boundaries, David said. Instead of setting down in Ireland, we’ll sail across the Atlantic and make landfall in southern Mexico for some good beach time and fiesta. Then it is across the Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii where the South Sea islands offer an abundance of opportunity for Polynesian culture, cuisine, and their festive moods,” He concludes. Upon seeing the enthrall on Renate’s face, David ventures further down the path of their shared fantasy, reaching for Renate and gently tugging at her waist. She moves closer until he feels her warmth through his shirt.
“Further still, the winds will take us to Manila in the Philippines, where the story of tribal things begins. There is nowhere an island jungle will be so welcoming. The Filipino people in the countryside are the most gracious of hosts, and for a smile and thank you, they will take you anywhere you want to go. Their genius for life and their strength of the heart is second to none, and the beauty of their waterfalls quickly tells you that Hawaii was never a true paradise if one visited the Philippines.”
“It sounds so lovely, David.”
“We can go there and beyond until we are back in Paris. But there is no hurry under the balloon as it sails across the oceans, mountains, and fertile lands of verdant shimmer, like jade under a clear Milky Way.” David paused to appreciate the vision he saw of their journey.
“Please tell me more,” Renate whispered as her fingers drifted in a delicate search between the buttons of David’s shirt.
“Yes, well, perhaps you would enjoy the west African coast, deserted for miles and miles, standing like a fortress wall to a sea that never stops the brushing touch of cool blue waters on an orange peel shore. There, the balloon can rest while we picnic on its shady side and look across the ocean that always appears abandoned. We’ll be the only souls to record that moment in earth’s blue history. Then, we can decide to go to another place or not decide at all and let our faithful companion, a balloon of patchwork and happy colors, take us where it wills according to the wind we cannot see but hear and feel on our face like the breath of life from Mother Gaia. Yes. We must tell this story too.” The two lovers pause in a moment to share in their dream. Pliant skin becomes the cake frosting plowed by an insatiable finger not wanting to be known.
Renate draws a hastened breath from David’s answer to her touch. She senses passion overcoming desire. “While you study your wind chart, we sail on the breeze past the Cliffs of Dover out and away until we are but a dot caught between the blue of heaven and the rolling waves below. You make your notes, a captain’s journal, lest we forget the slightest minutiae of this dream. The turquoise waves wash ashore onto sun-bleached shells and from the lush sea grape the banter of brilliant macaw Beckons in the distance. You lower the flame, and we descend onto the white sand beach of the Philippines.” Her words are cut short by a kiss that is more than a kiss. It is the fugue of dreams washing over her pointed toes, the ridges of her tightened thighs, her belly tucked safely under expanding ribs as she feels the sea and sand caress her under a hot sun watching and waiting for surrender.
“We are a suffusion of joy and enchantment. I love how you study my mischief and wonder what I plan for us next,” David said.
We turn north along the shore as I draw hard on the steering ropes, and the furnace roars like a tiger whose tail I have pulled. Our balloon of sunshine colors heels along the shore until the breeze lifts us in a sudden twirl. The shy coast glows like the cheeks of a schoolboy kissed by his favorite K-pop Star.
Crystal rivers pouring from the tropical mountains of lush green glisten with sunlight like a pirate’s chest of gold and gemstones. You point to the ridge of the hill, the shape of a dragon’s back. “Aurora National Park,” I say. Below is a crescent of an isolated beach, a pearl in the jade dragon’s claw. Beyond is an orchard and a small village. The villagers welcome us to our new home as the balloon races like a stallion to the barn.
“I am breathless with the beauty of this enchanted land; a thick forest of trees cover the mountains whose tops are kissed by clouds,” Renate exclaims. The indigenous people hurry to greet us. “I think we will stay here awhile.”
“I was hoping you would enjoy the stay. Life need not have a pace anymore. There is only the rhythm of life marked by the stars at night and the sun during the day—the sun’s rising and setting in all the hues of light mark the passing of time. When we’re restless, our beloved balloon will ferry us to new adventures in other exotic lands. For now, I think a coconut filled with ambrosia and some beach time will do nicely. My, what a beautiful music the birds make,” David said, revealing his enthrall.
“I’ll cook lunch while you rest. We’re having seafood fresh off the village boats, if that suits you, my dear?” David said.
“I’ll be relaxing in the hammock sipping a samalamig while dinner grills over an open fire as the sun sinks below the horizon. Such a lovely day. Join me?” No gentleman would refuse Renate’s invitation, and David certainly is a gentleman.
“I don’t mind if I do join you. Samalamig is a big hit, guaranteed to give you plenty of energy, which you’ll need tonight when the sun goes down, David replies. The villagers are hosting a traditional dance celebration in your honor. Not many ladies descend from the heavens here, so they are quite pleased you selected them as your host.”
“Definitely. I’ll let you decide if we are going to the village or getting back in the balloon,” Renate adds.
“I want to celebrate with these warm and hospitable people, and then we can take the next morning off for some more beach time. The evening trade winds will take us across the South China Sea to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar on our way to Mandalay and across the Bay of Bengal to India.
Each stop along the way promises to be a more ancient mystery, wild, and exotic. It’s a good thing we packed our Khaki’s and pith helmets. Indiana Jones loved this part of the world. I’m sure we will as well.” David adroitly handles the burner and ropes that open the gas release flaps. The balloon descends into the waiting arms of the villagers.
“Who could or would want to resist this adventure? Tomorrow we’ll catch the evening trade winds, up and away.” Renate tosses the anchor rope to a waiting villager dressed in the traditional attire with tanned leathery skin and deeply calloused hands. She returns his welcoming smile.
Look how we chase the sunset across green fields and thatch roofs. Our balloon gallops in the wind with clouds on the backs of blue whales. Smoke from cooking fires rises through the canopy, a mystical spirit ambling up toward us, but they are too slow, and our balloon outpaces the challengers that call out in the wind like sirens from rocky shores. We are on the way to Mandalay, and our balloon knows just what to do to get us there while we chase old Sol to the purple-hued mountains beyond the horizon.
“I’ve poured you a glass of pear wine from the village. Cheers.” Renate offers the glass to David, and they exchange a wordless glance.
“Asian pear wine has always been a favorite of mine. It is the elixir of the Babaylan. It calls them to their Yin energy to be our spirit guide and travel with us so that we may see the true beauty of the world from our cloud dwelling balloon. They are the divine feminine, the mother energy that nurtures life and protects the young from a merciless awakening too soon. We are innocent children of their ancient powers, and we can only see and sense the beauty all around us. No scary thought will find us now,” David said, raising the glass to Renate’s and savoring the tiny clink and the fruity fragrance of the wine.
“Our spirit guide travels with us, and I’ve fallen under the spell of the Babaylan,” Renate said.
By day we sail above the deep indigo waters of the open seas enchanted by creatures big and small. Whales call out to us, and you point to a pair of dolphins that glisten beneath the sun in a mating ritual. The wind carries the scent of jacaranda, it lifts and dips, and we are giddy with the mystical beauty and pear wine.
“I love that you enjoy the fragrance of the jacaranda as it slips on currents across the lands and seas of all continents. Nowhere is the beauty of this flower rejected. When we get to Islamabad, we will see the jacaranda as tall trees with broad crowns lining the street with its trumpet flowers of royal purple.” David explains as he sips his wine with one hand and releases a whoosh of flame ten feet tall into the cavernous balloon. The balloon lurches like a spurred Arabian Horse.
After our grand sleep and dreams of faraway things, we see the rising sun radiating with golden splendor from the spires of 9th-century temples and palaces. See how they peer above the lush forests, and beyond are the mountains that form the banks of the ancient and noble Irrawaddy River. We will land on Mandalay Hill overlooking the old royal city.
Our hosts will take us to the temple where a welcoming dance handed down from ancient times will tell us the secrets of the Orient in a language that makes no sound. Only the dancer’s face, hands, and feet will speak. The mesmerizing music blends with the incense of sandalwood and spices. Golden bangles are worn on the dancers’ arms and legs and ring like small bells in rhythm as we enter the trance of tranquility.
We can call it Elysium or Atlantis. We can say it is the real paradise, but whatever we call it, the dreams, within dreams, will prepare us for the next leg of our journey where the earliest civilizations of the western world sprang up 30,000 years ago. There more doors will open. But first, let us greet our hosts and descend upon this hill. The grandest features of humans await us with open arms and infectious smiles.
“I hope being loved and hugged by benevolent and beautiful strangers is not distressing for you,” David said. The twinkle of stars catches in his eyes, and Renate warms to his touch.
The sky is deep blue, clusters of stars wink and twinkle. No sound of living things is heard, just the gentle sweep of waves over sand. A breeze gently rocks the hammocks between the Limbo Gumbo until silvery lashes lower, and sleep returns them to a deep purple dream.
Purple dreams come as a spiritual lover. The mix of Blue is for the calm of the deep blue sea beneath the surface, and the red is the fierceness of creativity, the warm essence of love that advocates for peace, compassion, and the empathy to feel every nuanced emotion of their self and soulmate. The body is well-nourished and ready for the sweet dreams under the silk of a night sky.
The air is still, the heat of a rising sun glitters on the waters. Macaw signals to one another, pecking the fruit of overripe mangoes. The travelers awaken; just for a moment, they are strangers until they rise like the sun, grasp the hand of the other, and, mesmerized by the sound of roaring waterfalls, venture deeper into the lush forest.
The sun makes the beach around the falls warm and inviting, but the water is cold and clear with small circles of waves rushing out from the basin to lap at venturing toes. Behind the falls is an open cave where the intrepid pair looks through the cascade of water and feels the cool air’s relief from the radiant sun. Together they leap through the crystal curtains and into the frothy water. At first, chaos greets them in a bubbling spray, and then like a magic incantation, everything is clear, and they can stand, seeking each other’s warmth as they play and frolic in the refreshing water as otters do.
The multicolored parrots and wide-winged Toucans swoop ever closer to the playful pair whose own laughter mingles with the ever-changing trills and whistles of the birds, echoing through the surrounding caves and trees. The two romantics discover an aquamarine spring bubbling at the surface, the two dive into its depths. Holding tightly to one another, they resurface. Coming up for air, they sit on the large stones surrounding the waterfall, let the hot sunburn their shoulders and warm their bodies. Nothing is said as they rest on the rocks, occasionally dipping their hand or toes into the cold water. Will they lift off at sunrise to fly on to new destinations or wander further into the opulent jungle?
Paradise seems a luxury that only chance can provide, but it isn’t by chance they share such wonders. The sleepy pleasure of radiant warmth from the rocks and sun contrasts with nature’s energy in its symphony of sound and verdant scenery bespeckled with the vibrant colors of exotic birds and flowers. The chill of the water is alive with sensation and the adoring countenance of lovers captive to the afterglow of nurture and nature.
David sits up and looks far beyond any close thing. He dreams of never leaving or parting. Yet, deep in his spirit is a restlessness that tells him he hasn’t seen it all nor plumbed the real depth of his love for Renate. They must travel further together to know the azimuth of their journey experienced hand in hand. Now, he is pleased to lie down next to the only love he has known and feels everything without a thought or a meaning. The wind upon their face and the horizon stretched out beneath them will come again when they are ready.
David turns to renate, reclining on the smooth stones like a Modigliani painting, and shares his thoughts. “I begin to see the many colorful threads of poetry weaved into our tapestry that tells a fantastic story to the senses spellbound in the telling. I imagine the tapestry whole, each thread locked into place with the utmost care and skill. Something in me does not want to know the final scene in the finished masterpiece. I want it to continue at least until I’m safely scattered among the stars.”
“That is so beautiful, David. Safely scattered among the stars, heavenly. I think that is a fine place to linger, among the constellations.”
“I think among the constellations is so much better than the underground option. The view is so limited there.”
“Never a fan of that option,” Renate replies, a wry tone was slipping through her vocal cords.
“Hades and Persephone have enough visitors to entertain, and it’s going to get more crowded as their place gets more popular. Among the stars, we are free to go on a self-guided tour wherever we like, and the attractions are endless,” David muses.
“I hope we can swing over Orion’s Belt, and the Archer, my favorite. It’s getting so crowded down under, I don’t know where they will put everyone,” Renate replies, fully aroused by David’s vision.
“I wonder if our fascination with Mars has anything to do with opening a new venue for the down under dwellers? I’ll bet the brightest star in Orion’s Belt is a much more lovely place, a nice stopover on the way to see The Archer, who just so happens to be pointing at the center of our galaxy. I know that it has to be a hint, we should go there too. Not everyone has a hot air balloon. We must use it wisely.”
“So true, Renate replies. We should only go to those places that nourish the soul and leave us breathless with wide-eyed wonders, like that first time we saw a horseshoe crab in the surf at low tide or dolphins playing in calm seas at daybreak.”
“Yes, oh yes, I see it now. David rises and looks to the heavens. Pink beaches and that unique ocean hole full of mystery and water creatures. Such a fine string of islands like fine jewelry for Mother Gaia. I imagine the Flamingos shuffling along, their heads underwater, and those parrots calling to one another. I wonder what they talk about with so much chatter?
“It’s time to enjoy our hammocks, with that fine mesh cover you can open to gaze out over the ocean or zip closed to rest bug-free. I spared no detail attending a gentle slumber or longing daydream nestled in a cocoon of comfort rocked by a seaborn breeze. Your pearl flask will come in handy on this trip. Remind me to make sure the burners for the balloon are topped off.” David yawns and stretches. Renate covers her mouth to stifle the contagion of yawning.
“We could hit the mid-morning surf and then sail on in the calm of the noon sun. I find that exhilarating to be so bold and unfettered,” Renate says as they collect their belongings.
“I’m certainly working hard to get to that carefree line of departure. I have decided it’s time to enjoy life because I worked like a rented mule to be free someday. I think the day has come for us, Renate.”
“It’s delightful, no clocks, no timeline, free as birds, Renate adds.
What say we embark for Bora Bora and linger there for a while by the turquoise water and pink sands, then onward to Tahiti? The natives are friendly. I’m keeping a fishnet ready to go.”
“I love the idea of Bora Bora as an appetizer for Tahiti. Those clear turquoise waters reveal the ocean’s life below. Dolphins follow us as we drift just above the waves to catch a little spray to cool our wicker basket and enjoy the Dolphins’ songs with the waves pounding the beat. That should have us in the right mood for the spontaneity and happy celebration of the Tahitian people. That net will come in handy. I think seafood is on the menu. I’ll bring some good wine, just in case,” David replies.
By day we explore sandy beaches, rocky inlets, lie back and observe the ever-changing Tahitian sky. We’ll dive the waters for fish to dine on as we explore our map and dream of moving on, careful not to become too attached to the natives or the wild herbs they forage for us, mandrake and morning glories and wild mushrooms that stir fevered dreams. Our time here is limited, and we must sail to the undiscovered. “Bring wine in case the natives run out of wild mushrooms,” Renate reminds David.
Such a day as this is the ritual of pleasure that prepares one for the evening festivities. By the ocean with sunset blazing its warm colors across a grassy field, we watch a show of fevered song and dance. We sip a tea made from the dream spices as the cooks a short distance away, mind the preparation of our catch marinated in coconut cream and lime picked from nature moments before. The people call it Tamaaru.
The soft notes of their explanation fade behind the strum of ukuleles, and a stunning woman sings us the traditional Tahiti Noi so full of vibrant energy bursting from her as her eyes and flowing undulations beckon us to our feet. But it is only the beginning as the tea lures us deeper into the salty sea of Polynesian culture. Men in elaborate headdress and long-tailed loincloth, their bare thighs bulging with strength and banded in dense Tahitian tattoos, dance the dance of ancient warriors, their eyes dark and fierce.
The fire reflects in Renate’s dilated hazel eyes transfixed in a vision only she can see. I glance your way to judge your awakening in the dream. Yes, you are there, and no doubt, I am too.
Now, the women dance to a frantic drumbeat, their hips a blur of motion under a narrow band of white cloth. Their long iridescent black hair is alive in a flow of action, keeping time with the turn of heads and the sweep of shoulders.
We join in, welcomed with open hearted smiles and beckoning gestures. We are consumed in the rhythms of the ocean and the swaying of bodies. Ah, the lamps of fragrant oils are lit, and we slide softly down from our high feeling liberated from some clinging schism leftover from western civilization and life spent in the endless circle of work to live and live to work.
The feast has begun, and it does not end until all the food is gone, and the last drops of drink finally run dry. Now we are escorted back to our hammocks strung among the coconut palms, and the dreams continue. I dream that I can no longer tell time. Clocks are no longer useful as we begin to live a life tied to the awakening of nature’s way and the people who understand the language of sea, sun, and moon.
Near dawn, the drumbeat has stopped, and there is a quiet stillness except for the gentle rush of waves over the shore. The dancers have vanished as though they were never there, but the scent of smoke and dried leaves lingers. I see David speaking softly to a saronged woman in my periphery, tall and dark; her glossy black hair flows down her bare back to her waist. Occasionally your hand brushes hers, and she whispers soft words that carry on the fragrant breeze. I close my eyes in my hallucinogen induced state, and all goes dark as I drift away into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The stars are more apparent than I’ve ever seen. The moon illuminates the grassy field in a hypnotic blue light. I stroll through shadows of sleeping palms returning from my compelling bathroom break. By chance, I met the songstress who captivated me with her performance. Her long hair hides her breasts in the moon shadow. The sarong hangs perilously low on her hips. I am starstruck by this goddess of Tahiti. She lifts my hand to her chest and whispers, “feel my heart that you might know how we have loved your presence among us.” She wishes me a safe journey and happiness with my woman. I am touched by her gentle kindness and thank her. She is immediately gone in the shadows as if she were never there.
I see Renate asleep in her hammock next to mine; her face glows with angelic peace under the moon. I zip your netting closed with the utmost care to avoid waking you and glance up at the luminescent seafoam riding each wave to shore. I wonder how it could be that all these years of your companionship, the many rituals of time and place in Paris, the trips to London and back, you have never turned away from these new escapes across the world. Have we lost Paris and traded it for the innocence found on isolated beaches among people known for their Joie de Vivre found in simple lives, with music, dance, and feast.
We’ll plan our departure tomorrow and then be off again, and for a moment, I wonder if we should not stay just a little longer and let the angst and dark moments of the past slip away under cerulean skies and gentle seas. I hear you draw a quick breath as if surprised at my faltering mind. I hear you whisper in your dream of parrots in the canopy, and it’s settled. We’ll sail toward Orion on the following breeze. At this moment, my dear Renate, my Sad Café, reclaims my heart and soul, and I settle in my hammock, and the moonlight fades to black.
I hear David breathing softly in time with the incoming waves and open my eyes to the sun rising over the Pacific blue horizon casting shades of amber and melon that drip into the sea until it grows a bright yellow between heaven and the sea line. I slept soundly but still recall dreaming of the Sad Café, but I must put that behind me for now. Slipping off my sarong, I step out into the warm waters and dive into the deep.
The pristine waters are alive with shore-fish, Angels in yellow and black, vivid parrot fish, and anemones who seem not to mind my company, and I let them surround me as I meditate briefly under the sun. Slipping back into the sarong, I watch David sleep, his face peaceful, free of the burden of life as it was and will be again, but now it is just us, and the rest of the world is shut out.
He awakens and joins me; we pour cups of strong coffee that brews on a small fire that still glows from the previous night. We sit beneath the Coconut palms where he has arranged his hammock and talk like nothing has happened.
We want to move on, adventure is calling us, yet we already feel nostalgia for the beautiful natives of this lush Island. Taking my hand, he leads me to our landing. “Look, our balloon is ready to go.” We gather our belongings, and before boarding, as if to imprint it on our minds, we take one last look around us, the calm blue lagoon, the white sand beach, swaying coconut trees, the black pearl paradise that is Polynesia.
We are aloft again. I watch as Renate silently goes about her preparations for the long trip with the diligence of an ancient mariner whose life is a mastery of wind and sail. You stop to read the horizon, and we both see the wisps of clouds evaporating under the power of a white-hot sun. You turn to me, and your face is a blessing of bright eyes wide with the wonder of what you see. It will be a great day for sailing, you say with a shy smile that warms me from the inside-out, and I tug on the chain that fires the burner as if to answer you with obedience to your wisdom.
On cue, our patchwork balloon, the color of the sun on the horizon at the beginning and end of each day, lurches up like a stallion into the trade winds that will carry us to the Marquesas Islands. Beneath us, a white Heron drifts on unseen currents. We touch hands as we take in the magnificent view of the sleek bird angling across emerald waves that lumber like fantastic beasts on their way to distant shores to woo young lovers.
Our balloon leans against the winds as we climb to 14,000 feet, where it is cold, and the air is thin. We fix our oilcloth canopy in a geometric grid of rope and knots over our wicker basket to let the sun glow through like the warm streetlights of Paris and keep the chill air at bay. Now, seated as if on a picnic, we snuggle under our blanket and make small talk in whispers even though there is no one disturbed by our laughter that occasionally escapes.
Where to next? You ask with sleepy eyes and contentment. This week we’ll soon cross over the Marquesas Islands and in a few days the Galapágos Islands. From there, we will sail northerly to Costa Rica; your Simian friends await your visit to their paradise. We must then decide if we want to stop in Jamaica, Cuba, or the Bahamas. “Let’s stop everywhere, if only for a few hours,” you tell me with a yearning in your voice emphasized by the squeeze you give my arm.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I reply. With a tug on the lanyard that fires our balloon, our sailboat of cloth and wicker, of linen rope, our ship that obeys the wind and answers dreams, leans harder with the wind. We gallop across the South Pacific to uninhabited dots of land perched atop paleo volcanoes. Our love is wind and water, fire and sky, song and dance. Our lives have become a skipping stone that hops from shore to shore, and we know without saying that freedom is a wicker floor above an ageless, deep blue ocean.
The days pass one into the other either, gently drifting on soft breezes or hurtling through gusts of wind that David must Maneuver. He has become a skillful aviator; if not, I fear we would perish in storms, but he has learned to let the trade winds have their way with us, and it seems to know which jet stream will take us to our destination. Most of our days are soft and meandering, spent gazing in wonder at the beauty stretched out above and below us.
Dolphin and Gray whales follow as we streak above their ocean home as captivated with the giant vivid object cruising above as we are with them. David is tan and muscular now, and I can barely imagine him in a suit and tie. His hands are calloused from physically guiding, rising and lowering, adjusting to the unpredictable wind currents, at times fighting high winds and storms that would cast us off course.
Nights when we are resting on the floor of the basket that safely holds us, I want to press my lips to those roughened hands, but instead massage them with essential oils, and in turn, I drop my sarong and feel his hands gently rubbing any tension from my shoulders. At those moments, I felt such deep camaraderie and struck by the utter and complete trust we share. Days pass and the sea fades to mountains covered with lush green forests.
David has lowered the balloon close enough to the treetops that we hear the chatter of simians chasing one another along the branches and parrots and macaw, bright flickers of color among the tree crowns squawking at having been disrupted. We have dropped low into the rainforest. Giant birds of prey circle with curiosity, the whoosh of wings close enough to send me from the basket’s edge to the deep gondola for safety come from every direction.
Lowering the volume of hot air in the balloon, David sets our trusty carriage down in a clearing on the forest floor, and we settle with a thud. Charting our destination, he determines that we have reached the rainforests of Costa Rica. We hug and celebrate by opening the bottle of Polynesia pear wine, a gift from our island friends. Having tied the balloon securely to the ancient gumbo limbos that encircle us, David lifts me from the basket and swings me around joyfully, holding me briefly as I get my sea legs.
Suddenly free of the confines of our nest, we lay the canopy that serves as our roof on the lush grass next to the gondola and bask in the warm sun. I root out some of our fruit and rations we picked up in Tahiti and cook a fine meal for our lunch. I show Renate how much my hands have healed from their roughness due to her care. “It was nothing; I’m a nurse,” she tells me while her eyes sparkle with delight. I touch her cheek to show her. She holds my hand to her face and leans closer. We draw together into a kiss that is more than a kiss; it is the opening paragraph of a classic romantic tale. “Lunch is burning,” she whispers in my ear. Drat! Something else always needs attention when my attention focuses on the velvet softness of Renate’s love.
With help from my amused First Mate, we rescue our meal and enjoy it like two children in the schoolyard trading bites from our lunch pail. After a brief nap, we are restless. I mention the sound of rushing water. “I saw what might be a waterfall as we drifted over for the landing,” I said in mid-stretch. Renate holds her dreamy gaze. The corners of her mouth transform into her smile of mischief when she thinks of us doing something spontaneous. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” She says in her way that always leads to my greatest joys. I jump up and grab our shower kits while Renate puts her sarong and sandals on. Following the rushing sound of falling water, we push through the lush forest until it is before us, deep blue foaming falls from overhead cliffs cascading into a crystal pool surrounded by thick cords of vines and deep purple flowers. Our only sound is a quick intake of breath at the beauty before us. We are alone in this area of the forest and wonder why it is deserted.
The waterfall is a paradise carved out of the towering verdant rain forest, and we sink into the crystal pool below the falls. The water sings against ancient stone as we bathe in the water of life and love, isolated from every care. My mind empties as we sit on the warm rock and caress the sea and salt from our bodies and just live in the moment under each sensuous stroke of a loving hand and soft cotton. In this world, there is only the moment, no past or future. As though we have metamorphosed into creatures of the rainforest, wild and free.
David has dived into the deep waters and calls out to me. Stepping out of sandals and wrap, I lowered myself slowly. Stretching full length, I make my way to him. His laughter echoes as he splashes water over my head and shoulders. To escape his game, I swim around my arms circling, but I am no match.
Suddenly serious, I am acutely aware of rivulets streaming down his tanned and muscular shoulders and press closer. Time stands still as we succumb to a brief, compelling kiss. To break the spell, we push away and swim to the rocky edge. David takes my hand and pulls me from the water.
The sun is sinking low behind the tall trees. Carrying our clothing and a few supplies, we make our way back to the beach and collapse on our canopy. There are plans and places to consider, but now there is only the existence of two bodies falling under the spell of white horses slowly sweeping ashore.
On a narrow strip of caramel sand, we watch the waves ride in. White horses, Renate calls them. Yes, I see it; their white sea-foam mane flowing chaotically in a rush to shore. They reach for us. Occasionally the water rushes up, and we think we will wash away, but at the last instant, the wave reverses and gallops back out to sea. The sound is a clash of cymbals and a low sensual moan. We await the sunset as golden light collects low on the horizon and illuminates the white mane of the sea stallions racing toward us.
A small group of surfers call it a day down the beach as they collect their gear and trudge up the beach’s incline and disappear into the forest on some unseen path. We are alone as a twisting splash of red sky envelopes the sun’s golden wheat straw rays falling into the distant ocean.
Renate buries her face in my neck and throws her leg over my stomach as she pulls the canopy over our waists to divert the cooling breeze. “Do you miss Paris,” she asks. “No, I have you, and that is all the Paris I need,” I reply. We don’t notice the nightfall nor the sudden awakening of the forest as exotic birds call their mates home to roost and the monkeys chatter in the branches, curious about the whispers like cathedrals coming from the long shadows on the beach. I am only aware of Renate’s tender touch, her soft lips, and the fresh scent of her hair spilling over my face, neck, and shoulders like silk as the warm sand cradles us under the first stars of the night.
As though under some god spun spell, we lie beneath the deep indigo sky, my lips so close to David’s, I imagine that as he sleeps, I can draw his breath in to mingle with my own.
I run the tips of my fingers along your sternum and over your chest muscle, sinew, and bone. These feelings, I feel the flush of my skin.
Against the moonless night, the stars form pools of pinpoint glitter. I stir you, “ David, look, the heavens are stunning.” You wake and lean on your elbows, pointing, “there’s Orion and over there, Sirius.“ I rest my head in the crook of your shoulder, and we lie face to face, my thigh sliding between yours. You call my name softly, “Renate, perhaps we should set sail in the morning.” I nod in agreement. You tell me of a mysterious site that you discovered while exploring the deep forest earlier; that you found it strange. I turned my back and curled tightly into you, enveloped in your arms; my protector, my North Star. Tomorrow we will go.
Sleep is a luxury under the stars. The soft lick of ripples along the shore at low tide cast a spell of dreams. There exists a strange sight in the forest, a holy place for some tribe of long ago. Renate is with me in the vision as we look upon the row of skulls perched on a moss-covered stone. We know we don’t belong here, this is not our hallowed ground, and the sockets glare and the teeth grimace an unwelcome scene.
I awaken to the warmth of the only true love I’ve ever known, and the call of the wind and distant islands of the Caribbean beckons us to rise, to climb back to our balloon, and once again embrace the endless lapis lazuli sky.
Wearing a sleepy haze like a warm blanket, we collect our things and avoid talking about the inevitable. We are now on the home stretch back to Paris and the end of our balloon sojourn. Pushing rhythm that created the desire to write poetry on clay tablets and fuel every century’s romance. Where else in time does one do the things we’ve done and seen the things we’ve seen together. “We should write about this trip,” I say, breaking the silence except for the swish of grass and cloth on supple thighs.
“No one would believe us; they would call it a fantasy,” she replies.
Renate casts an amused glance over her shoulder before turning back. She breaks out into a soft singing voice. It is a Polynesian love song she learned in Tahiti. Much like myself, this fantasy pleases her.
I’m awakened by the sound of partier’s laughter drifting through the window of my small flat above the Sad Café. From there, I see the crowded cobblestone street, snow piling up at the curbside. The clock says nine at night. I’ve been sleeping for twelve hours. The absinthe, I’ve never been able to handle it. Such odd dreams, beautiful and erotic, yet I can not remember the details. I run a bath and slowly sink into the warm waters. My wet hair has the scent of eucalyptus and Bougainvilleas, my skin the smell of salt and surf. Above all is the haunting presence of David’s cologne; his sun burnt shoulders smell of sweet sweat and rope. Before the mirror, I brush my hair and pull it back with silver plated combs. I Step into a black frock and heels. Downstairs I find my usual booth at the dark fringes of the bar, order my regular glass of red wine, and I wait.
By Holly Rene Hunter
You have left your
fingerprints on my soul
for you, I would journey
to that place that haunts me
between midnight and dawn
where we are imperfect
in those unseen dreams
where the only sound is the
unfolding of Origami swans
a disassembling of tenderness
where I capture what
I cannot keep