Balloon Man

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Chapter 14

Alma measured the passage of the night by the water dripping from the faucet. A terrible toothache kept her up all night. What started out as a small pain after biting an olive pit turned her mouth into a war zone.

Trying not to wake up her sister Elaine, Alma got up and paced quietly. She opened the front door and a wall of humidity rolled inside. She shut the door to keep the cool air conditioning inside.

“It’s gonna be a hot one,” she whispered, wiping her brow. It was too early to call the dentist and she knew she couldn’t make it to work. The stabbing pain was too intense.

The face in the mirror reflected a woman with ocean blue eyes and hair full of shades of fall. The mixture of amber, red, and gold swirled through the curly waves all the way to her shoulders. Even in the humidity of August, the frizzy curls had an angelic aura surrounding her face. Her beauty was hard to deny, but time had impressed lines and a worried look Alma feared was permanent. Now, she saw only the puffed skin on her cheek from the infected tooth, making her look even older.

“I just can’t go to work today. I guess I’ll need to wake you up after all,” she said out loud, knowing Elaine would wake up.

“What’s that?” Elaine said from the next room.

“My tooth hurts so bad I can’t go to Jo Bob’s and work today, Elaine. I’m sorry to ask you, but can you cover for me?”

Elaine floated in from the next room, reminding Alma of an angel with frizzy red hair.

“Sure, I’ll work for you. Would you make me a cup of coffee please? I’ll get dressed real quick.”

A few minutes later, Elaine emerged from the bathroom with her hair into two pigtails just like her twin. Alma smiled; pleased they looked like mirror images.

“See?” said Elaine. “Jo Bob will think I’m you anyway. Nobody cares which one of us comes. To him, we’re the same person. Sometimes I think he forgets that there are two of us.”

“Don’t make me laugh! It hurts!” said Alma. “We have too many funny memories of the switch and swap game!” Touching Elaine’s shoulder, Alma continued. “Thanks again. I’ll make sure I pay you back by working two of your days if you want me to.”

“Now that’s what I call a great incentive! Maybe I can catch one of my men friends and get them to take me to Biloxi for some real fun. Bye!”

Elaine grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for the front door. Pausing, she turned around and said, “I left the cell phone in the kitchen charging. I think we need to get new phones. Yours is broke and mine won’t hold a charge. Maybe I’ll stop and look for a good deal on my way home.”

Alma nodded in agreement while holding an ice pack on her face where her tooth throbbed. She watched out the window as Elaine drove away. It was still dark outside. Alma turned on the computer to look at her email real quick. She was waiting for results from a DNA test. Alma wanted to see her genetic profile, so she sent away for a test kit several weeks ago. Now, she waited every day to get the results.

When her twin discovered what Alma was up to, she laughed and said, “What do you need to know? You are Scottish, French, and whatever else Mama and Papa were. Who cares?”

But Alma did care. She had great interest and wondered often what her daughter grew up to look like.

Alma used to daydream about the couple who adopted her child. Back then, a girl did not have any chance of an education or decent life if she had children so young and unmarried. So Alma did what many girls did: she signed her unborn child up for adoption. Right after giving birth, the baby was whisked away so fast all Alma heard the doctor say was it was a girl before they took her away.

Two days later Alma went home, depressed and crying.

Elaine used to plead with her. “Alma, please smile. You know you had to do this. You want to go to college and have a career.”

As time went on, the pain lessened and life kept moving forward.

After a few years, Alma was able to smile again. She went on to become a nutritionist. When she began working at Swarthmore, she was there to make certain the boys had a proper diet. After a few years she was also doing the cleaning for extra money. She and Elaine took turns working for each other, and life went on.

When Alma decided to find out about the genealogy, she had questions. She wondered about unknown diseases or the possibility a distant relative might be from a royal lineage.

Alma looked at the computer screen, but no email today. “Darn!” she said out loud. The desire to learn more about her heritage was consuming her. She wanted to know the truth about her family and the stories her mother used to tell. Leaning back on the couch, Alma allowed herself to slip into a daydream and remember.

“Alma, Elaine, come, you will be late for school! If you don’t get to school, you will never be able to present yourself as the bloodline you come from. We were very famous once! Our family had property all over France! We owned three vineyards! Yes we did, and don’t you let anyone ever make you feel as if you don’t deserve to live like a princess or a queen! You and your sister—you are expected to behave in a manner you will not see here in this god forsaken swamp!”

Alma asked, “Then why did you move here, Mama? Why?”

Her mother kissed Alma and Elaine each on their foreheads. “My babies—you will learn one day when older what women do for love. Your papa promised me everything if I’d move to the United States with him. Ha!” All I ever saw was his ex-wife getting a check every month, and we had nothing! Nothing! So much for love! That is the only reason I left, and yes, he was good to us, but we had nothing here. I couldn’t go back because my family all disappeared in the war.”

“But Mama,” Alma whined. “Can’t we go back there, to France? Just the three of us?”

“Oh, no, my darling. We can’t. There is nobody left.”

And then the conversation ended. Just like that. Her momma had a way of telling something, keep the listener hanging on every word, but she would shut it off in mi-sentence, leaving Alma hungry for more.

Now each day, opening up her email, Alma held her breath in anticipation of learning more about the family. Elaine thought it was a waste of time.

“My God, don’t you think that even if you do find relatives, especially if they have money, they aren’t going to want you suddenly announcing your presence?”

“Well, for my own curiosity, I have to do this! I won’t be satisfied until I do,” Alma responded. “Just imagine the vineyards! I would love to get out of here and work on a vineyard! I don’t even have to own it, just take me to France. I’ll figure it out from there.”

“Ha ha ha, You? Work in a vineyard? All you know how to do is drink the wine!”

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