By Kylie Goetz
The first thing she noticed was the smell. It smelled like ozone and burnt hair. Before she opened, well, she would still call them her eyes (because what else would she call them, her memory of eyes?) Yes, before she had even opened them, she smelled the smell and knew what had happened. “Damn it,” she thought. “I was sure that it would work.”
The balloon was aloft. At least there was that.
She could see it, what was left of it, still floating as if by magic. The basket underneath was a charred and tattered ruin.
“Damn it,” she thought again.
If she was going to be dead, why couldn’t her ghost haunt the balloon?
All she’d ever wanted was to fly. But here she was, still dismally earthbound. More so, she supposed. “And if they bury what’s left of me, as they certainly will with their prosaic little minds, I shall forever more be.”
She sighed, or would have had she breath and a body that breathed. This was all rather depressing. Corentine wasn’t one to let anything keep her down for long, her father used to joke that she was more buoyant than the infernal balloons she kept trying to build, but even she had to admit, this was a let down. In more than just the literal way. Though also in the literal way.
She looked down at the charred and tattered remains of her body, an echo of the broken basket above. “Well,” she thought, “it could be worse.” Only the bottom half of her was quite burnt. It seems the fall was likely what had killed her. Her face was still lovely and charming. Her hair, once her pride, was disheveled but not completely gone. Singed on the ends, but she wasn’t bald. That was some comfort.
She had only been aloft a few minutes, was barely above ground at all. She was glorying in the craft she’d built, how clever she was…a modern day Icarus, when she’d untied her hair. She’d longed to have it flow in the breeze. She was honest enough to admit, she’d done it because she’d thought it would look romantic. Her dark and lovely long locks flowing around her as she sailed through the sky. She hadn’t accounted for them also flowing in the up draft. Or that they would be long enough to flow up into the flame.
“No,” she thought, “the fault was mine. I wanted to be Icarus, and so I was. Silly idiot.”
Once her hair caught, she started flailing, right as she was topping the trees. And the flailing had knocked over the lantern she’d brought with her in case she couldn’t land until dark. It was unlit, of course, she was silly but was not a total idiot. Of course she was, she was clever enough to build her own hot air balloon. The Montgolfiers couldn’t have done better, she was sure. But the sparks from her singed hair hit the kerosene, and there ya go. Done in by foolish romantic notions.
There’d been quite a crowd. She was well known in her little town and while they might have thought she was odd, she was beautiful (that’s not vanity, she thought, just a fact) and so considered more eccentric than weird. But now, well, her reputation demolished. She felt curiously unattached to the notion. And her vanity really. All her life she’d been told to be beautiful, as if that was a choice and, not to be clever. As if that was either.
The people were scurrying around her corpse. She felt quite bad for them. Especially Robert. He’d never been keen on his fiance inventing things and making things. She’d hidden it, mostly by always sewing when he came round. It wasn’t until today that he’d realized that she’d been sewing silk and why. But he had funds. And since Papa had died, she’d needed income. Metallurgy wasn’t cheap.
She felt a bit of a cheat. She hadn’t loved him. But she had told him so. He was content, as long as she’d marry him. “Poor Robert. He’ll never get a return on his investment now.”
And with that, she started to laugh. “Who knew? A ghost can laugh,” she thought.
And that made her laugh more. With each laugh, she dissolved a bit, into the air. And then suddenly, finally, she was the air. She was the wind. The same wind that had done her in. At last, she was flying.
“Success, at last,” she thought, “and all I had to do was die.”
She laughed again as the last bit she thought of as Corentine dissipated on the breeze.
When Kylie was five, she wanted to be either a nun or a lounge singer. Luckily (for the church and lounge patrons everywhere) she discovered a love for storytelling around the same age. This eventually translated into a B.A in theatre from Florida State University and a MA in creative writing from Macquarie University. You can buy her book here and follow her Word of the Day Poetry Project