Table of Contents
“Reading this book makes you realize what our American literature has been missing. Wholly original, tremendously imaginative, written with the deftest hand,
makes sense of modern life in the way only dreams can.”
âJoe Meno, author of
The Great Perhaps
“At last, a book that cries out to our inner balloonists. Shane Jones has built a fable that is fresh and surprising, but also familiar in the way that the oldest stories are familiar. I recommend keeping a copy or two handy at all times.”
âJedediah Berry, author of
The Manual of Detection
“In his debut novel Shane Jones achieves a glittering clearness that allies it to Brautigan'sIn Watermelon Sugar
. There is sense that curiosity and hope are the qualities we most require, that we must resort to in our peril. Balloonists, aloft!”
âJesse Ball, author of
Samedi the Deafness
“Shane Jones is a writer who dares to play make-believe in this tired age when too much fiction is tied to that which is only real. Read this book. Heed its inventive warnings.”
âPeter Markus, author of
Bob, or Man on Boat
made me feel like I was walking through a series of strange, interesting rooms that I'd never been in before. It also made me feel sad, especially at the end when it finished and I wanted to carry on reading. Shane Jones is one of my favorite new writers.”
âChris Killen, author of
The Bird Room
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shane Jones was born in February of 1980. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals, including
New York Tyrant
. He lives in upstate New York. This is his first novel.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by Publishing Genius Press 2009 Published in Penguin Books 2010
Copyright Â© Shane Jones, 2009
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
eISBN : 978-1-101-42959-4
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The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
The most serious charge which can be brought against
New England is not Puritanism but February.
âJoseph Wood Krutch,The Twelve Seasons
We sat on the hill.
We watched the flames
inside the balloons heat
the fabric to neon colors.
The children played
They pointed to empty holes in the sky and waited. Sometimes all the balloons lit up at once and produced the nightly umbrella effect over the town beneath, whose buildings were filling with the sadness of February.
Nights like this will soon die, Selah whispered in my ear.
Days became cooler, clouds thickened. We sat on the hill. We watched the flames inside the balloons heat the fabric to neon colors.
Nights like this will soon die, said Bianca. She ran from the woods, where she saw three children twisting the heads of owls.
Nights like this will soon die, said the butchers, marching down the hill.
We sat there for the last time to watch the balloons, the neon colors stitched in our minds.
Pigs shrieked, and windows shattered across the town. A snout, massive and pink, traced the side of a balloon in its arc. The fabric stretched around the dark nostrils and stopped just before tearing, and it stayed there.
Still the children stood in a line with their lanterns raised to watch the first snowfall of February cover the crop fields.
Selah lowered her head. Selah folded her hands in her lap. Selah looked at the backs of the children's heads and saw ice form knots in their hair.
We can only pray, whispered Selah.
I looked at Selah and remembered the dandelions stuck in her teeth. I thought of a burning sun, an ice-berg melting in her folded hands.
They held hands. They formed
dozens of circles around their deflated, smoldering balloons. Balloons, silken globes in the colors magenta, grass green and sky blue, were mud-strewn, wet with holy water and burned black through the stitching.
Bianca said, I don't understand.
Thaddeus said, I don't either.
Is this February's doing, she said.
Maybe, said Thaddeus, who looked up at the sky.
A scroll of parchment was nailed to an oak tree, calling for the end of all things that could fly. Everyone in town gathered around to read it. Trumpets moaned from the woods. Birds dropped from branches. The priests walked through town swinging axes. Bianca clutched Thaddeus's leg, and he picked her up under the arms and told her to hold him like a baby tree around the neck, and Thaddeus ran.
Back outside their home, the balloons were spread out on the ground. Baskets hacked by axes. The priests dipped their lanterns into the fabric of the balloons.
Thaddeus, Selah and Bianca and others from town formed a circle by holding hands.
February, they repeated until it became a chant. Until they all imagined a little tree sprouting through the center of their burning balloon.
The priests walked down the
hill and into town where they stopped at the town school and the town library. They confiscated textbooks, tore out pages about birds, flying machines, Zeppelins, witches on brooms, balloons, kites, winged mythical creatures. They crumpled up paper airplanes the children had folded, and they dumped the pages into a burning pit in the woods.
The priests sank their rusty spiked shovels into the mound of dirt and refilled the hole. Some of the priests felt tears roll down their cheeks but didn't feel sadness. Others forced their minds to unravel the memory of wind. They nailed a second scroll of parchment to a second oak tree. It stated that all things possessing the ability to fly had been destroyed. It said that no one living in the town should speak of flight ever again.
It was signed, February.
Thaddeus, Bianca and Selah painted
balloons everywhere they could. They pulled up floor-boards and painted rows of balloons onto the dusty oak. Bianca drew tiny balloons on the bottoms of teacups. Behind the bathroom mirror, under the kitchen table and on the insides of cabinet doors, balloons appeared. And then Selah painted an intricate intertwining of kites on Bianca's hands and wrists, the tails extending up her forearms and around her shoulders.
How long will February last, Bianca asked, stretching her hands out to her mother, who was blowing on her arms.
I really have no idea, said Thaddeus, who watched the snow fall outside the kitchen window.
In the distance the snow formed into mountains on top of mountains.
Finished, her mother said. You will have to wear long sleeves from now on. But you'll never forget flight. You can wear beautiful dressesâthat's what you can wear.
Bianca studied her arms. The kites were yellow with black tails. The color melted into her skin. A breeze blew over the fresh ink and through her hair.Thaddeus
I kept a kite hidden in my workshop where the priests couldn't find it. I unfolded the kite from its dusty box and told Bianca she could fly it for a few minutes. I tried to see if the priests were in the woods but only saw owls sidestepping through the snow.
I said to try again after the kite failed to take off. A hand pushed the kite to the ground. She tried a few more times, and the kite slammed downward. I saw a cloud shaped like a hand. I thought of Bianca and her happiness like bricks in mud.
It's February, said Bianca.
I said, I'm sorry this didn't work out. We can try again.
What's the point, she said. It's the end of flight. It's February.
The point, I said, is to keep trying for the sake of trying.
That week we attempted to fly the kite each night. But what felt like a wind gust on my skin wasn't enough to carry the kite. I went into my workshop, grabbed some glass jars, and back outside I handed them to Bianca. I took the kite and ran as fast I could. I ran like a madman, my mouth open in a sad air-swallowing attempt, heard Bianca laughing in the distance, looked dreamed of Selah and Bianca holding hands with August, carried the kite at my shoulder until I let it go and felt it collapse on my back. I fell face-first on the ground, ate snow and mud, tore my knee open on a rock.
Back up the hill, Bianca swirled the glass jars through the air. The kites on her arms twitched.
Here, she said, handing me the jars with careful, kite-stringed fingers. They are full now. Maybe the Professor can figure out what is wrong with our sky. Maybe we can figure out February.