Party Balloons (A Short Dark Story)

“Ah, ’tis better to have loved and lost…”

Yeah, tell that to Diane…


They amazed her, the things she always found after a party. After it had swelled, like a thumping, wild, tide throughout the entire house, and then finally receded.

They made her feel like some kind of urban beach comber.

Of course, her beach was never like something you’d find on the coast of Tahiti, or Playa del Carmen, or Catalina Island. When the tide withdrew from her beach, it didn’t leave any ornate seashells or sand-polished pieces of driftwood behind.

No, her beach felt more like Cabrillo, in L.A. County, or that other one, south of Hollywood… Avino? No, Avalon. Or maybe Doheny—

Fucking Doheny… The Beach Boys wouldn’t dare go “Surfin’ Safari” there these days.

Because her beach was usually left littered instead with half-empty, lipstick-stained SOLO cups, bottles (with no messages inside; only soggy cigarettes) and trash.

Scattered amongst that, she’d usually find things of a more… intimate nature: typically panties, and maybe a few bras. Nothing expensive, mind you; never any Bordelle or LaPerla, not even the occasional Vicky’s Secret. It was always cheap stuff, and thus expendable; the kind worn by girls who expected to lose their underwear. As if the possibility were just a sort of accepted occupational hazard.

Expendable underwear, for expendable girls”. What a slogan that would make. The women’s lib movement would probably shit a collective brick if anyone-


Really, if marketed right, it would probably sell… and like hotcakes too. Cheap underwear for girls who want to feel cheap, because cheap is nasty, and nasty is sexy. So why not stop beating around the bush (ha-ha, beating around the bush, that’s a funny one! Let’s give Diane a big round of applause, folks…), and just make sexy cheap?

In any case, cheap or not there they’d be, various women’s delicates littering the various parts of her ad hoc beach, like the washed up remains of some shipwrecked libertine party boat.

She imagined a rescue plane circling overhead, looking down on them. She knew just what it would report.


That thought however, earned no applause from her internal studio audience. Oh, once upon a time she might have found it amusing; after all, it made for a pretty good analogy: the beach, the wreckage…

The problem was with the “debris”. It just wasn’t all sexy, was it? Certainly the empty cups and bottles never were. Neither were some of the other items that she typically found. In fact, those were often quite disgusting: used condoms (when she was lucky enough not to just find crusted smears of jizz), men’s underwear… even vibrators (sometimes with jizz still on them, sometimes with worse).

Don’t forget the other problem with your clever little analogy: the part about there being no survivors… That’s not very funny either, is it? Sounds a little too much like-

And Jesus, the drugs– She had to admit, the drugs were getting out of hand. At first it had just been booze and weed, but lately she’d been finding more and more needles. Those, and other shit: pills, empty vials, etc. that she couldn’t even identify.

Whatever- in the end, it all had to go.

Although she’d been forced to get rid of it herself this time; the cleaners had basically told her to go fuck herself after the last party. The needles scared them too, she guessed.

So she’d picked up the bottles and the cups, the condoms, the needles (she’d double-bagged those after carefully bending their sharp ends over; she didn’t want the garbage men to get stuck by one), and the three pairs of panties that she’d found on the Aston, out in the garage (although for some reason, she’d left the smudge marks their owners had left on the car’s long, black hood).

Yes, she’d cleaned up all of it.

Except for the balloons…


“Light your party up with smiles before the first guest steps foot through the door, thanks to these Happy Face Light-Up Party Balloons.”

So said one of the empty cellophane packages that she’d found. It had been rolled up and shoved in the top of a La Manche bottle, like a cheap plastic flower carelessly stuck in a priceless Ming vase.

And they really did light up. They had little LEDs in them that, when you blew up the balloon, began to glow. The LEDs, in turn, accentuated each balloon’s other namesake feature: a smiling Happy Face.

She didn’t know who’d brought them, or the oxygen cylinder that had apparently been used to blow them up (and to give willing party-goers a quick high, she assumed), but the happy-faced, light-up party balloons had been a big hit, and so they too had all been carried out on the party’s tide. All—according to the packages she’d found—five hundred-plus of them.

Unfortunately, and as Diane had long ago learned, being a hit doesn’t mean being loved.

Just like money can’t buy happiness. Especially when it comes from…

So, despite their popularity, when the party’s tide receded most of the balloons had still been left behind. Right along with the rest of the debris, she thought. With me.


Sixteen hours: that was how long their packaging had promised they’d glow.

Yet even after three days, they’d kept glowing. And at night, they’d really made the place look like a beach; one on which a vast swarm of fat, bioluminescent jellyfish had become stranded.

So for the next three nights she’d sat, with drink-in-hand and more nearby, on a heavy Adirondack chair that she’d dragged in screeching across the polished mahogany floors from the veranda, parked in the middle of the cavernous master bathroom where she could dip her feet in its ocean-like Jacuzzi. She’d sat in the dark, with the glow of her jellyfish all around and stretching off into the house’s considerable distance.

And each night, after the drink-in-hand was long gone and there was nothing left nearby, she’d stumbled through the house, through them, punting them aside with rubbery, THUNK! noises as she went for more.

They hadn’t minded the rough treatment though. After all, they were pals, she and her light-up, happy-faced jellyfish. Best buds. And they knew she appreciated them- hadn’t she made sure to let them know that? Every night she had. Oh, her speech might have been a little slurred by then, but still, she had let them know.

“I love, you guysss… You make these trips… back to the bar… feel like… like wandering through just another party… and not so much like… like… like…”

Her breath had always hitched there, every night, because what always came next had always come hard.

“-and not so much like wandering through a dark, fucking empty house. You make- Oh Jesus, look at me, I’m crying…” The bar was backgrounded by a wide expanse of mirrored glass, and beyond the neatly arrayed bottles she’d seen her reflection streaming tears.

“You make… You make everything look… pret… pret… pretty, again.”

At which point she’d always turned around and looked behind herself, at the parted sea of balloons that she’d left in her wake.

To imagine every one of them, on both sides and all throughout the rest of the house, slowly turning to her… and smiling a little wider.


But now… she looked around and sighed.

Now they too had to go.

Because even though they’d kept glowing long past their guarantee, every night they’d grown dimmer and dimmer. Until last night, when they’d barely glowed at all.

And this morning, they’d begun to die.

The first one went in the kitchen-


Then, two minutes later, another went in the master bathroom-


She found it, shredded and flat, with its dim little LED heart lying next to it on the cold marble. Her eyes welled up at the sight.

Then another went-


–in the garage, under the smudged Aston. Then in the bedroom. Then again in the kitchen.


Suddenly, she realized: this would go on, and on, and on, for a long time, with her little smiling friends slowly dimming out and dying one at a time in erratic spits and spats.

She couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t be able to take it, all those mini-deaths. It would remind her too much of-


So she set about the house, gathering up the balloons from wherever she found them, and bringing them to the kitchen. Back and forth she went, over and over, hurrying against the slowly building chorus of-


Until she got to the bedroom, where one last balloon lay under the nightstand. She reached for it-

And noticed her picture of Jack and the kids… How had she missed that- for three whole days?

The glass was cracked.



One of those goddamned, motherfucking, drunk assholes… they must have knocked it over. Those-

Oh no… Please no…

She snatched the picture up and held it in front of her face.

No… No, no, no.

The glass wasn’t just cracked; it was crushed, as if someone had stepped on it. Worse, one of the shards had scratched a jagged white line across the picture itself; right through Jack’s face.

No… oh God no, that’s the only one I-


Tears welled up in her eyes again, and she let out a wet sob.

Oh my God, what am I-


She stared at the picture, as if waiting for one of the smiling faces to finish the question for her, or, God-willing, even answer it.

But no answer came.

So, she put the picture back, gently, on the nightstand.



She picked up the last balloon and stumbled, crying, back to the kitchen, where the other balloons she’d gathered lay in a hip-deep mass that covered the entire floor. She waded through them, gently this time, to one of the long stainless-steel countertops. She drew a long knife from the rack that sat atop of it.

Etched on the knife’s blade were the words “Gunther-Wilhelm Executive Chef Series, X50CrMoV15 High Carbon German Steel, Ice-Hardened”. She didn’t know what most of the words meant, but the knife had been ridiculously expensive, just like all the other shit she’d bought to furnish the place, so hopefully they meant “sharp”. Its edge glimmered.

From there she went to the trash can. She opened it, and then looked at the balloon in her hand. A tear spattered down on the balloon’s silly smile. She watched it run down the balloon’s latex cheek…

Until a moment later, when she turned it face-down, and…

She turned and picked up another. This time she didn’t look at its face. Then another… and another. Faster and faster she worked, dropping each one into the can without looking.

At some point she sliced her hand, badly, and blood began spattering down with her tears.

But she didn’t notice; she just picked up another balloon… and then another, and another, and another.

Faster and faster

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