On Being Balthazar

What his father is saying feels as fake as a wooden sunset or as false as a tin cloud or is it true? True as soap, honest as sugar cookies or salt? Balthazar isn’t sure; he is just eight and hadn’t learned how to tell the difference yet. “I wish Marge was here.”



Balthazar and Marge are walking along the river. Marge says to Balthazar, “Look at all the dead fish floating on the water.” Balthazar remembers what his grandfather said all the time, that fishes are wishes. It makes Balthazar think of all those wishes just floating there, bloated and silver. He imagines a world without falling stars, four-leaf clovers, dandelion seeds or wishing wells and all those good wishes never being granted. It makes Balthazar very sad, as sad as an eight year old boy can be which is just about as sad as bunch dead wishes floating down river to the sea.



Balthazar is lying on his back in the tall grass watching the clouds float by, picking out animal shapes in the clouds sailing toward Baghdad. For Balthazar everyone who passes him is headed there; the weird skinny Postman, Mr. Woo walking his Chinese dogs, the dealers on the corner that run when the cops drive up; even Marge when she leaves after the street lights come on. They are all off to Baghdad just like his mom. Marge is blowing dandelion seeds furiously in the air, dandelion after dandelion, trying to make new wishes for all the dead ones they had seen. Balthazar asks Marge if she can see the monkey being chased by the whale. Marge says no, as she picks dandelion seeds off her lips. He doesn’t mind that she doesn’t see the things he does, it made him feel safe. Sometimes he is frightened by the things he sees.



“Do you like the beach?” Balthazar asks Marge. “No not really.” Balthazar likes the beach, it reminds him of when he was younger and his whole family would spend all day at the beach and it reminds him mostly of his brother before he got lost. His whole family would go but Balthazar spent all his time with his big brother who would count grains of sand for hours. His brother counted everything; grains of sand, rain drops, each strand of hair on the cat. When Balthazar was littler he would count things with him but would get bored because he couldn’t count very high and would have to start over and over again. Then after his mom left and his brother got lost, he started to count like his brother did, except he didn’t count small things, like salt from the salt shaker, he counted big things, he counted days with their hours and minutes and their shadow and their endless clock ticks. Sometimes he would get lost in counting and wonder if that’s what happened to his brother; one night he just started counting stars and ended up getting lost and just started count blades of grass in the new town he ended up. If it wasn’t for Marge, this might have already happened to Balthazar, but Marge can always tell when Balthazar starts counting, his eyes get this fat flat pancake look in them, like the curve of his eyes have decided to go play somewhere else. When this happens, Marge start hitting Balthazar in the stomach, counting “One punch to the gut, two punches to the gut, and three punches to the gut!”…..usually by three Balthazar comes back from counting. But on the days when Marge is away visiting her aunt across town, Balthazar loses himself in a heavy fog of counting 12,356, 12,357, 12,358, 12,359, 12, 360. . . . . . .



One day Balthazar and Marge are lying on the ground of their clouds watching spot, when all of a sudden out of the Eastern sky, Balthazar’s mother shows up and she’s floating above his head. He can’t believe it and rubs his eyes but it’s not a cloud that looks like his mom, but her actual self. Balthazar is not sure what that means, but she’s definitely not a cloud; though she floats like one or like a mother made of dirigibles. She’s wearing a fast food uniform taking orders. Balthazar calls to her, “Mom Over here!” She looks over at Balthazar and gives him one of her, “I see you” looks, like she used to do when Balthazar would do his acrobatic feats of daring and would literally try to jump to the moon from the backyard trampoline, and then she goes right back to taking orders. Marge leans closer to Balthazar pointing to a fat cloud low on the horizon. “That cloud right there, see it Balthazar, that cloud right there reminds me of my stuffed rabbit Ivan when I was five years old.” Balthazar thinks to himself, “Five years old…that was so long ago.”



Balthazar’s grandpa takes Balthazar to the Observatory. His grandfather is his mother’s dad, but they never talk about his mom. His grandfather doesn’t say much, but Balthazar has noticed that most adults don’t say much to little kids. When he was smaller, and his family would go to a department store, Balthazar would confuse the manikins for other adults and sometimes the male manikins with black hair, for his Dad. For Balthazar, the difference was sometimes hard to tell, it still is. At the observatory there are no manikins, but there is a big telescope. Balthazar’s mom would always tell him when she would go away that all he needed to do was look up at the moon and they would be together in their hearts. Balthazar stands in line for an hour. The big telescope is pointed at the moon, like his mom’s finger saying, “All you need to do is look up at the moon.” He looks and looks, but she’s not there, just a bunch rocks and craters.



Marge is throwing twigs at Balthazar. She is pealing them from an old log and snapping them in two, three, and four and then throwing the pieces at Balthazar’s head. Balthazar tries to swat the sidelong sticks away, “Quit it Marge!” Balthazar is digging a hole with a broken soup spoon, with a broken shard of the moon he brought back from the Observatory. “What are you doing Balthazar?” she asks. He ignores her question; he doesn’t have room for one more question. His head is so full of questions that they are sticking out of his ears, eyes and mouth, sticking our like all of the stuff he’s shoved under his bed; he feels like a scarecrow stuffed with questions instead of hay and there are so many of them now that they scare all the answers away. “Balthazar?” “Not now Marge my head hurts.”



It’s late and what his father is saying makes Balthazar angry. Balthazar’s face is red, like the pictures of Mars in his astronomy books. It’s the first time that he has felt rage. There is so much feeling in so little room, he’s barely four feet tall for Christ’s sake and he would have to be at least 12 feet tall to hold all this feeling in, so Balthazar looks around, panicked, for a place to put it but there isn’t a single place in the whole house that isn’t already taken up.


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