Floating skyward, the balloon caught in a breeze and hurried away. All was well until the greedy fingers of a tall pine tree snagged at the bright red. The balloon did not break, but the trailing string tangled in the branches, caught in the clutches of this unseen foe.

Cassie watched all this from the park bench. She looked over to the small child now crying and his, possibly her, mother trying to comfort the tot. Mommy would get another balloon. It was going to be okay. She heard bits of pieces of admonition as well. Mommy was trying to teach the child about holding on tight.

Holding on tight. Yep. That’s what she should have done. Hold on tight. Cassie looked back at the balloon swaying in the breeze high up in the tree, caught by the far reaching branches, the long needles, the might and power of the tree. Holding on tight.

She knew the good times didn’t last forever. At least not for her. She was a floater, a drifter, through other people’s lives. She wasn’t the master of her own fate, but buffeted by the prevailing winds, taken where the moment led her, until the winds changed and her life took another direction.

“Dear God,” she mumbled to herself, “I’ve become totally maudlin.”

“Pardon me?” The voice came from slightly behind her and to her left. She turned to see a young woman dressed for success.

Cassie said, “I was just talking to myself.”

“I do that a lot, too. Doesn’t seem too many people are interested in what I say, either.” The woman smiled, self-deprecating but not feeling sorry for herself.

Cassie was feeling sorry for herself. “I know the feeling.”

The woman sat down on the other end of the park bench, putting her extra-large-almost-a-suitcase purse between them. “Hi, my name is Sonya.”

Cassie held her hand out over the luggage and said, “I’m Cassie.” They shook hands.

Sonya peered into her purse and pulled out her lunch. A medium sized plastic container held a salad while a small plastic container held the salad dressing. She mixed the dressing into the salad and began to eat using a plastic fork also retrieved from the capacious bag.

Cassie watched for a moment, noting the woman had not yet made a mess. Cassie would have made a mess by now. She always made a mess. She was a mess. “Maudlin,” said in what she thought was a soto voco voice.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sonya.

“Wrong?”

“Yes, you keep saying ‘maudlin’ over and over. Can I help in some way?”

“No, it’s just … I mean, there isn’t really anything … I’m sorry. I am being maudlin and it is disgusting.”

“What are you being maudlin about?”

“I don’t seem to be in control of my life. I don’t seem to be the master of my fate. I seem to be living my life in the ‘red balloon’ style of drifting. Christ. See? Maudlin.”

“There are days when none of us are in control of our lives,” Sonya said. Cassie looked over at her eating salad with a plastic fork. A beautiful salad with lots of interesting stuff in amongst the greens. And just the right amount of dressing. And nothing dripped down the front of her blouse or dropped on her lap.

“I suppose so. I just think I’m hogging the drifting stuff and it might be someone else’s turn for a while. I want to be a take charge person.”

“So, take charge.”

“I can’t. I’m not the boss. I can’t make other people do my bidding. I am the person who is told what to do, not the one giving instructions, making demands, getting what I want.”

Sonya was quiet and continued to meticulously consume salad. Still not a drop on her clothes. With a plastic fork, no less.

“Are you always in charge?” asked Cassie.

“Almost never,” said Sonya. Cassie watched some more salad disappear.

“Really? You look like a ‘person in charge’ and you seem so collected.”

“Ah, smoke and mirrors. I heard somewhere that if you act like this or that, you eventually don’t have to act anymore, you actually become the this or that. I’m trying. I’m hoping. You really think I look collected? You really think I’m in charge?”

“Aren’t you?”

“Nope.” Sonya ate the last of her salad. She packed away the plastic containers in the depths of her gigantic purse. She stood, hoisted the bag onto her left shoulder, reached out her hand to once again shake with Cassie. “It was nice meeting you.”

Sonya left, walking back to wherever she had come. Still perfectly dressed, hair unmussed by the gentle breeze, going back to wherever she came from.

Cassie looked down at her stained jeans and rumpled t-shirt. She looked at her muddy shoes. She looked up at the red balloon, still swaying in the treetop.

What a wasted day. Maybe she should get back to her apartment, clean up the place, send out some more résumés. Drift through another day. She wondered if she had enough stuff in her fridge to make a salad.

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