Each night he bursts her with a pin: hands, arms, legs, exploding in wisps of brightly coloured rubber.
Before bursting her, he positions her on the settee, sometimes at the dinner table, sometimes lying on the bed.
Rose pink for her body, citrine yellow for her hair, emerald green for her favourite dress.
He met her at her nephew’s seventh birthday party.
‘Choose two colours,’ he said.
She raised an eyebrow, glanced behind, patted her hair.
‘Green and blue.’
‘I inflate them to their fullest. Then let out some air.’
He tied the end of the balloon.
‘You must have a lot of patience — working with children.’
She watched his fingers fold and twist the balloon.
‘I like large leaves on mine,’ he said, offering it to her.
‘This is the stem?’
He nodded as he inflated the blue balloon.
‘Mustn’t inflate this one too much — there’s more twisting to make the petals.’
‘Flowers aren’t blue. Maybe I should choose a different colour?’
‘Fold, squeeze, twist,’ he said. ‘Fold, squeeze, twist.’
‘I hate the sound balloons make,’ she said.
‘Five or six petals?’
He took the stem from her.
‘And you twist them together. Like… so.’
He handed her the balloon flower.
‘It’s wonderful,’ she said. ‘What else can you make?’
‘Pretty much anything. Hats, tigers, birds, dinosaurs, cakes, ducks… you name it.’
‘But all boys want are guns. And all girls want are dogs. Mostly I make guns and dogs. And swords.’
‘I really like the flower,’ she said.
That’s when he fell in love.
‘Can you make a giraffe?’
She told him once how his balloon art turned the world into a cartoon. Now, whenever he makes a balloon gun, with its chubby handles and bending snout, he sees it. This is what he does — he makes cartoons. Cartoon dogs, cartoon flowers, cartoon swords.
Each night he makes her out of balloons — each creation more intricate, more elaborate than the last.
The air inside her is his, is now hers. But she is never perfect enough. And so he makes her look the other way as he pricks each limb, as she pops in a flurry of cartoon-shredded rubber.
When it is done, she is a balloon-shaped ghost, floating about the room. Until the following night, when he breathes her back to life — his cartoon woman, faithful, like all cartoon wives.
Adam recently won the TSS Summer Quarterly Flash Competition 2018 and the STORGY Flash Fiction Competition 2018. He was also placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s been published once before in Former Cactus and has stories in appearing many other publications such as MoonPark Review, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Ink in Thirds, and many others. You can find links to his stories on his website: adamlock.net. He’s also active on Twitter at @dazedcharacter.