Shane Jones's debut novel Light Boxes is published by Hamish Hamilton.

Let bones lose their weight

Thaddeus, Bianca and Selah painted balloons everywhere they could. They pulled up floorboards 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 inside 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 dresses – that's what you can wear.

Bianca studied her arms. The kites were yellow with black tails. The colour melted into her skin. A breeze blew over the fresh ink and through her hair.

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 side-stepping 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 as I could. I ran like a mad man, my mouth open in a sad air-swallowing attempt, heard Bianca laughing in the distance, looked for the priests in the woods sharpening their axes, 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.

When I was really little my father came into my bedroom with a sheet of fabric he said would one day fly in the sky.

I'll show you, he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed then sliding towards the middle where I sat with my legs crossed.

Through my bedroom window I watched a tree lose a branch under the weight of snow that had been falling for months. Before the branch hit the ground a sheet of yellow fabric floated down over my eyes. It felt like silk and smelled of oil and stream water.

I heard the clank of metal, and then a hot flame near the back of my neck, and then the fabric lifted from my face and it bloomed into a giant flower that touched the ceiling and grew towards the corners of my bedroom.

What does this feel like, my father said.

It's like being inside one of those globes the shopkeepers make in town, I said, now standing on the bed, fingertips reaching towards the flower. It feels wonderful. It feels like happiness.

It will be called, my father said, a balloon.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.



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