The helium tank on Nyx's lap pressed against her stomach as she pumped air into the balloon, caressing its growth with the tips of her fingers. Upon the threshold of fullness she pumped more slowly, ensuring that every last drop of air that could fit seeped in. Poking the balloon to test its firmness, she finally removed it from the tank and sat the tank on the floor, pinching the balloon's exit valve between her fingers to ensure no air escaped before tying it in a swift motion.
She looked around at the hundreds of multicolored balloons strewn about her room, some clinging to the walls and ceiling, the ones near the open window tumbling across the floor. They were all over the unkempt beds which the other women used to sleep in before they abandoned the commune months ago. Nyx had kept the beds untouched, as if the women might return at any moment and find their sheets and blankets crumpled in exactly the same way, just dustier and with balloons clinging to them. Nyx walked over to Yulia's bed, which was covered in a thick, black velvet cloth, and flinched at pops of static as she brushed away all of the balloons clinging to it. She wanted to keep the cloth immaculate, like a gravestone, a grim monolith in the center of her constructed rainbow of latex.
The balloons were her last grasp at a hobby, something to occupy her after Yulia had run away from the commune and left her barren. Her history with Yulia was burned into her memory, but their last few conversations seemed engraved into her mind. Sick of ruminating over them, she kept trying to imagine them as thought bubbles with miniature scenes inside them, evaporating in the air. But they returned in the night with twice the detail and vividity, sometimes as dreams, and those times Nyx bent over, trying not to weep but weeping, dissolving muffled cries into the nape of her elbow.
Just last night, she had remembered sitting on a bench with her back in a secluded park with Yulia laid down on her lap, looking at the oak boughs above. Yulia's white flowery dress made her look like a nymph or a nature spirit. They sat in silence for a while. The palm trees across the road from her front lawn were visible, the air blowing past rustled their leaves. She felt that here, with her, she had finally found a point within herself that was completely still and at peace. It made her happy knowing that she could return to that point at any time knowing that Yulia loved her, too.
"You have pretty eyes, Yulia."
“When I was a child, they were actually light hazel, amber colored. I miss those days a lot. I get all of my creativity, all of my inspiration, from those days. Sometimes I feel like I’m dead now, but running on that inertia of the past, which has long been but a memory of a memory of a memory. Sometimes I wish I could get the original source of it back. Oh, the things I would do to get that feeling back...”
Nyx slowly tightened her arms around her, her black sleeves like snakes tying around her whiteness.
“That feeling of joy and innocence. Doing things because I really wanted to do them. Music, dreams, looking at the blue sky. But what worries me is that the feeling I get is getting weaker and weaker as time goes on, and everything feels duller and duller. A long time ago, I was very fascinated with many things, but now I am just keeping the old things even if the feeling is very faint because I don’t want to betray it. Maybe I was closer to the divine then.”
Nyx ran her fingers over Yulia’s face, trying to tell her that she still was close to the divine but Yulia looked away, thinking hidden thoughts, concealing her face in sleeves of flowery cloth. Sometimes Nyx felt there were memories of a bygone age, or a past life of sorts, concealed in her. A time when things were not as they are now, but more ideal, more sacred, a time when each action that a person performed was imbued with mystic significance, when every societal order was a reflection of the natural one.
A shy knock on the door jolted Nyx out of her reveries and she was soon downstairs, greeting Amber, the only person who came by anymore. She didn’t live in the commune, though. She worked at the industrial plant across the river, where she monitored a chemical process to produce latex materials. The gray concrete building towered over the surrounding forest, some industrial pipes coming out of the surface, and moss enveloped the foundation of the building, making it look like a camouflaged military bunker. When it rained, water would mix with the fluids that came out of the factory, and black droplets, like liquid rubber or latex, lined the sides of the building. Rumor had it the black water would leak into the river sometimes and there were stories of schools of trout found belly up, poisoned to death.
Months ago, while all the other women were abandoning the commune, after the resolution of a local meeting, Nyx went outside, to the trees around the factory. She could feel its miasma in the air sometimes. She imagined all of the toxic waste products dissipating away into the sky, away from nature or anywhere it could cause harm. But she was afraid that the waste would seep through the ground, into groundwater deposits, and stay there for decades, refusing to decompose. She was afraid that chemicals would mix together into mutant combinations never before known or studied and wreak havoc to the stillness of the environment. She knew she would stick with this location to the very end.
One day, when Nyx was sitting by the river, a girl came up to her and asked her what she was doing. Nyx ignored her, her sullen expression reflecting in the flowing waters. Amber took a red balloon from her bag and handed it to her. "A gift from me to you", she had said. Her oily black hair looked like goo sometimes, but it was soft and comforting. Her fingers were long and thin, like those of an artist. Nyx looked up at her and smiled, covered her face with her hands, and ran away with the balloon pressed against her chest.
The balloons were Nyx’s sole point of solace amid the downtrodden commune residents. They had begun to part their separate ways, some to reintegrate with society and others to even more remote locations. After Eulalia, too, left, Nyx couldn't take it anymore. She took a train to Shrewsbury, out of place among the crowds of the subway and the city where neon lights were washed in rain, and bought a helium tank and some latex balloons at a party store. She brought the helium tank back and began blowing them up, unable to stop. She strung them together into elaborate patterns, sometimes even sculptures, bending them into shapes.
The last tangible memory Nyx had was of Yulia’s flippant responses over the phone when she had called her, saying that her name was no longer Yulia but now Eulalia, and that she was engaged in larger projects and no longer had time to languor in the communal cottage. “Maybe I’ll come back someday,” she had said, “but it certainly won’t be only because of you.”
The words stung Nyx. She thought of what she might have done that was wrong, that had caused them to lose their bond. It had seemed like a real bond, the most real bond she ever had.